Dancing with Bees- prize draw winner. And The Good Bee Review. New books

Thank you everyone who left a comment on my review of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s new book, Dancing with Bees. All names were put in a hat and a winner randomly selected. A copy will be posted to Debi Holland when it’s published on 5th September.

photo: Bees loving Echinacea White Swan in my cut flower patch.

I wrote about Brigit’s new book here: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Chelsea Green Publishing. Publication date: 5th September. £20, hardback.

Meanwhile, more new books….I have one prize draw copy to give away of :

The Good Bee- A Celebration of Bees and How to Save Them

by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

Published by Michael O’Mara Books, 2019.

Hardback. £9.99

It’s a delightful little book, full of insights into the secret lives of bees. The section on gardening for bees is particularly helpful. There are five simple steps to start helping bees:

* plant year round flowers, shrubs and trees

*provide nesting sites and materials

*ditch the weedkiller and bug sprays

*leave the mower in the shed

*create a bee watering hole.

There’s ideas for making DIY bee hotels and info on where to site them. A charming, well-written book packed full of interesting facts. It would make a perfect stocking -filler present for anyone wanting to know more about bees.

Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum discovered their passion for bees and beekeeping twelve years ago. Since then they’ve set up Urban Bees, working with communities, charities, businesses and the public to raise awareness about all bees and support bee populations through education. They established a number of apiaries around London, including in Regent’s Park. They have written three books together, including their bestseller, A World Without Bees.

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary. A name will be randomly selected by the publishers. There’s no cash alternative.

Links:

The Good Bee : https://www.mombooks.com/book/the-good-bee/

Dancing with Bees : https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/dancing-with-bees/

Next Review coming up, with a prize draw copy is:

The Garden Jungle, or Gardening to Save the Planet, by Dave Goulson.

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1070593/dave-goulson.html

It’s been a fantastic summer for books- for wildlife-friendly gardeners.

Dancing with Bees – A Journey Back to Nature

by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Book Review – and prize draw copy to win.

Chelsea Green Publishing

Hardback £20

Publication date: September 5th 2019

Photo: bees in my garden on a seashells cosmos flower.

In early spring, the first sound we hear when we wake up is the hum of bumble bees. They nest in the eaves above our bedroom window, and their comings and goings are a constant source of joy and interest. We worry when it’s cold and wet and they don’t emerge till late. We know when it’s going to be warm and sunny -they are up and about at dawn. Our bees are our own little barometers, and we would miss them if they didn’t arrive each year. Yet we realise we know little about them. We are ashamed to say we don’t know what type of bees they are. My grandfather, who loved nature and worked the land, would have known all about them. How I dearly wish I could ring him up and ask him 50 questions, as I did when I was a child.

Like so many others, we have been preoccupied with work, mortgages, family, children’s schoolwork, then university – then watching our children leave and make their way in the world. Suddenly we realise we have become somehow disconnected with the natural world. We haven’t had time to stop and study. It’s all going on around us, we just haven’t been taking enough notice.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s latest book, Dancing with Bees, is a heartwarming story about reconnecting with nature. Bridget regularly used to walk to work, up and over the Malvern Hills from West Malvern to Great Malvern along well-trodden paths edged with wild flowers. But she describes being “So preoccupied with the chattering in my own mind, and getting to work on time, that I was oblivious to the abundant and diverse wildlife afforded by this wonderful mosaic habitat that surrounded me.

“How had I fallen so out of touch with the natural world that I now noticed the changing seasons more by how many layers of clothing I needed to wear to keep me warm ( or cool) than by how many leaves the trees were wearing?”

Brigit is shocked to find she cannot confidently name more than half a dozen of the trees she has just walked past on her way to work. She has “stopped noticing them.”

Her well-written book documents Brigit’s personal journey to make up for lost time and re-embrace nature. Facts about nature- and bees in particular – are woven into a diary of her daily life, making a garden and planting an allotment. Brigit describes some of the bees she identifies and watches them as they forage for food and make nests.

