Thank you to everyone who read my review of Jean Vernon’s latest book. To celebrate my return to blogging, I’m sending out four books to readers who left comments. Names were randomly selected, and the winners are Menhir1, Kate Elliott, Pauline (Lead Up the Garden Path) and Gill. I’ve sent the winners messages in the replies section, but if you are reading this please send your addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get books sent out to you. Thank you again to everyone who reads my blog and takes the time to leave a comment. It’s always much appreciated.
Here’s some more excerpts from the book. There’s chapters advising on the best plants to grow to help pollinators. I grow both the blue and the white form of borage. The blue variety has flowers the colour of a Mediterranean sky. I use flowers in salad dishes and also to decorate cakes.
Cosmos is another favourite plant in my garden. Not only is it very useful for cut flowers, it also attracts a wide range of bees and butterflies. There’s plenty of space for more than one bee or butterfly to land and feed.
Here’s a photo from my garden with Cosmos Seashells providing plenty of pollen for these bumblebees.
My home-made bee hotel. These are made from cardboard tubes and garden canes. Nearly all of the canes contain cocoons. The bees plug the ends of the canes with mud to protect the cocoons over winter. I’m now looking into buying special bee chambers with removable paper tubes. These can be replaced and refreshed each year to help prevent diseases.
I also have some bee bricks which are specially made to integrate into buildings, replacing a normal brick with one containing nesting holes of varying sizes. These also seem very popular with solitary bees.
The back cover of Jean’s latest book.
Information about the author.
Jean with her new book. Photo by Hannah McVicar.
I was very pleased to take part in the blog tour launch of this beautiful and very special book which has an important message for all of us. Helping garden pollinators ultimately helps us too. Bees, butterflies, moths and other insects all help to pollinate our fruit and vegetables. Help them, and we are ultimately helping ourselves. More pollinators equals higher productivity and therefore more food. It makes sense to do all we can to provide the best habitat we can for pollinators.
Published by White Owl, imprint of Pen and Sword Books
Published summer 2022
Please leave a comment at the end of the review if you would like to be put into the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be chosen randomly.
Right by my front door, on a warm, sunny south-facing wall, we have a selection of bee ‘houses’ some home-made from cardboard tubes and garden canes, and some purchased at a local supermarket. These are a source of wonder and joy as clouds of solitary bees hatch out and start to forage in the front garden. Watching a new, baby bee hatching out of its winter cocoon is such an exciting and magical moment. Thanks to a new book on attracting pollinators to our gardens, I’ve been able to identify our bees. They are red mason bees; solitary bees that nest in wall cavities and readily use bee houses like ours. In Jean Vernon’s book I’ve learned these bees are fond of fruit tree nectar and pollinate apples, pears and other spring and summer-flowering trees. So I’m expecting a bumper crop of fruit this year. And I’ve learned these bees, like most solitary bees, do not sting, so there’s no danger to me or any visitors walking past the bees to get to the front door. Reading on, I learn that one way to help my bees is to leave a mud patch nearby so there’s plenty of material to seal their eggs cells. It’s completely calming and relaxing watching the bees going about their daily lives, and I want to do all I can to help them. It would be terrible to think of these bees emerging into the world and not finding anything nearby to eat. Jean points out that some solitary bees will only travel a few metres from their nests to find sustenance and they will starve if there’s not enough suitable plants flowering at the right moment.
Here’s a photo of a red mason bee in Jean’s book. (photo by Liam Olds).
Jean’s book is split into chapters on identifying and learning about specific pollinators such as butterflies, moths, bees, and hoverflies among others, and advice on which plants to grow to help pollinators.
Photo of Jean by Hannah McVicar.
If you’ve been listening to BBC Radio Leicester you’ll know that Attracting Garden Pollinators has twice been my Book of the Week. I’m happy to recommend such an easy to read and information-packed book. Jean writes in a friendly and accessible way. Her passion for nature and wildlife shines through and you can’t help but get caught up and carried along by her enthusiasm for the subject. Simple ways to help pollinators are suggested, and you don’t need a huge garden to make a difference. Even a windowbox or container can be a five star diner!
