Monthly Archives: September 2021

Dahlias

21 September 2021

When I joined the team looking after these gardens a few years ago, I was surprised to see that several dahlias have been planted in the bed nearest the war memorial – I didn’t realise that bees liked them. Well. I had a lot to learn; bees just can’t get enough of them. Not the very fancy pom-pom dahlias, or the exhibition ones with amazing shaped petals, but the plain ones that have simple open flowers and, it turns out, a seemingly endless supply of nectar.

Most of the dahlias in the bed nearest the memorial are yellow, like this one: we’ve left them in the ground over winter, covered them with leaf mould, and they’ve survived fine, and even spread perhaps a little too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a pale pink one, which we lifted and moved as the yellow ones were crowding it out. That’s now in one of the middle beds.

Since those early days, we’ve increased the number of plants, by lifting the tubers and dividing them after the first frost. We just might have been too successful, as this pink one is extremely vigorous – just one plant has turned into five this year, and it’s hard finding room for them all! But they’re great at this time of year – a joy to see as the year turns into autumn, and providing plenty of nectar for bees that need to stock up before the winter.

The copper-leaved plants with red or orange flowers, were all grown from seed last year and this; the variety is called ‘Bishop’s Children’ (they’ve been bred from the well-known dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’). You don’t know how they’ll turn out until they grow and flower, they’re all different, but one packet of seeds has produced many stunning plants.

 

One that hasn’t been so successful was a particularly beautiful one that’s attracted a lot of comment for its unusual colour – It’s called ‘Blue Bayou’, and is supposed to be the best of all for attracting bees. Well, that’s certainly true of the two that have survived and flowered, out of the five we planted (here and in our own gardens, where there was space to increase the stock). But what the catalogue didn’t tell you, was that the plant is also completely irresistible to slugs and snails. Here’s the other plant that’s here in the gardens, struggling to survive, let alone flower. A third one has vanished completely, and the last one has produced one bud, which apparently is a really tasty treat – I found a huge slug devouring it one evening.

The second Blue Bayou, after constant night-time snacking by slugs and snails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It isn’t really worth killing birds and hedgehogs by putting down slug pellets, so we’ll focus on all the other dahlias that can survive such attacks next year.. We’ll probably lift the Blue Bayou ones and grow them on in pots next year so they’re larger and stronger when they go out into the border, but I think that for these gardens, the Bishop’s Children and the vigorous, un-named yellow and pink dahlias, will be just fine next year.

Bumble bee rescue

08 September 2021

Yet another photo of a bee on a flower … but this time, there’s a bit more of a story to it.

While we were working in the gardens, a woman brought us a small plate containing a very tired-looking bumblebee she’d picked up from the grass by the car park, where it was in danger of being squished by all the people around there.

We decanted it carefully onto a nearby upward-facing dahlia, in the hope that it wouldn’t fall off, and would be close to nectar. Wow – immediate action – it stood up at once and started going round the disc florets, quickly lapping up all the nectar. Then it made its way over to the edge of the flower and fell off; at which point it struggled a few steps, then lay down on its side (never seen that before). We thought it might have just had a good last meal …

We left it for a while – I was working close by, so could keep an eye on it. Ten minutes or so later I noticed it had disappeared, and found it scrambling over nearby plants to reach the red deadnettle, which it started feeding from. Perhaps the dahlia was a bit of an energy drink for it, to enable it to go back to foraging for its preferred diet again?

And it’s nice to have further validation for our decision to leave all the red deadnettle we can – it’s an inconspicuous little flower that’s often seen as a weed, but bees seem to love it.

Let’s hope that bee recovers enough to be able to feed herself up ready for hibernation, and then to start another colony of bees round here next spring.