“Having a relationship with the rest of nature is about opening our hearts, our minds, and ourselves, knowing that we can, if we wish, rekindle our lost connections, because somewhere deep inside us all, there lives a little spark of ‘wild’ just waiting to be ignited.”

Dancing with Bees is an engaging book, written from the heart. We can’t fail to be swept along by Brigit’s enthusiastic endeavour. We want to learn more, and she gives us the information we need in an easy to read format. At the same time, it’s a very personal story, and one we might all recognise. We could, and should, take more notice of our surroundings and take time out from our frantic busy lives to reconnect with the natural world around us. It’s a message I’m certainly going to take note of.

Notes:

About the author: Brigit Strawbridge Howard is a wildlife gardener and naturalist. Brigit writes, speaks and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees and other pollinating insects. She lives in North Dorset with her husband Rob.

Links: Dancing with Bees https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Bees-Brigit-Strawbridge-Howard/dp/1603588485

ISBN: 978 1 60358 848 5

Leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for one copy of Dancing with Bees. A name will be randomly selected, “pulled out of a hat” by the publishers and sent out by them. Please also leave a message if you do not want to be included. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you.

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.

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.

In a Vase on Monday -Snow, and then spring!

What a week! Temperatures over the past seven days have gone from -12c to 14c. Luckily nothing seems to have been lost. The snow creates an insulating blanket. Plants can still photosynthesize through the snow. I just gently tap some of the snow-laden branches of conifers and acers. The weight can cause splaying and damage. Here’s a slide show of photos showing my garden from last Monday to today. Flowers are in plant pots and jam jars in the greenhouse and potting shed this week.

My 20-year-old Parwins electric heater has been working full time keeping the greenhouse cosy. A second-hand Alton Cedar greenhouse copes really well with the weather. The wood seems to expand in the winter, excluding any draughts. At night, I didn’t disturb the wrens nestling in a row on the door slider. There were eight snuggled together, keeping warm.

Scented pelargoniums have never been more welcome than on a freezing cold day. I picked some to put in tiny vases for my bedside table.

Iris reticulata bulbs are still in flower. They last longer in cold weather. Such a delicate scent. Much appreciated when there’s a foot of snow outside.

As there’s so few flowers this week, I’m showing some photos of my greenhouse, Polytunnel, potting shed set up. All within a few paces of each other. The polytunnel was second hand from a nursery closing down sale. You can see my Dalefoot Compost piled up in front of the potting shed, all ready for sowing seeds and growing fruit, veg and flowers. I started off some tomato seeds mid week. It’s the first time ever I’ve had to put hot water bottles on the compost bags before sowing seeds.

I’m keen to try this sheeps wool and bracken compost. I’ve been peat free for a while now, but composts have been variable to say the least. Dalefoot promises to be water retentive and cheaper to use, as no added fertilisers are needed. Apparently the bracken is naturally high in potash- needed for fruit and flower production. And the sheeps wool continues to act as a kind of slow release fertiliser during the whole growing season. Dalefoot have given me the compost to try out. As usual, opinions are my own and I’ll give an honest appraisal of the product in due course.

A quick peek in my potting shed and there’s still some white hyacinths, yellow tete-a-tete daffodils, with green hellebores and fluffy willow catkins. This time the vases didn’t freeze solid, thankfully. The view from the potting shed is white over. As is the view from the back door, below.

I didn’t go far to be honest. The roads around here were pretty dire.

But then – thankfully, the temperatures started to rise. And today has been the warmest day of the year.

Hope it’s sunny where you are at the moment.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting this IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy is growing and putting in her vases this week.

