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Gardening for Bees

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The Bee Book with bees and honey combs on coverDespite the snowy weather (or perhaps because of it) my thoughts have been turning to spring and what to plant in the way of bee friendly flowers. I have written about our plans for planting for bees on previous occasions but I have not yet mentioned a lovely book on bees that I received as a gift. The Bee Book (Fergus Chadwick et al, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2016). Verity gave me this as a birthday present in that year and we have turned to it for advice since then. Having said that, the main focus of the book is on keeping bees, the dizzy heights of which hobby we have not yet tackled. Maybe that will be one of our future projects. We might start off gently with making some homes for wild bees as demonstrated in The Bee Book. You can make houses with bamboo or wooden frames containing clay punctured with holes, the book giving excellent illustrated instructions. An example is shown of a really large bee palace but I think a simpler construction is better to begin with. Watch this space!Young foxglove plants by shed

In the meantime, we have been contenting ourselves with consolidating and improving our bee-related planting. I have posted previously about some foxglove seedlings that I was nursing along and these I then planted in a nice spot by the shed, under the lilac tree. They flowered for the first-time last season and we were delighted to watch bees crawling inside the flowers. I cut the plants down in the autumn so I am hoping that they will put up new growth and flower this year. As we were so pleased with the results of that batch of flowers, I set another tray of seeds from which I had a better crop of thirteen new plants. All thirteen were successfully planted out last September. I have grouped the foxgloves in two locations, in slightly shaded positions; some in a cluster around one of the lilacs and some in our bulb and wildflower patch. At the end of last season, I gathered up nasturtium seeds from the bed where they have established themselves in the last couple of years. I am planning to spread them more widely around the garden as they are another popular bee flower.

Page describing biennials

The book I mentioned above has a section on what plants are good to grow for bees, considering biennials, annuals, perennials, bulbs and so on. Each flower has a handy key so that you can tell what each one has to offer and to which variety of bee. For example, our foxgloves will appeal to both bumblebees (in particular) and solitary bees and is a source of nectar. I was pleased to note that one of our most prolific garden occupants, chive plants have a wide apian appeal, being a good flower for bumblebees, solitary and honey bees. The flowers have the double benefit of supplying both pollen and nectar. It is useful to have something in the garden early in the season when little food is available. Into this category comes snowdrop and crocus; snowdrops used by honey bees and crocuses by all varieties but again a favourite of honey bees.

Page describing bulbs for bees Ideally you would aim to cover as much of the season as possible with flowers to appeal to all of your bee visitors. The book also explains about the life cycle of bees, how they forage and the differences between the common garden varieties. Bees are fascinating creatures and I think I have much to learn! I hope to return to bees and The Bee Book further into this season and I will tell what new bee benefits are to be found in our garden.

In the meantime, it’s back to keeping cosy in the snow!


Autumn Leaves: Putting the Garden to Bed…Again

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Yes, it is that time of year again. Time to empty out pots; lift and divide plants; prune hedges and shrubs and generally to do all of those little autumn gardening jobs that need doing before winter really takes hold. Moreover, let us not forget about endless sweeping up of fallen leaves. I have managed to assemble four large sacks of leaves so far. Casting an eye over both front and back gardens tells me that the whitebeam tree is now winter naked, but that the sycamore has yet a frustratingly leafy appearance. If I am being truly conscientious, I will wash out all of the plant pots and tubs ready for spring. Oh, and tidy the shed, throw out anything broken or unnecessary and put the garden furniture somewhere dry.

My autumn resolution (my own innovation) has been to make myself take advantage of every mild, dry hour to do odd jobs, because I know from experience that when the bad weather really sets in then I might not set foot in the garden for days (OK, weeks). So far, this is working out, which is just as well as I still have bulbs to plant out. I do also need to lift and divide the miniature strawberry plants that have expanded over the summer. You might recall from a previous post that I have divided and re-planted some large clumps of chives, now settled in nicely before the winter. Also remaining on the ‘to do list’ is to find a home for two pots of campanula, bought weeks ago (marked down to clear) at the Airfield Estate garden shop. I hope it isn’t too late to tuck them into the ground; ideally they will go into our bulb/wildflower patch to add some gorgeous purple tones.

