Our Symbiotic Relationship with Birds and Bees

I provide garden care in North Norfolk and trained at Easton College, as it states in my bio below. Just because I have my Diploma it doesn’t mean I know it all. I am constantly learning new things and am intrigued by a great deal. College doesn’t teach you about our relationship and need for animals and insects in our gardens and horticulture. But, through my work, I have learned how much we rely on them and how much they rely on us – and how exploitive of us they can be too!

I often stop when I see a bee and watch as it carefully lands on a flower then oh-so delicately extracts the sweet nectar that it beholds. How could we do all that pollinating without them? And how could they live without us planting for them? There’s a big push at the moment for planting wild flowers in gardens and leaving bare patches for the bees to make their homes in. Birds love it too!

 

Wildflower Meadow

Wildflower Meadow

 

We can spend £100’s on feeders, fat balls, meal worms, baths, tables, bug hotels, insect feeders and nest boxes all in a year. Just so we can see the flutter of a butterfly, chaffinch, blue tit and but most often than not those blooming pigeons!

In one garden I care for, I have a friend. She follows me around like my shadow. Often pushing her way into where I am working to get the good stuff. I am talking about Athena, the very bold female Black Bird (True Thrush/Turdus merula).

 

Bug Hotel

Bug Hotel

 

This week I was digging up ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and she walks right up to me sitting on the ground, working away with my hand fork, to find her lunch. She filled her beak many times! Athena was with me for nearly two hours, coming and going, filling her beak (and stomach) and watching the three Robins (Erithacus rubecula) fight over who’s “turf” it was that I was providing dinner on. It’s a wonderful feeling when it happens.

 

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird

 

Many people with think I’m daft but I always talk to them, bees, birds, butterflies and the odd squirrel that visits when I’m in another garden. After all the birds help to keep those pesky aphids and slugs at bay and the bees do the hard work for us! (Not too sure what the squirrels do?)

I love my job because not only do I help people to enjoy their gardens again, as most are of the age where they are not able to do it themselves, but I am helping nature to help me. It makes me proud of what I do. And I hope that the rest of you gardeners are too, whether amateur or professional!

So smile, you’re doing something that really matters.
Lesley

Lesley Palmer
I’m a 22 year old female horticulturalist. I studied at Easton College for two years until June 2014 and became self employed providing garden care and design in north Norfolk. I currently care for 21 gardens and have now achieved a few designs and a small landscaping project.

I am passionate about getting young people, especially primary schools, involved in gardening again. I began because of spending so much time in the garden with my granddad as a child. I was also a member of my primary school’s environment club.

I am a fan of Michael Perry and James Wong.

Resistance and susceptibility

As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!

Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.

 

Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower 'Honey Bee Mixed'

Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’

 

When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?

Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.

 

Tomato 'Mountain Magic' and Carrot 'Flyaway' F1 Hybrid

Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid

 

Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.

 

Parsnip 'Gladiator' F1 Hybrid and Cucumber 'Bella' F1 Hybrid

Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid

 

Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.

 

Busy Lizzy 'Divine Mixed' and Aquilegia 'Swan Mixed'

Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’

 

This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.

This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.

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.

Preparing for the new gardening season

Today Alan (my Husband) has put my 4 foot portable greenhouse up after being stored away for the past 8 months since it was last used. I also have a 2 foot one which just fits nicely together alongside the 4 foot one, close by the kitchen door and will be erected as the first one fills up.   You will see from the photograph that Alan has made a bracket which is fitted to the front of both greenhouses and screwed into the wall, following an unfortunate experience last year when on a very rough day it lifted the greenhouse up together with all the plants! This seems to work very well now against strong winds. Updated 8th February: We have had storm Imogen whistle through today with winds of 60-70 mph here on the South Coast of Bournemouth and thankfully my greenhouse is still standing.

I also have a hexagonal greenhouse which will be near Alan`s workshop. The last two years have been unable to use it as the zip had broken and I was unable to get another cover. Towards the end of last year I managed to find a new one, so now it will used this year for extra room until the plants are big enough to be put in their baskets and containers.

Jean's Greenhouse, chains and shoehanger

Jean’s Greenhouse, chains and shoehanger

A lot of the flowers from last summer seem to have continued flowering through the last three months. Some of the Diascia in the hanging basket just keep going on and on. Erysimum, the everlasting wallflower has been in flower and is still has more flowers to come.

The bulbs that were planted last October in containers have several daffodils which have been flowering since just after Christmas and at the time of writing (the beginning of February) I have tulips in bud, although to be honest it could be a few days before they will flower and then only if the weather warms up and the sun comes out. Until 10 days ago my Lantana was still flowering, we had a very hard frost one night and it was `goodbye` to them. The Eucomis (pineapple lily plant) is shooting well, so have covered it with some new compost in case we get another hard frost.

