Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A New Breed of Supergardener

I love the winter garden with its skeletal structure and great nostril-loads of scent. On a bright, frosty day what could be better? Actually, quite a lot. The problem is that although I delight in the great outdoors, I absolutely cannot stand being cold. In no particular order, my pet hates are: cold hands, cold feet, and cold hurting ears. It takes me back to hockey at school, only then I had cold blotchy knees to add to my misery.

Luscious Lonicera
I don't like to show off, but these days I am blessed with a fine collection of thermal undergarments, a woolly hat, lined boots and an array of mismatched gloves. Hacking icy flints from the borders and untangling bare-root hedging plants which have knitted themselves together (presumably for warmth), I am an advertisement for wearing everything at once. To put it succinctly: I am a walking wardrobe.

Eranthis hyemalis

This whole business of being so cold that I am barely able to move for all the layers of clothing has got me wondering why gardeners haven’t evolved over time. We have been cultivating our plots for thousands of years and while I appreciate that many gardeners of the past might have inhabited warmer areas of the globe, there must have been a fair few green-fingered pioneers who ventured out on a frosty morning to prod a stick at a patch of cold earth. 

Frosty Phlomis italica

If we were climbing plants, we would by now have adopted aerial roots or adapted our leaves into tendrils, so why have we not developed ever-warm extremities? I think that the answer might lie with the cooks of the world. We have been burning food for longer than we have been cultivating gardens, so where are the chefs' heat-resistant hands and unsliceable fingers? 

Echinops with an ice cap

Cooks' and gardeners' adaptations might be mutually beneficial. I am no chef, but I wouldn't mind having heatproof hands for those occasions when I forget about hot pan handles; and I am sure that chefs could adjust gardeners' adaptations to suit their own purposes (although I'm struggling with adaptation number 8 below). 

Were I a time traveller, I would have a word with our ancestors and ask them to initiate a few improvements so that all gardeners nowadays would be blessed with:

1. Constantly warm hands, feet and ears

2. Thorn-resistant skin

3. An ache-free back

4. The ability to prune with the scissor action of the fingers of both hands, thereby adding hours to the gardening year which might otherwise be lost searching for secateurs 

5. A dripless nose

6. The ability to hover mid-air while pruning, thereby rendering ladders unnecessary

7. A reviving stare which rejuvenates listless plants and makes old seeds viable

8. Toes which double as hoes.

There must be something I’m missing from this list..... what do you mean I need to get out more? It's cold outside.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

On The Menu in February for Bees

I grew up in a hospitable home and while my culinary skills may never set the world alight (indeed they might arguably give the world a dicky tummy), my desire to replicate this wonderful part of my childhood extends beyond the dining table and out into the garden. I don't mean that I am in a permanent state of barbecuing, although that would be fun, rather that I like to offer food to wildlife, not just in the feeders we have dotted around the garden, but also in the form of the plants I choose to grow. 

Anemone blanda
I have seen bees or butterflies during every month in my garden, so I have challenged myself to continue to increase the quantity and variety of forage on offer all year round. It is the most wonderful way to garden. 

Choisya ternata
In any year there will be the rule breakers - those plants which strut their stuff irrespective of the fact that it isn't their turn to take centre stage. Choisya ternata appears to have given up on the concept of waiting in the wings and has reinvented itself as a year-round flowerer, as has Pyracantha. This is all marvellously above the call of duty, but who is to say that they will manage the same generosity of flowering period in the future? 

Iris reticulata
The pollinators' pantry is surprisingly well-stocked in February and it contains too many wonderful plants to focus on here, so I have selected three glorious February flowers which the bees and I couldn't live without. 

Gorgeous Galanthus
February without snowdrops is like Friday without chocolate (or any other day of the week in my humble opinion). Good old Galanthus nivalis not only raises our spirits in the darkest days of winter, these little beauties provide a valuable source of quality pollen. They flower for weeks on end, probably because pollination can be a bit hit-and-miss at this time of year given the weather and the reduced number of pollinators on the block. But when the weather is right, bees will be busy working those snowdrops and lifting our spirits even higher. If you don't already grow snowdrops, now is the time to order some and plant them 'in the green'.

Crocus tommasinianus

The Crocus lawn is coming into flower now. It is only small, but it is a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees. Bumblebees are always the most entertaining foragers; I love to see them dive headfirst into the flowers of Crocus tommasinianusCrocus flowers close at night and bees will lie swathed in the petals until morning when they can enjoy breakfast in bed (such is the life of a queen bee). If you are able to grow Crocus and have not yet tried a mass planting of them, please think about adding Crocus tommasinianus to your autumn bulb list so that you, too, can sit with a warm drink on a sunny winter day and watch bees. I can’t recommend this pastime highly enough.

Hurrah for Hellebores (and Lonicera fragrantissima
in the background)
Garden blogs are usually swamped by photos of Hellebores at this time of year and for good reason: they are an all-round fabulous plant. Not only are they beautiful; their evergreen glossy foliage makes a stylish weed-suppressing ground cover and best of all, they are a valuable source of nectar for honey bees and queen bumblebees. Queen bumblebees can hibernate for up to six months. Consequently, they wake in desperate need of food. If there are no flowers and no nectar, these bees may die. Fortunately the plants which make all the difference to the bees happen to look wonderful too. Isn't gardening with wildlife in mind wonderful? 

You may rightly have spotted that the photos in this post were taken in the dark. Unfortunately I was so busy digging that I forgot to take any pictures until sundown. I am linking this post to http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/, where you will find plenty more posts written by bloggers who don't wait until dusk to photograph their plants. I am now heading over to May Dreams Gardens to see if I can steal some menu ideas for next February. Happy GBBD. 

P.S. If you want to see cute bee pictures, there's one here http://thegardeningshoe.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/bottoms-up-bees.html

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Three Dogs; Two Chickens; and a Lost Garden Visit

I had been looking forward to joining fellow garden lovers today for a visit to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, but as I picked up my coat to leave the house, three dogs came into our gated and fenced garden and attacked our chickens. 

Despite wintry weather, our hens have been laying. This morning as I let them out to wander around our garden, I stopped for a moment to admire Herby's golden feathers shining in the winter sun. Now Herby is in a box in my office. I am bathing her wounds and hoping that she is not in too much pain. The day out I had been looking forward to for weeks has gone ahead without me. Why? Because someone failed to look after their dogs properly. The owner of these animals is responsible for turning a relaxing, enjoyable Sunday into a day of stress and pain and sadness.  

I hope that our beautiful chicken makes a full recovery. I also hope that the owner of the dogs takes better care of their animals in the future. 

Thank you to those on Twitter and Facebook for your prompt advice so generously and thoughtfully given. You illustrated the very best side of the power of social media. Thank you.