Returning to the topic of fallen leaves, I have been checking on the state of the compost bin before I run out of steam with the advent of winter. Our compost is improving all the time, I am glad to say. I cannot say that we are up to Monty Don’s standard yet (and anyway he has a much bigger space to play with) but I am pleased that we have been able to use compost for at least some of our planting for the last couple of seasons. Some of the bagged up leaves will gradually make their way into my compost mix, while the rest will mulch down for spreading directly on the borders. I am even contemplating acquiring a second compost bin. Sometimes, I am not sure whether I look rather eccentric, earnestly giving my compost a stir round with a stout stick at regular intervals. As it seems to be working, I think I will just have to risk it!

One of the lovely things about the garden at this time of year is the colours of the seasonal berries adorning various shrubs. For practical reasons, my favourite of these are the rosehips. Once again, we are planning to make some rosehip and apple jelly so I have been risking scratches to gather in the harvest. If there is a plant not to trifle with, it’s a dog rose; it takes no prisoners. At present, the fruit safely tucked away in the freezer awaits a jelly-making session. Thinking ahead to summer colour, I am anxiously watching my young foxglove plants, hoping that they survive their first winter and then bloom next year. My final mention goes to the lavender plants. We have three now, and I trimmed the oldest one back recently. The saved lavender flowers are awaiting attention. If we can find some suitable fabric tucked away, then I will be sewing up lavender sachets for the linen trunk at some point. That sounds like a cosy occupation for those cold, wet winter days when my gardening mojo falls by the wayside.

How are your autumn tasks going? Do drop us a line.


Garden Flowers: Almost Spring…Really!

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A lovely shade of blue

Surely, surely, it must start to feel like spring now that we have passed the vernal equinox on 21 March (I know the exact beginning of spring can be a contentious issue, so I won’t even go there). I admit that I am struggling to feel seasonally appropriate. Whether this is due to a lingering cold and cough or the annoyingly persistent gloomy grey skies that have out numbered the blues ones lately, I am unable to be sure. Suffice to say that although I have felt twinges of spring, I can’t say I that am whole heartedly into the new season yet. The result of this is that I have been struggling to find the motivation to go grubbing around in the garden. I have had a few cautious forays to inspect the signs of spring growth in the flowerbeds, but that’s about as far as my gardening activity has gone.

Having said all of that, we have both been trying to keep up with any tidying jobs that need doing over the autumn and winter. I did promise myself that I would stop being a fare-season gardener and ensure that everything didn’t go to rack and ruin over the winter. I am not sure that I have entirely succeeded in my aim, but I have been outside on the brighter days, if only to rake up leaves and poke around in the compost bin. I can comfort myself with the knowledge that we did put the garden reasonably well to bed in the autumn, so we are not faced with too much debris from last year, as we have been in the past. Usually, I really have to fight against running out of steam come September and simply letting everything slide into decay and disorder. That creates a daunting start to the new season. In addition, my ideal would be start sowing seeds very early, to get a good start on the growing season. Well, maybe next year for that…

tulip buds

Still green…

In previous Curiously, Creatively posts, I have written about our seed stock and our plans for the growing season, but implementing these ideas has been slow so far. There are foxglove plants waiting in the shelter of the potting shed, ready to go outside, so that really should be a first task. I hope that the Easter break proves to be mild enough to inspire me to get a few jobs done outside. On present showing, that is not looking very likely. Maybe I will just have to gird my loins and brave some inclement weather. However, I think that I will need to harden off the foxgloves before risking planting them outside. The shed isn’t heated, but even so, I don’t want to risk too abrupt a change in temperature for the small plants. I am quite excited about the prospect of having foxgloves as it’s taken me years to get around to growing some.

