Tag Archives: insects

“Why are you cutting down our bees’ lavender?”

“Why are you cutting down our bees’ lavender?”

13 August 2017

 “Why are you cutting down our bees’ lavender?” said a voice behind me while I was pruning the lavender bushes along the paths. The voice belonged to one of the older children from the local preschool, who often come and help us and watch the bees, dragonflies and other insects as they visit the different flowers – clearly the message had got through!

I explained that the flowers were over for this year, and we needed to trim the plants back so that they’d produce lots more flowers next year. ‘Next year’ is probably quite a vague idea when you’re not yet five, but fortunately the explanation was accepted. Bees visit many other flowers at the moment (we try to have at least two ‘bee magnets’ in flower at any time throughout the year), but it’s true that they go straight for the lavender when it’s out.

The lavender border was started a couple of years ago, when we realised that we needed more structure in the gardens so that they carried on looking good after most of the flowers had faded, particularly as we tend to leave seed heads for insects to hibernate in over winter, and just to look good when there’s not much else happening in the dark cold days. This could look untidy without the more formal structure of the lavender border. Most of the plants are compact varieties – Hidcote, Munstead, Dwarf Blue, Little Lady, Arctic Snow – as although the larger varieties attract more bees, they’re also much harder to keep in check, and would soon take over the paths as well as the beds.

The standard memory aid for pruning lavender is ‘8:8:8’ – prune the bush to eight inches on the eighth day of the eighth month. Not quite so effective if you think in metric! But the general rule applies – trim the plants as soon as they’ve finished flowering, to roughly 20cm all round. Hopefully, we still have a couple of months of warm weather to encourage them to put out new shoots and fill out a little before they stop growing for the winter.

However, to mollify the child who was worried about the bees having no lavender to visit for nectar, we’ve left a few of the later flowers for them!

Ready for Remembrance Sunday

10 November 2016

ready-for-remembrance-day

Yesterday we spent the morning tidying away the plants that were killed by the previous night’s frost – the blackened dahlias in the bottom two beds, the deep red Cosmos that had been flowering in several of the beds right up till then, and the runner beans planted and harvested by the children from Mentmore  Road Under Fives Preschool. It all looks a bit emptier now! We’d already weeded the new lavender edging and tidied the edges of the beds, so the only thing left to do was to dead-head any plants we think will carry on for a bit longer, and stake some of the verbena bonariensis and linaria that were flopping over. We’ll need to mulch the dahlia tubers with leaf mould to protect them from any sharper frosts, but we want to wait until after Sunday as the leaf mould isn’t completely rotted and it’ll look untidy for a while at first.

It’s a difficult balance to get right. If we strip out everything except the shrubs and perennials, the garden may look more tightly managed on Sunday, but we’d lose a lot of the early flowers like deadnettles and forget-me-nots that make a large contribution to the nectar and pollen needed by bees emerging in the spring (or whenever it’s warm enough right through the winter). If we cut down all the dead stems and seed heads, we remove shelter for predatory insects over the winter, particularly ladybirds – and they did a great job this year in cleaning any aphids off the roses, for example. Many of the seed heads look great in frosty weather, too, adding to the interest in the gardens when most of the plants are dormant. We’ve also left a lot of seedlings which we’ll edit down to a few plants later on, when they’re bigger; I hope they don’t look as if we just haven’t weeded the beds!

 

Watering and mulching

13 September 2016

There are still a lot of bees in the garden – here’s one enjoying the coreopsis:

coreopsis

We’ve had very little rain for the last couple of months, and the ground’s dried out again very quickly even after a whole day of it.  We’d never claim to be a ‘drought garden’, but we do try not to use more water than we really need to. Even in this very dry summer we haven’t (yet!) had to use the hose this year, but the gardens don’t look particularly dry. This is thanks partly to the amount of mulching we did last year (putting leaf mould or compost on top of wet ground to hold the moisture in), and partly due to our choice of plants – garden perennials and many wild flowers need much less watering than annual bedding plants, for example. We use watering cans for a couple of weeks when we move plants or put new ones in, to get them established, then mulch them well and leave them to get on with it.

The exception is the vegetable bed where the children from the local preschool are growing peas, beans and carrots this year, where we’ve been using the watering cans a lot, particularly before the children broke up for the summer – they love watering things, and the runner beans probably had such a good start that they’ll survive any number of dry weeks now!

The mulch used for the bottom two beds (nearest the war memorial) last year was a proprietary compost made from wool and bracken, which has also kept weeds down for over a year and is still making a difference. We’re just beginning to notice a few weeds creeping back now, but it’s saved us a lot of time. It forms a bit of a crust, which does make the soil quite hard to work in the second year, so we haven’t used it this year in the other beds where we’re still moving a lot of plants round; there, we’re using garden compost round individual plants that need more feeding, or leaf mould where we just want to cover the ground over the winter, which is better for the soil. We’ve noticed a lot of ladybirds and other predators rooting around in it, which is good as we want to encourage them as much as possible around the gardens – this year they did a great job of seeing off any aphids that did try to colonise the plants!.

It’s a difficult balance at the moment – if we cover too much of the ground too early on, we’ll stifle all the self-sown Californian poppies, cornflowers and others that we’d welcome, but this is exactly the time when a lot of weeds start germinating, and we don’t want our volunteers to have to keep weeding the same patch again and again.