Bee Brick on Trial

Solitary bees are responsible for around a third of all food we eat. But they are under threat. Numbers are dropping alarmingly and the jury’s out on the reasons why. Some say chemicals used by gardeners and farmers are causing the crisis. But there’s also a loss of habitat. More intensive farming methods and building and renovation work are having a detrimental effect on bees.

We can do our bit to help. Not using sprays such as weed and insect killer is a start. Planting pollen rich plants- all year round can help. And providing a suitable habitat can also give bees a helping hand.

I’ve been sent this Bee Brick from Green & Blue to try out. I had never seen one before, so was intrigued. It’s such a simple idea. Basically, when you are undertaking any construction work, you can incorporate this bee brick into the design. They come in three different sizes and can be stacked together or used individually. They can also be used free-standing.

Female bees collect pollen and lay a single egg in one of the brick cavities. They seal it off with mud or cut leaves – usually rose or wisteria. The pollen parcel is essential. The eggs develop into larvae and stay in the nest feeding until the following spring when they emerge and start to collect their own food. If the flowers have been sprayed with anything, the poison could be carried into the nest and affect the developing bee.

There are more than 250 species of solitary bees in the UK and these pollinate a range of plants including early spring flowers such as cherries, currants, rosemary, and peas. They are less temperature sensitive than honeybees and can forage much earlier in the season. Honey bees can’t fly in temperatures below about 13C. Their flight muscles do not work if it is too cold. But did you know that bumble bees can shiver to warm up.

Above is the bee brick incorporated into a planter. Such an unusual idea,and a win, win situation for the bees if you plant pollen rich plants in the top. In my garden I’ve planted lavender, herbs and daisy-type flowers for bees. They particularly love echinaceas. The plants pictured below were a magnet to all kinds of bees all summer.

Brightly-coloured zinnias have also been popular.

And verbena bonariensis has been fabulous for bees and butterflies too. I am sure I have never seen such a fluffy bee before.

You can make your own solitary bee homes out of logs, drilling a selection of different sized holes and then hanging the log in a warm sheltered place. Bumble bees often over-winter in old mouse nests. You can help them out by providing artificial bumble bee homes. Place an upturned terracotta plant pot in the ground with a piece of hose pipe into it. Cover the top with a slate to keep out the rain. If you can obtain some used pet mouse bedding from a pet shop you can place it inside the plant pot. If not, some straw will suffice. For more information on bees contact Bumble Bee Conservation here.

I was sent this bee block from Green and Blue free of charge in return for an honest review. Opinions are my own and I haven’t been paid to write about this product.

Green and Blue won an innovation award from the Soil Association. You can read about it here.

Have you made any habitats for bees in your garden? Please share your ideas here.

In A Vase on Monday- a view from the potting shed

Sorry isn’t a very good word to start a blog with. But yet again, I’m a day late. We simply do not have any broadband signal at home. So, having given up yesterday, I’m posting this from the Waitrose cafe! At least there’s tea and cake here. Anyway, please forgive me for always being late. Here’s some photos from my potting shed -taken on Monday.

In my vase this week there’s my yellow Aunty Doris chrysanthemums -still going strong, and a beautiful white variety called Swan. This one starts with a green centre which gradually over several days fades to pure white to match the outer petals. It is a thing of beauty, just like its namesake.

Here’s where I’m growing my chrysanthemums- in a 20 foot second-hand poly tunnel. It’s suddenly turned really cold -going down to freezing- so I’ve covered the flowers with fleece. The doors at both ends stay open to reduce condensation which damages the flowers. They can cope with the cold, but not the rain. Having said that, I’ve experimented this year and grown some outdoors. They were fine for early cropping and even coped with a couple of nights of frost. So I’ll do that again next year. The ones in the poly tunnel last until Christmas. Grace cat is on mouse duty! My seedling sweetpeas are in the Vitopod propagator.

Just as I’m starting to despair at the dark nights, these hazel trees burst into life. A million catkins to bring cheer. We called them lambs tails when we were little. They are a sign that spring is not far off really.