Jean's Bumblebee Hyacinth, Magnolia 'Susan' and Hyacinth

Jean’s Bumblebee Hyacinth, Magnolia ‘Susan’ and Hyacinth

I have also been sorting out my hanging baskets – do I really have that many? A friend who has moved into a flat gave me some of the original terracotta easy fill plastic baskets, large and also smaller ones which hold six plants round the outside and three or four plants in the top. I have also cleared space for my Incredicompost® which is on order from Thompson and Morgan and is due within the next week, and the first plants should be arriving towards the end of March.   This year I have also purchased two new computer timers for our watering system, the old ones finally gave up and weren`t reliable.

Spring looked as if it had come a little early a couple of days ago. My hyacinths from Thompson & Morgan were in full flower and had been left in the porch with the door open as it was a sunny day. I found three huge bumble bees fighting over the hyacinths one of which had nestled itself right into the flowers. The Magnolia Stellata has one flower out so far, a little early, but still very welcome.

Jean's Erysium, Daffodils and Geraniums

Jean’s Erysium, Daffodils and Geraniums

At the end of each day when I have finished with my gardening tools, I like to clean them with a rag and spray them with a well-known lubricant oil which keeps the tools from getting rusty and always ready for use. In my small shed I have an old shoe hanger where all the small tools, trowel, hand fork etc. are kept. All the chains for the hanging baskets hang on the inside the door and are sprayed with the same lubricant as the tools at the end of the season for protection during the winter. Now if only I could keep my kitchen that tidy…I guess something has to give when you love your garden! Until the next time…Happy Gardening!

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Indigo’ Crowned King

A variety that will regenerate the buddleja market! That was the expert verdict of industry specialists as they crowned Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Indigo’ Best New Variety: Hardy Nursery Stock at the recent UK Grower Awards 2016.

Hailed as the world’s first patio buddleja, all colours within the Buzz™ series have gone down a storm with UK gardeners looking for a more manageable way of adding the iconic flower spikes of buddleja to their planting displays. The dwarf variety reaching little more than 4ft (1.2m) in height, retains the best qualities of its larger cousin B. davidii, but has done away with all its negative aspects.

Not only do plants in the series remain bushy and compact for container growing, they will grow in almost any free-draining soil too. The scented flower spikes have extremely low fertility, virtually removing the risk of self seeding in the garden – or worse, in brickwork and hard landscaping features – something that has seen B. davidii added to the UK invasive plant species list, vastly reducing its appeal with the gardening public. While Buzz™ blooms won’t set seed, they are the only dwarf variety to retain the large flower size of B. davidii and certainly produce a lot of nectar – an essential attribute if gardeners are to help conservationists turn around the dramatic decline in UK butterfly populations*.

Buddleja 'Buzz Indigo'

Buddleja ‘Buzz Indigo’

These unique attributes, plus a new colour-break, set the Thompson & Morgan entry apart from the crowd, with award judges stating: “Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Indigo’ has the potential to revitalise Buddleja sales with the support of a good marketing campaign, regenerating the market for the species.”

This is the second time that Thompson & Morgan’s exclusive dwarf buddleja series has been applauded at the UK Grower Awards, considered by industry insiders to be the Oscars of the plant world. In 2010, following an extensive breeding programme at its Ipswich HQ, Thompson & Morgan launched the first colour in the Buddleja ‘Buzz™’ series – ‘Lilac’, which quickly took the title of Best New Plant Variety at the 2010 award bash.

Growers Winner Banner

Growers Winner Banner

Since then T&M Plant Breeding Team has been developing new flower colours to maximise the potential of this groundbreaking series, which has transformed the way buddlejas are used in UK gardens.   Buddleja ‘Indigo’ was launched for the 2015 gardening season, joining ‘Lilac, ‘Magenta’, ‘Sky Blue’ ‘Candy Pink’ and ‘Ivory’.

Buddleja Buzz™ 3 in 1

Buddleja Buzz™ 3 in 1

There are no new Buzz™ colours for 2016, but the latest concept is set to be another strong contender for the awards in 2017. Buddleja ‘Buzz™ 3-in-1’, new to the Thompson & Morgan Spring Catalogue, offers three different flower colours, seemingly on the same plant. Supplied as a 3litre potted plant it is actually three varieties grown together; each will grow in harmony and produce a compact bush with fragrant, indigo, ivory and candy pink flower spikes!

