May 2013


Mmmm…delicious, delightful sunshine. Oh finally! That big blue sky full of smile invoking, and perfect plant growing, weather.  I missed sending out a newsletter in April, I am sorry about that, I got a type of newsletter befuddlement paralysis as I tried to juggle the usual monthly gardening tasks to fit in with us being soaked, frozen and just plain hurt by that northerly wind. But here we are in May, so let that sun shine generously on our shoulders so we can wriggle out of our slankets and head for the garden.  I will be rushing around a lot of gardens this month, including mine, at breakneck, Benny Hill theme tune inducing speed, to catch up on all those seasonal jobs.  I doubt you need my help to find jobs to do in your garden, as you probably have so many leaves to rake, and salt to sweep up that you aren’t looking for anything more, but I have gone and done my list again, so indulge me.  Then onto Bees. Why?  Beecause!  I actually had a good long chat with Matt this week, amidst the giggling, and we both decided the main blurb of newsletter should be about bees (well to be fair I sort of told him I was doing bees so he could too if he wanted!).  So a double issue of bee-ness. Quite excited to see how we both tackle the same topic.  Oh and Matt will let me have some of his sublime photos, which is a double edged sword as they are things of beauty which makes me sigh with pure joy, but then they make my happy snaps look excruciatingly amateur (which they are!) and that makes me just plain sigh.  Onto days out, I try to find local stuff that we all need to know about and I will either be at, or wish I was at, so see the bottom of this newsletter to see if I can tempt you out.

Seasonal Jobs

My favourite allotment owner had his shorts on today so I know warm days are here to stay.  While out there admiring the blossom (or Mr Clements legs) then why not have a go at this little lot:

  •  Mow, mow and mow again.
  • Give your lawn a good sharp edge with a half moon, as this immediately makes the rest of the garden look tidy without doing any further work.
  • Put fertiliser around roses, shrubs and along the base of hedges.
  • If you are doing a hay bale – then soak it now.
  • Check your lilies and fritillaries for red lily beetles, if you find one pick it off and squash it!
  • Keep a check on fruit trees, roses and vegetable plants for greenfly, if you do find any then pick them off, and again more squashing.
  • Slug patrol should start in earnest. More squashing… are you seeing a theme emerging?!
  • Sow runner beans and french beans in pots.
  • Cut back your Penstemons now. Cut out last years stems to the ground.
  • Plant your Dahlia tubers out.
  • In the vegetable beds sow your dwarf french beans, runner beans, beetroot, sweetcorn, carrots, leeks, spinach, squash, pumpkins and catch crops such as spring onions, radish and lettuce.
  • Sow some salad in a pot or a grow bag – rocket, spinach, parsley, coriander and little gem all do really well.
  • This is the best time to plant aquatic plants, maybe plant up a pond in a pot.
  • Top up your ponds with rain water.
  • Earth up potatoes as they come through, this prevents them getting green and inedible.
  • Soft fruit bushes need watering this month as they set their fruit.
  • Cover up your strawberries or the birds will get them before you get a look in.
  • Are you sick of all the forget-me-not’s in your garden? Then make sure you pull them up before they make seed. But really, shame on you – they’re gorgeous and flighty and such a treat so if you are happy for them to share your garden hold off pulling them up and then once they are in full seed grab them and shake them all around.
  • Trim hedges, check there aren’t any birds nesting in there first.
  • Many spring flowering shrubs can and should be pruned once they have finished flowering.
  • Dig up and divide any overcrowded clumps of daffodils.
  • Plant up your summer hanging baskets and window boxes, if you need a hand then please let me know.
  • Your raspberry canes may need thinning out – you only want 6 canes per plant so keep a nice strong clump and cut off any excess, you don’t want runners.
  • If you need any help, advice or encouragement then please get in touch.

Bee for….
(This is my bit)

News worthy? Bees have been grabbing the headlines recently as the EU have finally banned the use of neonicotinoid. They finally agreed a pesticide does kill insects at random and without a prior interview to find out if their intentions are honorable, fancy that!  But at least the EU are now being honorable, it shames me somewhat that DEFRA (our guys) were opposing the ban because it has only been proved in a lab and not outside, I ain’t no scientist but……really?…..REALLY!  I don’t know about you but when I was younger I genuinely thought grown-ups were in charge of the world but the actual truth is quite terrifying – someone find me a grown-up.

Why? – We all know bees are essential for pollinating. We need them for crops, flowers and just to marvel at.  We also like to plunder the honeybees wonderful produce.  Without the honeybees extra stock I would be bereft of the mad chemist chocolate making experience of the home made crunchie bars.  There are 254 species of bees, so many! I won’t bore you with all the different fellas out there but if you are interested then the Bumblebee conservation trust is a great place to start.

What can a gardener do?  – Bees need a good supply of pollen (it’s their protein)  to feed on and feed their larvae and they also feed on nectar (for their carbohydrate).  So plant some suitable plants.  Don’t use poisons.  Leave a bank or small area in the garden undisturbed.  Buy or make a solitary bee house for overwintering.