And so I’ve cut a few twigs to incorporate into this week’s Vase on Monday. And I’ve brought the vase into the greenhouse, as it’s getting quite gloomy in the potting shed. I’m putting up fairy lights in there next week!

Back in the potting shed, I’ve got a lot of rosemary clippings to use. The shed smells wonderful. And they a perfect partner to pink geraniums and cosmos.

Even a tiny posy for the kitchen window is welcome at this time of year.

And the rosemary helps support the very lax stems of chrysanthemum Lolypop. Mild autumn temperatures have made the stems grow long, so I’ve propped them up with greenery.

There’s a few chrysanthemum Sound nestling in the middle.

Such a pretty double chrysanthemum, Lolypop lasts for about a fortnight in a vase. The flowers just keep getting fluffier by the day. I love the slightly picotee edge to the petals.

And finally, there are a few begonia Pink Petticoat flowers left. Just one in a glass dish is enough to cheer up the kitchen breakfast table. I can’t stop gazing at the ruffled loveliness. How can anything be so pretty and delicate. Aren’t flowers cheerful- especially in late November.

Thanks to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what everyone else is growing and cutting to create their vases on a Monday. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing- all over the world.

And if anyone knows the solution to broadband problems out in the sticks, please let me know. I’m thinking of ditching BT and going over to an EE mobile version called hawk or owl, or some-such other bird. If anyone has any experience of these please let me know. Meanwhile, you can find me at… Waitrose!

Chocolate Fridge Tiffin- with Autumn Raspberries

On the first day we’ve had snow, I’m sharing my favourite chocolate recipe. Guaranteed to bring cheer, for anyone struggling with the onset of cold weather. Like all my recipes, it’s quick to make and uses produce from the garden. Autumn Bliss raspberries are still producing fruit. An unbelievably long cropping season this year. I’m still picking a few for my breakfast porridge each day. And think of all that vitamin C. Makes this recipe seem almost healthy! Go on, treat yourself.

Chocolate Tiffin

100g Butter

2 mars bars- chopped

2 tbsp golden syrup

240g milk or dark chocolate

5 digestive biscuits

9 rich tea biscuits

One and a half teacups rice crispies

15g glacé cherries

Three quarters of a cup of sultanas

120g chocolate for the top. I used Cadbury’s Bournville.

Melt the chocolate, mars bars, syrup and butter together in the microwave.

Mix with the crushed biscuits, crispies and dried fruit. Cool slightly and add a handful of fresh raspberries.

Spread in a 9″x9″ foil or paper-lined tray.

Cover top with melted chocolate

Place in the fridge.

Cut into slices and serve with fresh raspberries.

Will last three days in a cool place. If you can resist them that long.

Wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, they make a lovely home-made present.

Have a listen in to the BBC Down to Earth radio programme where we answer gardeners’ questions on the live phone-in. We are all sitting in the studio – munching my chocolate tiffin- this week. Here’s the link for the radio i-player http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05l50wv

I wrote about how to listen to radio programmes on the I-player at https://bramblegarden.com/2017/11/08/how-to-listen-to-gardening-programmes-on-the-bbc-i-player/

Do you have any favourite recipes for cold weather?

For more inspiration – read Making Winter- a creative guide for surviving the winter months, by Emma Mitchell. Published by LOM Art, an imprint of Michael O’Mara Books. Emma’s mouthwatering recipes and pretty craft ideas turn even the bleakest wintery day into a warm and cheerful celebration. The book is like a warm hug on a frosty day.

I can highly recommend it. There’s a link Here .

There’s recipes for chocolate fondant, lemon and ginger bars and even hawthorn gin. Ideas for things to make include a crochet shawl and matching scarf, and knitted wrist warmers. Perfect for coping with the winter chill ahead.

Baking a cake always makes me feel better when it’s freezing outdoors. Emma’s guide entices you to embrace the drab days and fill them with “baked goodness.” I wholeheartedly agree with her there.

#wordlesswednesday – Smoke

Gardener’s Cottage at dusk at Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire.

