The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

Book Review

Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

Octopus Books/ Mitchell Beazley. Hardback £10. September 6 2018.

Captivated from the first page, I keep dipping into the new Almanac, published this week. I loved Lia Leendertz’ first seasonal guide created for 2018. The new version for 2019 is just as magical, if not better.

I’ve made a kind of nest in the summerhouse, heaping cushions and old quilts on a comfy armchair. It’s peaceful in here, only the sound of thrushes tap taping snail shells on the stone path. It’s just the place to settle down and delve into Lia’s book.

There’s something comforting about being in tune with the natural world around us. Checking the times for sunrise and sunset, sea temperatures, tides, moon phases. I haven’t tried planting by the moon, but there’s dates and times to get me started. It seems to make perfect sense. I love the little moments of joy. Reading that day length increases by 1 hour and eight minutes during the course of January. It gives hope when it’s needed most. Here’s the page for January. Plough Monday is included in the dates listed. I heard my grandfather talk of Plough Monday- traditionally the start of the agricultural year. The book is like a siren call leading me back through time to my farming family ancestors. A reminder to keep in my heart their customs and celebrations.

There’s recipes such as Epiphany tart, a kind of jam pastry, with a star made with overlapping triangles and each “well” containing a different flavour. I hadn’t heard of this; it sounds delicious. There’s a tradition dating back to the 1600s of creating tarts with intricate pastry patterns, coloured with different jams. I wonder if my great grandmother Annie Foulds – who was head cook at Bradgate House- would have made such a dish. She made the most delicious cakes at home at Carters Rough Cottage, Groby.

Lia’s writing is perfectly complemented by illustrations from artist Celia Hart. The prints are so beautiful they draw you in, much as a photograph of a glorious scene makes you want to step into the landscape. It’s impossible not to stare longingly at Celia’s drawings- and wish you could step into the page. I’d like to see those swifts and swallows soaring above my head and turn over the seashells she so wonderfully captures.

A mesmerising read, totally spellbinding. A beautiful month by month companion for me. For anyone, like me, who tries to weave the stories of the past into the journey to the future.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers will pick a name and send out a copy. The publisher’s decision is final. Sorry UK entries only.

Please share this review on any social media platform you like. Thank you.

Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.

BBC Radio #SundaySupplement flowers/ hedgehogs/ my garden, 12 August programme

Some photos to accompany today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening Sunday Supplement programme. It was my turn to sit in and answer listeners’ gardening queries on the phone-in today.

As always, I ran round the garden and picked some flowers for my mother-in-law Joan and my Mum Marion to take in to the programme. Despite the heat and drought, my cut flower patch hasn’t let me down. There’s plenty of colour just now.

In the pink and blue theme posy there’s zinnia, Mophead hydrangea, cosmos seashells and white wild goats rue. The green umbels are actually parsley that’s gone to seed, and the whole bouquet is wreathed with blue borage. The pink whirls are Diascia Hopleys. Plants have grown to 5ft and been in flower for 8 weeks. There’s just one glorious inky-blue gladioli, and one annual pink chrysanthemum (Tricolor Mixed) which are only just starting to flower.

In the orange-theme bouquet there’s calendula, rudbeckia, spikes of verbascum, and seed heads from love-in-a-mist. White jasmine provides a wonderful scent, even if there are only two sprigs included here. Any more would be overpowering.

I could talk for hours about flowers, but the conversation steered towards wildlife in my garden. So for anyone wondering how my hedgehogs are getting on, we have four precious babies this year, one less than last summer. They are a month later than last year, but very healthy and active. I am feeding them with Spike hedgehog food to try to build them up for the winter. Fresh water is also really important and in scare supply, so lots of little dishes are placed all around the garden.

So far these hoglets are just 5″ long. I’ll keep an eye on them to ensure they meet the target weight of 650g by winter hibernation time.

I wrote about last summer’s hedgehogs Here. There’s also hints and tips on helping hedgehogs on the highlighted link.

Radio Leicester Sunday Supplement is available on i-player. There’s a link Here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fs2mb . Gardening starts at 1.09.31. Put your feet up and have a listen in.

Let me know what flowers are doing well in your garden right now, and do any of you have hedgehogs nesting in the garden this summer?

Please kindly share this on any social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello in the comment box below.

Tour of MrFothergill’s Seed Trial Grounds

Photo : Silene Blue Angel. New for 2018/19

Growing plants from seed is a passion for me. It’s an affordable way to bulk up annual, perennial and biennial displays in the garden. And each year I try something new, as well as sticking with tried and trusted old favourites.

Next spring, I’ll be adding Silene Blue Angel to my seed sowing plans. It’s one of the new varieties on offer at Mr Fothergill’s. And this week I was absolutely delighted to be invited to view the trial grounds at the company’s headquarters in Suffolk.