Notes

  • Thompson & Morgan was also recognised in two other categories at the UK Grower Awards. Assistant Nursery Manager, Hannah Miller, was a shortlisted finalist for Young Grower of the Year, while Raspberry Ruby Beauty was Highly Commended in the Best New Variety: Soft/Top Fruit category.
  • The following evening the mail order specialist’s incredi-range of incredicompost® and incredibloom® and incredicrop® fertilisers was also announced as a finalist for the Best New Garden Product category at the Garden Retail and Garden Industry Awards.
  • * A recent report published by Butterfly Conservation has revealed that more than three quarters of butterfly species have significantly declined in the past 40 years and is urging the British public to act by planting suitable supporting plant species. See butterfly-conservation.org.uk for more information.
  • All colours in the Buddleja ‘Buzz™’ Series are currently available to order via
    thompson-morgan.com/Buzz Prices start at £7.99
Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Pollinator Plants

Bees, birds and butterflies are reducing in numbers and whilst the cold weather is contributing to their reduction, there are so many things we can do to help increase their numbers.

Pollinator Plants

By growing more pollinator friendly plants, you can provide food for our pollinating insects. Simple right? However, not all flowers are pollinator friendly, so it is important to do your research. Sow half hardy annuals in early spring and move outside once the risk of frost has passed. You can sow hardy varieties directly in the garden from April.

What plants are pollinator friendly?

Plants for bees

There are 24 species of bumblebee living wild in the UK. They are easily recognised by their characteristic fluffy bodies. If you are encouraging bees into your garden then it is important to avoid using insecticides as these will kill helpful pollinating insects (including bees) as well as the target insects. It’s best to aim for a good variety of pollen rich flowers that have different flower shapes and a range of flowering periods from early spring to late summer. You can also view our guide on encouraging bees to your garden for more information.

Pollinator PlantsCosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata Series Mixed’ – half hardy

An award winning variety in a superb mixture of colours. This beautiful dwarf Cosmos reaches a maximum height of 60cm (24”) making it perfectly proportioned for sunny borders and containers. Sow in March, April and May. Flowering period; July, August, September and October.

Pollinator PlantsCalendula officinalis ‘Neon’ – hardy annual

One of the most eye-catching varieties in our flower trials, with glowing orange, double flowers edged in burgundy. The edible flowers of Calendula ‘Neon’ add height and interest to annual borders, and make a stunning cut flower. Sow in March, April, May and August. Flowering period; June, July, August and September.

Plants for butterflies

Plant some suitable nectar plants for butterflies and they will visit your garden, however small it is. If you’re looking to create a container garden for butterflies there are many smaller nectar plants which are suitable for growing in containers and window boxes. Herbs left to flower such as Thyme, Oregano, Lavender and Mint are excellent plants to try. For more information on view our encouraging butterflies to your garden article.

Pollinator PlantsBuddleja ‘Buzz’™ Collection – Hardy shrub

A new twist on a much-loved garden favourite, ‘Buzz’™ is the world’s first patio buddleja! These attractive, compact plants are loved by bees and butterflies, but won’t take over your garden. Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ is easy to grow and problem-free with a super long-flowering period. Flowers June – October.

 

Pollinator PlantsVerbena bonariensis – Hardy perennial

Tightly clustered florets form glowing lavender flower heads that float atop stiffly upright, branching stems. The long lasting blooms of Verbena bonariensis attract clouds of bees and butterflies. In autumn, apply a dry mulch of bark chips or straw to protect the crown of the plant throughout the winter months. Flowering period; July – October.

 

For birds

Birds are among the most welcome garden visitors. Not only are they interesting to watch, they eat aphids, caterpillars, slugs and other grubs, keeping the pest population under control. Plants can be used to provide shelter or nesting sites for birds, protecting them from cats and other predators. Trees, shrubs and hedges are excellent ways to encourage birds into the garden and by choosing a few evergreens you will ensure there is shelter all year round. For more information including shelter, water and nest boxes take a look at our encouraging birds to your garden guide.

Pollinator PlantsLavender – Hardy shrub

Flaring petals from compact bracts crown slender stems. Very attractive bushes of aromatic grey/green foliage. Favoured by citizens of the Roman Empire for fragrance. Easy to grow and trouble free. Sow in March – October. Flowering period; May, June, July and August.

Pollinator PlantsCrab Apple ‘John Downie’ – Hardy Tree

One of the most popular crab apples for jelly making! Pink buds open to reveal pretty white cup shaped blossom in April and May, followed by large orange and red fruits in autumn.Crab apples are self fertile and if planted near orchard apple trees make excellent pollinators.

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

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