Which plants to plant? – It is best to have a big swathe of the same plant, not to have single specimens of different types of plants as bees live for about 4 weeks and they don’t have time to work out which is the best plant to forage, so they learn just one or two flowers near to their nest and go to town on those. When choosing plants to put in there is so much information out there!  I will do my usual website recommendation but the plants I know grow well for us in Crystal Palace and that I love and bees enjoy are Evening Primrose, Lavender, Foxgloves, Yarrow, Rosemary, Sage, Buddlejas, Comfrey, Roses – you want stuff with a good scent, native plants are good, native wildflowers are great.  To help attract the specialist bees Campanulas attract the little harebell bees and Stachys byzantina is loved by the wool-carder bee, who uses the soft hairs to line it’s nest, ooh how cosy. My most favourite bee loving plant, that my mum introduced me to when I was little, and has made me happy every year is Pulmonaria officinalis, or Lungwort, the flowers are pink when they open then once they have been visited by a bee and have been fertilised they go purple!!! Magic.

Might be easier to say which plants not to plant? – Bees have no use for plants that have been over cultivated so lots of tight little twirls on some of the dahlias and zinnias aren’t great,  exotic plants are also no good for bees. You need to find flowering plants so not ferns, succulents or evergreen bushes.  Yep that was an easier list to write!

No more poisons, please Any weedkiller has an effect on the local wildlife, so don’t bother, take time to hand weed.  Weedkillers don’t break down very well either so stay in the water table and our water supply, but don’t get me started!! Let us just agree it isn’t any good for bees.

Little bit of a wild side- Relax!  Let yourself go, or at least an area of your garden.  If you literally do nothing you will be helping the bees and loads of other beneficial insects in your neighbourhood.  What could be easier than that?  So don’t mow, don’t weed, don’t tidy, maybe take out a clump or two of grass and chuck in a handful of wildflower seeds, but even that isn’t necessary.  If you have a slope that is even better but if not choose a shady spot and stop over fiddling, the less disturbed the better!

Bee house – You never ever use to see bug hotels for sale then all of a sudden every shop had them on offer.  Depending on your budget you can get a small one or a super duper delux fella.  But if you have a sparkle of inclination then you can make your own with  just tying a bundle of bamboo canes together or drill a few holes in a log or go for it and bring out the contents of your tool shed and get building.

We’ve got ourselves a reader – Bees and wildlife gardening is a hugely important part of gardening but due to it’s popularity it has become a big old bandwagon for everyone writing about gardening to jump on so where to start? I hugely recommend Jan Miller-Klein’s book ‘Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and other beneficial insects‘ it is a wonderful book. Maureen Little knows her stuff and has written a couple of books about gardening for bees that are worth your attention.

Internet – I was a bit overwhelmed when I went to have a look into good websites to wander through, but there are gems out there.   Friends of the Earth have gone all out with their campaign for bees.  The rhs is always a wonderful resource to find out more.  If you don’t need any more information but just want to buy seeds and plants then I love Claire Austin’s website, she is the daughter of  David Austin so that was interesting to start with!  Bee happy plants have a good selection of seeds for different soils.  The English Cottage Garden Nursery have a great selection of plants and seeds.

Hey honey – maybe you want to go that bit further?    Would you like to plant up your garden then introduce a hive?  Then let me recommend the bee collective.  Have a look they really are wonderful.

Bee ‘cos…
(This is Matts bit)

There are 24 recorded UK species of bumblebee in the genus Bombus, there used to be 26, but we’ve lost 2 species in the last 100 years.  Bumblebees are related to honey bees and solitary bees.  It is thought that the hairy body of the bumblebee acts like a form of insulation, and allow the bumbles to fly in cooler conditions than their cousins.  Bumblebees nest in much smaller nests than the honeybee, and as a result, their reserves of pollen and honey are much smaller than those of the honey bees, and this means they are far more dependent on the availability of early spring flowers than honey bees.

After emerging from hibernation, the queen bee will start looking for food and a place to create a nest.  Once the nesting site is found, the queen will store pollen and also lay her first batch of eggs.  These eggs can take up to five weeks to mature, and this first brood of female workers have the job of expanding the resources in the nest, whilst the queen stays in the nest laying more eggs.  Towards the end of the season, the queen will create male offspring, and new queens.  Once the males have mated with the new queens, they die, and so do the workers and the old queen.  The new mated queens will then look for a place to hibernate, and the following spring the cycle starts again.

Bumblebees have several predators including, spiders, robber flies and as with everything, parasites.  One of these parasites is a mite which lives in the bees air sacs – nice!  They also have a few species that mimic them, and some of these even manage to lay their own eggs into the bee nest.  These cuckoo bees have lost the ability to collect pollen and rely upon the hard work of the bumblebees to feed them.

What can you do to help?  Easy really, have some plants that produce nectar rich flowers early in the season – Speak to Jane for advice.

Days Out

Fair or Fayre no matter how they choose to spelle it May is the time to chuck them at us so lets find a few of the best…

Dulwich have thrown me a curve ball and called it the Dulwich festival!  On the 11th May at 2.30 there is a Tree walk in Belair Park.  Then on 18th May at 2.30 at Crescent Wood Road there is a Bird Walk.  Oh hang on – on the 19th May they are finishing their festival with the Dulwich fair.

It isn’t a fair and it isn’t gardening related…..but Crystal Palace food market kicks off on 11th May and it would be hugely unloyal not to mention it and look forward to seeing you there.

On 12th May Chiswick House and Gardens are holding their May Fayre, and I’m a sucker for a crazy golf course so you’ll find me there!

Even closer to home is Burgess Park’s May Fair.  It is being held on 18th May and looks like bumper entertainment and great opportunity to enjoy the Pied Oudolf inspired planting.