Visiting the Food Fair in the courtyard. Famous for its jam and chutney, fudge and cake. The gardens look fabulous. Wonderful to see the topiary pruned and the beds prepared – all ready for Snowdrops 17-25 February. A highlight of our winter calendar. The photo below was taken this February.

Meanwhile. Some more autumn photos to brighten your day:

I worked here, the winter before last. Such a beautiful place. Historic gardens dating back 400 years. Visit the website to see more photos. Sadly the house was demolished after the war.

The terraces and walled gardens have been lovingly restored.

A special place to visit at any time of the year. Do you have a favourite garden you like to visit to see the changing seasons?

In a Vase on Monday- in the Pink

We’ve had a few overnight frosts, so these are the very last of my deep red cactus dahlias, Nuit de Ete. Cascading branches of a small plum tree protected flowers from the worst of the weather. But today, the remaining buds are mush. They have served me well over the summer, providing a few flowers every time I’ve run up the plot. The posy this time is for my Mum.

There are a few cosmos left. These are ones that survived my late-summer cull. Plants that got to 6ft with very healthy fern-like foliage – but no sign of flower buds-were chopped down. I wish I had not been so impatient! Friends who kept their monster plants say they are smothered in flowers. A lesson learned for next summer.

From now until Christmas I shall be picking chrysanthemums grown in the poly tunnel, plus alstroemerias in huge pots. Just behind the cosmos you can see one of my favourite chrysanthemums, Lollypop.

These chrysanthemums, pictured below, are called Sound. I love the bright cheery pink flowers, and prominent button-yellow centres.

A favourite white chrysanthemum is called Swan. Such a pretty double flower with a green-white centre. It is well named, I think.

Both chrysanthemums and alstroemerias last a long time in a vase. Such good value plants. The alstroemerias throw up a few flower stems all year round.

Sticking with the pink theme, I’ve added these cerise bedding geraniums. I’ve cut the flower heads back ready to put the plants in a frost free greenhouse for the winter.

At this time of the year, pink nerines look so lovely growing in free draining soil alongside the drive. They are a pretty addition to my November bouquet.

I shall miss the dahlias over the winter. This one came from Wilkinson’s in the spring and cost £1. Great value, in my opinion. I shall wait until the foliage is blackened, and then dig them up and turn them upside down to drain. I plan to store them in the frost- free potting shed in boxes of sand or vermiculite. I’ll keep a check over winter to remove any that have perished, and also to ensure the tubers are dry- but not too desiccated. It’s a delicate balance. They will be started off again in February in the heated greenhouse, and I shall take cuttings to increase my stock.

Looking around – here’s the view from the top paddock gate. Muted autumn tones in surrounding trees and hedges. Today the oak leaves fluttered down in a steady stream, and lay in ribbon stripes across the lane. A beautiful, if transient, scene.

As always, thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden blog for hosting the IAVOM meme. I love seeing what everyone is growing and picking from their plots each week in gardens all over the world. Go over and have a look and join in. It’s a very friendly community of gardeners. I always enjoy taking part.

Working in the Garden- using battery powered machines 

Bramble Garden

I’m re-blogging this today as I’m currently trialling Stihl’s latest addition to the compact cordless range, a cute little lawn mower, MA 235. It should really be given a pet name. It’s such a delight to use, weighing only 14kg, and with no cable to get wrapped around your legs and trip you up! It is perfect for small to medium lawns up to 200m2. The grass box capacity is 30ltrs, and the machine is extremely easy to use. I’m in favour of anything lightweight. I don’t have to ask anyone for help. Plus, being battery powered it is quiet. It doesn’t scare the cat, or the wildlife I’ve been so keen to attract to the garden. More photos to follow. I’ve been given these machines by Stihl in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own and if I say nice things about them it’s because I…

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Help, I Need a Marquee………

Faulkener 019

The conversation went something like “Hello, I need a marquee.”  The reply was “That’s ok. For how many and what’s your budget.”  “About 40 people. Er… there’s a problem with the budget. There’s isn’t one.”

I expected the phone line to go dead. But to my  amazement, Richard  from Storer Smith Events laughed and told me to go on.  He wanted to know more.

