How do bees survive over winter?

Wild Bee numbers have been declining for decades in the UK. This is due to the wild grasslands of this country diminishing by a massive 97%; and the widespread use of agricultural pesticides on farmlands up and down the country. The Government has urged gardeners to do their bit and help with this serious issue. Bee experts have called for a nationwide effort to protect this threatened genus.

Aubretia 'Cascade Purple' & Wildflower 'Honey-bee Flower Mixed'

Aubretia ‘Cascade Purple’ & Wildflower ‘Honey-bee Flower Mixed’

So what can gardeners do to help bees survive – especially during the winter months? Well there is plenty to do to help in small ways.

The first thing to do is leave a small patch of your garden to grow wild, and make sure it will not get disturbed in any way. Make it just as nature intended it, and you can do this by letting grass grow long and allowing wild flowers to bloom. If you have a north facing bank then this is the ideal spot to allow grass to overgrow. Bees like to burrow, especially when they need to hibernate and facing north is the most suitable for their hibernation.

It is also important to grow plants which will provide an essential food source for the bees during the colder months. Such plants as spring flowering plants and winter flowering plants are a good idea. Perhaps an aubrietia or acacia dealbata. Hedera hibernica ivy is also good for wildlife gardens, fast growing it is ideal if you want to get your wildlife garden going quickly.

Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder' & Wildflower mixed seeds

Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ & Wildflower mixed seeds

For your wildflower garden you can scatter seeds straight into the ground, with one of our wildflower seed mixes, so there is no need for potting up or pricking out. For early flowering plants crocus bulbs and snowdrops are perfect, they provide early springtime food supplies to sustain the bees until more spring flowers arrive.

Most bees exist in a state of near hibernation during the winter but having food to eat during this time will give them a much better chance of surviving until the next spring. Summertime flowers are frequently seen in the garden; but extending the time there are nectar rich flowers into early spring and late autumn is increasingly important for the bee’s survival.

Anemone 'Wild Swan' & Acacia dealbata

Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ & Acacia dealbata

Lord Gardener Minister of Rural Affairs and Biosecurity has said that bees are a much loved feature of the English countryside in summertime. He also stated that they are also a crucial part of the biodiversity of this country and an essential part of our economy; and that it is vital not to forget bees’ during winter time. At Thompson & Morgan we feel that it is extremely important to provide a home and food for these wonderful little creatures that do so much for us.

If you would like to find out more about making your garden a haven for wildlife – the articles below have a vaste array of information, knowledge and inspiration >>

Bees & Butterflies Inspiration

Encouraging Wildlife including Bees

Plants for Wildlife

What to do in the Garden to Encourage Wildlife

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

New bird care products to enjoy

In a bid to provide the gardener with everything they may need for their outdoor space, T&M have recently introduced a new bird care range.

Within the gardening community it is considered good practice to encourage wildlife, and especially birds into the garden. Not least because they are as native as we are and have as much right to be here as we do.

We often forget how truly magnificent birds are. Some birds take up the challenge of migrating thousands of miles just to be somewhere where there is a larger food stock or better nesting facilities. The UK has a fairly temperate climate, which is perfect for a wide variety of birds. This makes the UK a great place to see common and visiting birds. However, with the urbanisation of much of the country it is necessary to top up the bird’s food sources to give them a helping hand.

A variety of bird feed

A variety of bird feed

At T&M we have a variety of bird care essentials in our range, making it easy for you to order via our website. It is not just winter time that birds need help with homes and food. During the summer months we have visitors such as swallows and martins, who may need help with nesting habitat or a wider variety of food.

Although there are specific food and nesting needs for certain birds, for a beginner all you really need to do is provide food. You can then wait and see what happens! This is a great way to introduce you and the children to the joys of watching wildlife. In our range, we have bird tables, bird feeder stations and bird seed. This will provide you with endless enjoyment watching your garden visitors eat to their hearts content.

Bird tables and stations

Bird tables and stations

If you want to provide a home for birds, you can choose one of our bird boxes where they can make a nest. Watching a bird fledge for the first time is an amazing experience. But the favourite of all things bird is the bird bath. Watching a bird having a bath is one of the funniest and most enjoyable things. When birds have a bath they can get quite excited, and tend to forget themselves for a few minutes while they are soaking and cleaning themselves. It is important to provide a safe environment around your bird bath. See our bird bath blog on where to position your bird bath.

Why not have a browse through our range, choose some seed and a table or station and see what happens. We would love to see your photos of the birds that visit your garden and perhaps even start keeping a diary of what type of bird visited when. We have lots of helpful guides to encourage wildlife, which plants are best for wildlife an ideas on wildlife habitat.

Bird tables and baths

Bird tables and baths

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

RETURN OF THE MICE

I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M  Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.

Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.

Trebah - September 2016

Trebah – September 2016

We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds)  and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains!  (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!

Top 5 favourite hedges

A hedge is an integral part of any garden providing privacy and security for those that want it. Whilst providing wildlife with food too. Hedges offer a good way of partitioning parts of the garden without need for a fence,  keeping a natural appearance. Able to grow in difficult areas of the garden it make a good go-to plant to fill empty spaces. We have provided some of our favourites to give you an idea of what you can expect for the rest of our hedging range.