End of Month View – January 2018

Reasons to be cheerful. The first spring lamb has been born in crossroads field at the bottom of our lane. It’s been a daily ritual, walking downhill to check on the flock. Each time, we are hopeful. And then today, we stand at the gate and scan the field. And there, by the hedge, one tiny white lamb. Newborn and softly steaming in early morning sunshine. A joy. A reassurance. After all the family illness of the past few months, worry and fretting, one tiny lamb sends a subliminal message- all will be well. The season moves on and the familiar sights and sounds of our daily life returns to normal. We have weathered the storm and spring is coming.

There’s been some catching up to do in the potting shed. Seed packets are inspected, catalogues perused, and a list produced. It’s a start. Little pots of snowdrops are dotted along the windowsill. I marvel at the variety of markings. Those little green hearts. I could quite easily become a galanthophile.

Hyacinths, set in a dark cupboard in September and brought out in December, are in full flower now. And what a scent! Carnegie, my favourite white variety, brightens the gloom.

On one glorious sunny day, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees, a red-tailed bumblebee sleepily blunders in through the shed door and buries itself in a potted hellebore. I gently shoo her out for fear she’ll be caught in a spiders web indoors. And at any rate, there’s plenty of pollen outside with sarcococca, viburnum and winter flowering honeysuckle in full flower.

Sarcococca humilis attracts bees – and hoverflies. These, I’m told are Eristalis hoverflies, mimicking a bee. They had me fooled.

On sunny days, the snowdrops have a wonderful honey scent. I must admit, I didn’t know this fact until a few years ago when I visited Easton Walled Gardens. We stood at the top of a sunny bank, and the fragrance drifted up. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Sadly, a dull wet day doesn’t produce the same scent. And many snowdrop garden visits since have been on cloudy days. So I’ll just have to hold on to that memory.

This is my “Hodsock” corner at home. Each year we visit Hodsock Priory and buy one little pot of snowdrops for a couple of pounds. It’s amazing how quickly they bulk up. It’s a nice reminder of a lovely day out.

The potting shed makes an ideal reading retreat. It’s so peaceful in there. High in the tops of the overhanging beech trees, songbirds are singing, staking their claim to spring territories. A cheeky robin is taking an interest in the shelving at the back of the shed. There will probably be a nest.

Thanks to Steve at Glebe House blog for hosting this meme and for encouraging me to write. Go over and have a look what his garden looks like at the end of the month and visit some of the others joining in, from all around the world. What signs of spring are you seeing in your gardens at the moment?

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.

#wordlesswednesday At Pensthorpe, Norfolk

I'm still trying to identify this fluffy bee. Spotted in the glorious wildlife garden at Pensthorpe.

The plant is a purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Recommended on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list.

Echinacea fact file:

Common name: hedgehog plant, coneflower

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Echinacea. Clump forming, rhizomatous perennials with simple, pinnately-lobed leaves. Long-stemmed daisy-like flowers with prominent conical centre.

Height: 0.5-1.5m with a spread of 0.1-0.5m There are some low-growing varieties such as Kim's Knee High (60cm). See RHS info link here.

Grows in: Full sun, tolerates some shade.

Aspect: Prefers south facing. Can cope with sheltered or exposed conditions. Any really well-drained soil.

Propagate: From seed. Available from Chiltern Seeds. Or divisions in spring.

Recommended: Elton Knight, Magnus, Ruby Giant, Pallida (drooping petals), White Swan, Green Envy and Green Jewel (lime). I haven't found the orange, yellow and apricot-coloured hybrids to be very long-lived.

Tips: Avoid damp spots for planting and don't heavily mulch over the crown in the winter. Add plenty of grit when planting to improve drainage. The cold weather doesn't seem to bother them, it's the mild, prolonged wet spells that kills them.

Anyone know the name of my bee?

#wordlesswednesday 

First bee of the year. Glad I planted those crocus bulbs. Camera phone photo. 

Have you spotted any bees in your garden yet? I saw a beautiful healthy frog by the pond today. I was so pleased as last year a number of them were diseased. Hopefully there will be frogspawn soon.