Foxglove Seedlings

Ready to plant out soon

Elsewhere in the garden, the tulips are coming up, though they are not yet blooming and the primroses look pretty. The long green leaves of bluebells are in evidence and the anemones are a delicately encouraging sign of things to come. The ever busy forget-me-nots are popping up in places where I am fairly sure they weren’t in evidence last year. Once you have them, they do tend to take over any available space. I did put up some spring photographs last year, so I have only added a couple more here rather than repeat too much. As usual our daffodils seem to be slower than everyone else’s, so I persist in thinking that spring isn’t truly here until my jolly yellow blooms are showing.

How does your garden grow? Do let us know.


The Bees Knees

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There has been much in the news lately about how important bees are to our ecosystem and what gardeners can do to encourage bees (for example this recent article from The Journal.) I have always loved to hear the buzz of bees on a summer’s day (and I am a great honey lover) but of course the important aspect of bee activity is in pollinating plants so that we continue to have food to eat. Bearing that in mind, here at Curiously, Creatively we have been gradually working on ensuring that the garden pulls its weight on the bee supporting front. Our aim is to have a garden where virtually every plant is bee friendly.

Many plants loved by bees are great favourites of ours anyway, so we were able to get off to great start with our good intentions. One of our very favourite summer flowers is lavender, of which we now have two plants, one from 2009 with a second specimen planted last year. I can’t find a note on the varieties but I think the first one was ‘Hidcote’ and the second was ‘Butterfly Lavender’. As you will know, our stripy friends are very fond of lavender too, so there is a great deal of gentle buzzing going on chez nous in the summer months. There is something wonderfully relaxing in hearing the sound of that industrious nectar gathering.

I recently came across an Irish Times article on bees’ needs by Jane Powers (2010) that I had stuck into the Garden Diary for inspiration. Jane Powers’ article (Gardens for Busy Bees) suggests a list of plants suitable for honeybees and bumblebees, as they having slightly different needs. What I didn’t realise was that bumblebees have longer tongues, so flowers suitable for them might not be so good for honey bees. In this category comes the foxglove, a plant that I have long meant to have a go at raising. We are nursing along some seedlings, started off in the summer so I hope to have plants established next season. We will let you know how we get on with the foxglove project. Another project to talk about another time (and also a bee related exercise) is seed saving and even a little seed scavenging, to expand our plant stock.

To tide us over until next year’s blooms, we took pictures of some of our burgeoning stocks of bee friendly plants. These snaps were taken in the autumn, so it was nice to see have the colour right into the gloomy wet weather. You might even spot the odd bee…

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Despite the miserable weather, we are trying to be good gardeners over the winter so keep an eye out for some winter gardening posts (we hope!) Meanwhile, please do let us know what you’ve been up to this autumn…

Picture Credits: Verity

Wildflowers in Bray: Part II

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As I described in a previous wildflower post, we have had our own mini team-building walk around Bray Head (and back again!). The June weather was lovely and ideal both for walking and for adding to my photographic practice. As I have said before, I am not a particularly knowledgeable photographer but I do enjoy the challenge of trying to compose good shots. I still haven’t settled down to identifying unknown plants and flowers, but I will get around to it eventually. Just looking at the range of colours around us on a bright sunny day, was lovely, but it would be nice to put a name to a few more flowers. I wish that the local council had more information available along the route.

I have had some success however, while on a walk over Howth Head, I did discover an information board naming various plant and bird species. This named an attractive blue flower that we had previously seen in Bray, as a sheep’s bit. I can only assume that it acquired the name from having a reputation as a particularly tasty snack for sheep. Talking of tasty snacks, we still have a plan to tackle cooking something with nettles but that will have to wait until spring I think.

Here again, is a selection of my photographs in a gallery format. As before, my picture editing has been basic and I haven’t yet attempted altering colour or tone. The cropping tool on Microsoft Picture Manager is still my best friend in this activity.

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Ideally I would like to arrive at a good range of photographs that I could turn into greetings cards. But, that is a long term project that I have not really thought through seriously. I may experiment with printing some photographs on different textured paper and mounting them on white or cream card. Anyway, an idea to play with in the future.

As before, if anyone can identify any flowers in the pictures that I have helpfully labelled ‘June or Wild Flowers’, then please do let me know. My next bit of photography will be a round-up of our garden activities, to illustrate our latest green fingered update.


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