There followed a somewhat embarrassing account.  I was organising my first ever fund-raising event.   I’d failed to keep track of ticket sales. Now there were 46 people coming – and the venue could only comfortably take 25.  I was having sleepless nights. People were going to turn up for a posh afternoon tea- dressed in their Sunday best. What on earth was I going to do?

There was a silence on the end of the phone. Then a sigh. Then the words, “Well, I’d better help you out then.”    I don’t think I have ever been so relieved. My bacon had well and truly been saved.

Richard – I’ll forever think of him as my knight in shining armour -saved the day. He provided a 6m by 9m marquee,  with carpet, tables, chairs, and also a monster  (almost) fire-breathing heater –  complete with gas. A team of workers to put it up- and take it down.  All free of charge.

Thanks to Richard,  we had a fabulous marquee for our vintage afternoon  tea- all in aid of Rainbows Hospice.  We enjoyed a  wonderful talk  and slide show from celebrated author Barbara Segall   who was speaking about her newly-launched book, Secret Gardens of East Anglia. I wrote a review about the book here .    Gary from Rainbows talked about the wonderful facilities and work at the hospice for children. Such a heartwarming, inspiring afternoon.

We served six types of posh sandwiches, and tomato and thyme tarts. Followed by a mountain of cakes, mostly made by my wonderful Mum. And gallons of tea in pretty mismatched china.

It all worked beautifully and I’m pleased ( and mightily relieved ) to report that we made almost £1,000 for Rainbows.

I’m so grateful to Richard for his kindness. It is a relief to know that wonderful people like him still exist when there is so much bad news in the world.

There’s a whole roll call of people to thank for helping to make the event a success. But chiefly, I want to thank Richard, for his kind and generous help.  Also Barbara Segall, who refused a fee for her talk. My friend Alison Levey from blackberrygarden.co.uk  blog who fetched, carried and was fab at selling raffle tickets. Geary’s Craft Bakeries provided the bread ( thank you Charles Geary). The co-op at East Leake supplied the fillings for the sandwiches. The Printers in Loughborough provided posters and tickets.

For the goody bags for each person who attended, Lady Ursula at Easton Walled Gardens provided 50 complimenatry tickets to visit the gardens.  Burgon and Ball gave me beautiful tins of string. Mr Fothergills gave me  packets of  flower seed. Cooks Lane Herbs gave me gorgeously-wrapped, wonderfully-scented handmade Red Clover and Honey Soap. Seedball   sent tins of wildflower seed.

For the raffle, books came from Alison Levey, Frances Lincoln (Quarto Homes) publishers, wine from the Round Robin, East Leake, flowers and plants from Googie’s Flowers , East Leake, calendars from The Calender Club, Loughbrough, Chocolates from Thorntons. Six Acre Nursery at Costock gave a lovely hellebore plant.

The photos are examples of marquees provided by Storer Smith Events. As you can imagine, I wish everyone would now rush out and book him up for the next 10 years. Such a good-hearted soul has won my loyalty for life!  Contact Richard at info@storersmithevents.co.uk. Phone 01889 563200. He’s at Uttoxeter ST14 5AP but supplies marquees all around the country.

In a Vase on Monday – my fund-raiser flowers.

Table flowers are a joy. They set the scene for leisurely lunches, or cosy friends-and-family dinners. Even a picnic has to have flowers. Usually I linger over the selection and mooch around the garden searching for material. This weekend, I ran round the plot at a gallop. The flowers thrown into jam jars in haste. I was planning an afternoon tea for 45 people! I just had time to gather these gloriously sunny chrysanthemums. I picked variegated ivy flowers and some beech and oak leaves. Here are the chrysanthemums, not looking very glamorous, in the corner of my poly tunnel.

Variegated ivy Glorie de Marengo covers one end of my 40 foot pergola. It provides cutting material all year round. I particularly love the starry flowers at this time of the year. The huge beech tree in the middle of the lawn casts a golden glow and its autumn leaves look so cheerful in amongst my Aunty Doris chrysanthemums.

I threw the lot into a wicker basket on the potting shed window while I searched for suitable jam jars. You can see my garden, the beech, cherry and maple trees around the pond, reflected in the potting shed windows.