Green Beech

Green Beech

1. For good security and wildlife benefits Green Beech has to be one of our top choices. Growing to any height, it provides a good dense barrier. It only needs to be clipped or trimmed once or twice a year making it ideal for busy people. It tends to hold most of its leaves over winter, even though they have died off and sheds them in spring as the new growth appears. Loved by wildlife, Green Beech also has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS, so you can be sure it will perform as expected year after year.

Golden Privet

Golden Privet

2. Another of our favourites is an evergreen hedge. Well known Golden Privet provides year round interest in the garden, and is the perfect hedge for protecting against bad weather and high winds. This pretty hedge will grow in sunny and deep shady positions so there is no reason not to have it in a dark corner of the garden where its golden leaves will brighten even the dreariest patch of earth. With pretty clusters of white flowers in summer if left untrimmed, this is an ideal hedge for any garden size. Easy to grow and maintain Golden Privet will give good mileage year after year and all through the seasons.

Dog Rose

Dog Rose

3. Coastal gardening can be difficult. With a different type of soil and landscape it is  important to get it right first time. Number three on our list is the Dog Rose. This simple rose has thorny stems that act as a deterrent and barrier. Easy to grow and maintain, and it is vigorous during the growing season. With pink and white flowers in summer and bright red hips in autumn this hedge is loved by birds. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Rowan

Rowan

4.Need a hedge in a hurry? Rowan is fast growing once established and a familiar sight in Britain. It is happy to be clipped back regularly, allowing you to keep it neat and tidy. Clipping back will encourage new growth and branching out which thickens its habit, creating a delightful looking hedgerow. With springtime flowers of pink and white, it’s a pretty hedge to be enjoyed during summer when it is in full flush. Orange and red berries appear during autumn feeding birds and other wildlife.

Lombardy Poplar

Lombardy Poplar

5.Finally Lombardy Poplar. This wonderful hedge can tower over the landscape but with regular trimming it will form neat rows. Often used by farmers as screening, and regular trimming will encourage it to ‘bush out’. The almost triangular shaped leaves turn to lovely shades of yellow before they fall to reveal the rough bark. Perfect for nesting birds, and insects alike. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Overall hedging is the perfect addition to any garden space, whether large or small,  can help to create a good nesting place and food for birds. Perfect for providing an effective barrier from the UK weather, this is just a small sample of the hedging selection we have. View our full range of hedging here. With our Hedge Planting Guide. Advice on Selecting Your Hedge.

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Dead-head your flowers

This time of year is my favourite in the garden. With the long summer days behind us the light from the sun is not nearly as harsh as it was in June and July. The flowers in the garden are still blooming but with the longer shadows of early evening, it gives them more depth. I wish I could keep this month in the garden all year round! But as that is not possible I try to keep the rich colours of the garden for as long as possible. How to do this you wonder?

I dead-head many of my flowers, to keep them going. By dead-heading you are tricking the plants into believing they are still young. When you allow your plants to seed, they receive a chemical message informing them they no longer need to produce blooms and now is the time to stop.  By dead-heading them they continue to enjoy youthfulness and produce their gorgeous blooms for a while longer. Of course this does not continue indefinitely, but it does provide you with colours until the end of the month.

Penstemon 'Strawberries and Cream, Phlox 'David' and Poppy 'Bridal White'

Penstemon ‘Strawberries and Cream, Phlox ‘David’ and Poppy ‘Bridal White’

Which plants can be dead-headed and which are best left to seed? I have always found my Penstemon ‘Strawberries and Cream’ will continue to produce its flowers in September. With a gentle dead-heading I continue to enjoy the pink and white flushes of colour. Other plants include Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Pennisetum alopecoroides.

To dead-head softer stemmed plants, all you need to do is nip the flowers between thumb and forefinger once the flowers are finished. This will work for geraniums, petunias, cosmos and chrysanthemums.

However, some plants need a little more encouragement and to dead-head you will need to get the secateurs and cut back to the stem to the next shoot down. This applies to roses and dahlias; my Rose ‘Racquel’ has responded well to this and is still happily flowering.

There are plenty of my plants that I have not dead-headed, because they do not respond too well to it. Poppy ‘Bridal White’ is having its last flush of flowers and then it will be going to seed. The seed heads create an unusual backdrop for the remaining flowers in my garden.  I am also leaving my Nigella ‘Delft Blue’, the seed heads are a show stopper all of their own. The few grasses I have such as the Verbena bonariensis are also going to seed. The insects really like living here and I don’t want to disturb them while they are happy!

Speaking of happy, don’t forget to let your Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY go to seed, they will go on to provide you with an abundance of berries for jams and puddings. They are delicious…

So there you are, a bit more work and you have a lot more flowers.

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Biennial inspirations

It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.

Aquilegia 'Green Apples', Aquilegia 'Firecracker' & Belle perennis 'Pomponette Mixed'

Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’

This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrid Mixed', Foxglove 'Silver Cub' Myosotis 'Symphony Blue'

Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’

So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible  – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.

Dianthus barbatus 'Excelsior Mixed', Pansy 'Majestic Giants Mixed' & Viols 'Sorbet Orange Jump Up'

Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’

Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.

Cabbage 'Northern Lights', Calenduala officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' & Nigella papillosa 'Midnight'

Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’

Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.

Graham Porter

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

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