I wrote about Jean’s other best-selling book here:
Please leave a comment in the box below if you would like to enter the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be randomly drawn. I will only contact you on this page and no payment of any kind will be asked for. Please be aware of scams. Please also feel free to leave a comment if you don’t want to be included in the draw. Just let me know.
Thank you for reading my blog and book reviews. Are you growing any plants with pollinators in mind? Have you tried making a bee house? I was fascinated to read you can buy red mason bee cocoons to hatch out in your garden. Alternatively, invest in some special mason bee tubes and install them in a nesting box . You can replace the tubes each year to keep the nest free from pests and parasites.
Are you taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this year? I’m just about to settle down with a cup of tea and count the butterflies in my garden.
Wildlife specialists, Vivara, are sponsoring the count this year and sent me this butterfly house to promote the citizen science project.
I’ve placed the house in a sunny sheltered spot in the cut flower and vegetable garden. I’ve put some twigs inside the house and hopefully butterflies will use it to shelter from bad weather. If I’m lucky, some might use it to overwinter in my garden. Last year we had peacock butterflies hibernating in the hen house and the potting shed. Adults overwinter in dark places such as sheds, bird boxes and holes in trees, and left undisturbed, they will be dormant until spring. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, they emerge and look for nectar-rich plants to feed on.
The butterfly house has a hook on the back and a screw and rawl plug for hanging it up.
I always look for the FSC mark on any wooden product which shows it’s been made from materials sourced from well managed forests. The butterfly house is a sturdy product which should last for years.
Vivara have one butterfly house to give away. Leave a comment at the end of this piece and a winner will be randomly selected.
Butterflies need all the help they can get. Numbers are falling drastically. The Butterfly Conservation charity which runs the Big Butterfly Count says last year a record 145,000 counts were submitted, but worryingly 2020 saw the lowest average numbers of butterflies logged since the event began 12 years ago.
Cold, wet spring weather is thought to be a factor. Here in Leicestershire we had a cold, dry April, followed by the wettest May for 50 years. It rained every day, and right at the end May, we had a week of frost with temperatures dipping to -4C. This week we’ve had flash floods with 15mm of rain in one day, and hail stones the size of marbles.
Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count helps scientists assess the health of our environment, and helps us understand how the climate is affecting butterflies.
To take part, spend 15 minutes counting the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. You can do this in a garden, school grounds, or public park. Go on to the Butterfly Conservation website and record your findings, or download the i- record App. There’s a downloadable wall chart showing all the different butterflies which helps identify them.
Here’s some butterflies I spotted in my garden:
Five Ways You Can Help Butterflies:
1. Join Butterfly Conservation. It’s half price until 8th August. There’s magazines and leaflets on gardening for butterflies. Also, invitations to local guided walks, and conservation volunteering days.
2. Run an event on behalf of Butterfly Conservation. Every little helps. You could host a coffee morning, a plant sale, a sponsored activity.
3. Volunteer for Butterfly Conservation. There’s office and outdoor work available.
4. Grow something for butterflies. They need nectar-rich plants for food, but also trees, shrubs and plants for caterpillars.
5. Take part in the Big Butterfly Count which runs until August 8th. It’s the biggest survey of butterflies in the world and provides a valuable insight into the health of our UK butterfly species.
Plants I grow to attract butterflies:
Buddleja is the one everyone knows about. Literally called the ‘butterfly bush.’ There’s some new miniature varieties for growing in small spaces and in containers. Look out for the Buzz series in lavender, magenta and white.
Lavender. Hidcote is my favourite as it is compact and doesn’t sprawl. Of all the lavenders, this one seems to cope with wet winters better than most. It needs well-drained soil and a sunny site.
Perennial wallflower- Bowles Mauve. Rarely out of flower all spring and summer. It’s a good idea to have a variety of plants from early spring through to autumn so there’s always something in flower for butterflies.
Marjoram. I discovered this when I let some marjoram or oregano plants escape from a pot. They grew to 60cm and scrambled through the bottom of a sunny hedge, providing pink/purple flowers all summer.