Then I left the peace and quiet of the potting shed to head over to Spring Barrow Lodge near Coalville. It’s the home of my garden design clients Pat and John Stanley, where we were hosting my afternoon tea and gardeners’ talk for Rainbows Hospice. Author Barbara Segall kindly agreed to come and present a talk and slide show on her newly-launched book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

And I thought you’d like see the flowers on the tables- arranged so hurriedly. They contain the Aunty Doris chrysanthemums I wrote about last year Here

Barbara’s talk transported us all to the fabulous gardens contained in her wonderful book. I wrote a review here. I am so grateful to Barbara for her kindness in agreeing to come and help me stage this event- my first ever fund-raiser for charity. I am still counting the proceeds. But I think the admission tickets, book sales, raffle tickets and generous donations from people who could not attend but wanted to support us, amounts to just short of £1,000. To say I’m over the moon, is an under statement! I’ll write more tomorrow when I have gathered my thoughts. At the moment, I am still on cloud nine to be honest. There’s so many people to thank……

But I wanted to join in and congratulate Cathy at rambling in the garden for her 4th anniversary of In a Vase on Monday. Every week, I look in to see what everyone is growing, picking and arranging in their gardens- all around the world. It’s a fascinating blog, and I love joining in when I can. Go over and have a look. For the anniversary celebration the theme was any container- but a vase. So I was delighted to be able to join in with my great Aunty Betty’s Kilner jars, wicker baskets and simple glass jam jars. Thank you Cathy for hosting such a lovely meme, and for the friendship the blog has created amongst our growing and gardening community. I certainly appreciate all you do.

For more on Rainbows Hospice, click on the link here. All other highlighted words contain further information and are not affiliate links.

How to listen to gardening programmes on the BBC i-Player

There’s a lot of new technology that goes right over my head. My potting shed radio is 30 years old- and still working, I might add. But recently I made a rare impulse buy. I invested in an Apple i-pad and soon discovered I could create my own radio play list. I can download gardening programmes from all over the country and listen to them at my leisure.

Here’s how to do it. First search on line for http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio. Press “search” and type in the name of a programme on the menu.

This one shows Ben Jackson on BBC Radio Leicester. Every Wednesday between 11am and 12 there’s a gardeners’ phone-in. Quite often I’m the one in the hot seat answering all kinds of questions. It’s live and we don’t get the questions in advance. I’m new to all this, but Ben is extremely kind and takes the time and trouble to explain radio matters to me. I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

On the right of the screen you can see some ticks. You can download the programme to listen off line. You can add to “My Radio” which allows you to easily find more from Ben Jackson. You can also share the programme by e mail, or social media. If you click the little arrow bottom right, the following screen comes up:

So now you can whizz the little red line round to 2.07.51 on the timeline where you will come to 11am and the garden phone-in. The beauty of this is that you can stop and start the programme, go back by pressing the -20, or go forward by pressing +20. So if you want to hear the name of a plant again, of write down some information it is easy to do. I must admit, I use those buttons to whizz past the news and travel and some of the music.

If you type Down to Earth in the search section you will find Radio Leicester’s hour long gardening programme which is on every Sunday between 12 and 1pm hosted by Dave Andrews. It celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Amazing to think that a programme has been running that long. I’ve been one of the team answering questions for about two years. Two of the panel members, Derek Cox and John Smith have been on the programme almost from the start. You can have a listen in to a recent programme where we were out and about giving advice in front of an audience at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hv08r. In the studio, I often take in cakes made with produce from my garden. Recently I made chocolate pots with autumn raspberries. The recipe was on the blog- a few weeks back.

I also take in posies from my cut flower patch. If just one person is encouraged to grow flowers or fruit and veg, I shall be happy, to be honest. Here’s this week’s flowers on the potting shed window ledge.

Do you have any favourite radio programmes? Anyone else out there using the i-Player? Let me know if you have any hints or tips on listening to the radio with i-pads, computers and mobile phones. There’s no stopping me now. I can listen in whatever I’m doing, even while I’m gardening.