These are the plants that caught my eye. The silene was top of my list. A hardy annual, sown in March and planted out in early June. Plants form neat cushions 25cm tall. For a continuous display, I’ll sow a few seeds at two to three week intervals. I’m picturing drifts of electric blue flowers running through the borders and flowering all summer long.

Brachycome Blue Star is another new variety available for 2019. I’m going to partner it with this one I spotted from the Brachycome Blue/White Mix range. I’ve always loved any kind of daisy flower.

Regular readers know I also love sweet peas. I grow a range of heritage and modern varieties along a rather wonky hazel wigwam structure. Next year I will be adding new variety Capel Manor to the garden. It’s a pretty pinky blue and has a delicate, though not overpowering scent.

I always plant cosmos in the cut flower garden. They are easy to grow and provide flowers from early summer right through to the first frosts. I spotted this beautiful new white variety called Snow Puff. Bees seem to love cosmos, so that’s a bonus too. I’m always trying to find ways to help pollinators.

Here’s some photos of the trial grounds. It was fabulous to wander about amongst so many beautiful flowers, jotting down names for future planting plans. The scent in the heat of the day just added to the wow factor.

Mr Fothergill’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In May, the company won Product of the Year at RHS Chelsea for its new Optigrow range of seeds. Optigrow is a revolutionary non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seeds biologically ready for germination. I’ll be trying out some of the 19 vegetable varieties available – including tricky to grow parsnips- next spring. I’ll need to write another post about all the new vegetable varieties. There are quite a few I’ve made a note of. And there are many more new flower varieties. I’ve just picked out a few. I’ll definitely have to write another post soon….

Please share this via any social media you like, and don’t forget to say hello in the comments box below. Let me know what new seed you are planing to try out for the spring growing season. I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

In a Vase on Monday – My Cut Flower Patch

One of the joys of June is to walk out into the garden and pick a bunch of flowers for the house- flowers that have been nurtured all winter, and are now ready to harvest.

Sweet williams are currently my favourite. They provide masses of flowers which last at least a week in a vase. Sown in June last year, they were pricked out and grown on, and then planted out in late August. And today I’m picking basketfuls of fragrant flowers.

Regular readers will know that all my flowers are grown for my mother in law Joan and my wonderful mum, Marion. Once a week I fill every vase they own with home-grown flowers.

Here’s some photos from my cut flower patch. I have 10 3m by 1.2m beds. Half are planted with sweet peas, dahlias and sweet williams. Half are set out with potatoes, beetroot, beans, courgettes and strawberries

In the background you can see the fruit garden. It’s completely overwhelmed with brambles and stingers this year. A renovation project is planned, when I get a minute to spare.

I’m growing a range of old-fashioned Sweet williams with seed from Higgledy Garden. As you can see, bees love them too. I’m always thinking of what would be best for pollinators.

I particularly love the auricular-eyed sweet williams. Rich Venetian colours really stand out in the summer sunshine. And they go so well with summer roses. This one is called William Shakespeare. Looks like red velvet to me.

And another favoured rose for picking right now is the highly-scented Constance Spry. It only flowers once, but what a spectacular show.

I’m sowing more sweet williams right now, preparing for next summer’s bounty. I use half seed trays filled with good quality seed compost. Fill them right to the top of the trays. Press down gently to level. Sow seeds thinly to prevent moulds and damping off disease. Seeds germinate at 17 – 19C, room temperature at this time of the year. So no propagators are needed. When seedlings have two leaves, I prick them out into full size seed trays to give each plant more space to grow. I’ll place the trays in a bright place to grow on, making sure the plants don’t dry out. And I’ll plant them out into the garden in August, 25cm apart, when I’ve harvested one of the vegetable crops to make space. I water plants with seaweed extract and home-made comfrey liquid which makes them grow healthy and strong. I’m adding some almost black sweet williams Nigricans and white alba for next year.

Here’s another view of my cut flower patch with Diascia Hopleys in the foreground. Another good do-er for flower arranging.

I’m joining in with Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and the others are growing and putting in their flower arrangements this week. Let me know how your gardens are doing this summer. How are you coping with unpredictability weather, rain and high winds? I think summer storms are becoming the norm.

Weeds. Geranium robertianum

I’m writing a piece about weeds at the moment. Suddenly, in the sunshine, after all that cold weather, weeds have gone whoosh!

In my woodland garden, there are thousands of wild geranium, robertianum. It has so many common names: herb Robert, stork’s bill, crane’s bill, red robin, stinking Bob, fox geranium, cuckoo flower.

“Herb Robert is very familiar. It lives with man: much as the robin flips into his garden and to his back door” – Geoffrey Grigson- The Englishman’s Flora.

I’m enjoying reading up and investigating more about this common weed we usually pass by without noticing. And meanwhile, a posy of herb Robert sits in my potting shed window today. Mixed in with some wild violets -which are so numerous they could be considered a weed. Both very pretty indeed.

What “weeds” are growing in your garden right now.

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.