I also grow a selection of plants for caterpillars. Fruit trees, alder buckthorn, holly, blackthorn, oak, broom, lady’s smock or Cardamine pratensis, nettles, bird’s foot trefoil, all important caterpillar food.
Thank you for reading my blog. And thank you for all your kind comments on here and via other social media, letting me know how much my posts have cheered you up during the past two very difficult years. It’s much appreciated. Good luck in the prize draw! I’ll announce a winner on Sunday evening, 1st August, 2021.
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.
Visitors to my garden sometimes look surprised when they see the state of my hedges. They don’t often know what to say. Or they launch into a lecture offering kindly advice which usually involves grubbing out the rampant species and cutting everything back. I say nothing.
Truth is, I know the hedges are untidy. But I love them that way. There are gaps – but they allow ramblers on the lane to view the snowdrops. And me to watch the barn owls glide silently by at dusk. Yes, there are tangles of wild clematis, ivy and honeysuckle. Bees love the ivy flowers and birds love the berries. It’s a living tapestry of colour all year round.
Even the scruffiest, wild and untamed hedge provides nesting and cover for birds. A home for insects and small mammals. A microclimate, baffling the wind. Far better than any fence or wall, allowing frost to filter through and creating shelter.
Being a fan of all kinds of hedges, I made a beeline for Hopes Grove Nurseries at a recent garden trade fair in London. Hopes Grove are launching new themed hedging kits. I asked if they could design a florists’ hedge for me, and three days later my hedge-in-a-box arrived on the doorstep.
My new hedging kit contains a mixture of plants to give colourful stems, flowers and evergreen foliage. There’s a mixture of bare-rooted stock and potted plants including deutzia, escallonia, ribes, forsythia, hydrangea, mock orange, spirea. A lavender has been included as a sample of what the nursery sells. I think I’ll plant that in my herb garden. For glossy evergreen leaves there’s griselinia littoralis and osmanthus burkwoodii. And for winter colour there’s dogwoods with black, yellow, red and orange stems. My wild and untamed hawthorn hedge marks the boundary of my acre plot, but nearer the house and around the veg plot I’m going to plant a new mixed hedge, one I can harvest for my flower arrangements.
The plants, well packed, arrive in cardboard boxes. Boxes and paper packaging are all recyclable.
You wouldn’t know they have been packed in a box and been on a journey. The plants are really well grown and fresh. There are plenty of new buds on the Hydrangea Annabelle, and the osmanthus is just about to flower.
Bare- rooted plants are also substantial, well grown stock. We’ve heeled them in to the veg plot temporarily, until the ground is less waterlogged for planting. Each week I join in with the IAVOM (In a Vase on Monday) meme. I post a photo of what I’ve grown and harvested from my garden and take a look to see what other people all around the world are growing for their flower and foliage arrangements. Have a look at Cathy’s site to learn more.
Another new hedge-in-a-box kit is the Gin Makers’ Hedgerow, with fruit and berries for alcoholic infusions. There’s wild pear, crab apple, plum, and cherry amongst the long list of suggestions. And I noticed dog roses too, which grow freely in my garden.
Of course, my wild informal hedge might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s important to say that Hopes Grove supplies plants for more structured hedges such as yew, privet, box and beech. Plant sizes vary from economical one year old cuttings, bare rooted transplants, 2- 4 year old feathered whips, right up to 25ltr pots and troughs of well grown plants for instant effect. There are hundreds of plants listed in the catalogue.
Hopes Grove send out a well-written site preparation, planting and aftercare guide. Morris Hankinson is the founder of Hopes Grove and grew up in the tiny oast house on the small family farm that is now in the centre of the nursery site. Morris has grown the business from a “one-man-band planting, growing and selling hedging” to a nursery covering 50 acres and employing 18 local staff.
I’m delighted that Hopes Grove have asked me to trial this hedge-in-a-box kit. I love to hear of innovative ways of growing and selling plants. I’m very happy to wholeheartedly recommend their hedging plants and I’m grateful for the chance to give my honest opinion.
Hopes Grove won the Bob Maker Memorial Award for the best stand at the trade fair, the Garden Press Event in London.
Photo. Wild flowers – stitchwort- growing in the hedge at home.
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.