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!

Anyone for cucamelon?

So anyway, after two weeks of tropical 30c heat, here we are in mid-September, the rain finally came and the temperature’s dropped to a respectably dull 20c. Great, I think, I can start tidying up for the autumn, and then go on holiday. But when I get outside everything has started greening up and growing again!

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato 'Tutti Fruiti'

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato ‘Tutti Fruiti’

All very confusing, for me as well as the plants! Summer: The cucamelons are overtaking the greenhouse and have taken the tomatoes hostage, the cucumber vine isn’t even mildewed yet, and the peppers are ripening. Autumn: Salvia cuttings and strawberry runners are potted up. Winter: Colocasias have been brought undercover. Spring: My T&M bulbs have arrived.

Talking of which, I‘ve gone all delicate for next spring: I’ve bought jonquilla daffs Martinette, Pueblo & Pipit, and Green Eyed Lady for the patio containers. For the raised bed out front I’ve bought scilla, aconite and puschkinia; lots and lots of them. I’m into naturalising from now on, partly to let nature increase its stocks and partly because I hate planting bulbs. Tulips are off – by the time they come into flower I’ve got bored waiting, and the minute they start to look off colour I pull’em up because I’m impatient to start planting out for summer. No point planting them in pots as Fred the Oriental eats the leaves! Alliums get on my nerves too, all those floppy leaves lying around amongst the pristine perennials. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’m a neat freak.

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

However, I digress. Actually I‘ve had a lovely morning in the garden. Been around all the borders deadheading & cutting back, planting up some divisions I took earlier this year to bulk up their parent plants, reducing clumps of thugs like achillea The Pearl, and relocating perennials to rebalance displays. I’ve even pushed the boundaries of taste (my taste anyway) and planted very garish (plant label refers to them as Bold) but stunning Rudbeckia ‘Summertime Orange‘ and Helenium autumnale ‘Red Shades’. Sedums seem to be very in vogue at the moment with several new varieties on offer. I have bought Jose Aubergine, a deep burgundy type with dusky pink flowers. (Why I have bothered to plant late summer colour is a mystery to me as I‘m only likely to see it on my way to the greenhouse and back these days.)

Since our last Open Day for this year on Sept 4th I’ve barely been in the garden for more than a few minutes at a time – too hot or too busy – other than to water. The auto-watering system keeps exploding from a key joint in the pipe on the patio. (As a result, frogs have been gravitating to the cool shady moisture of the patio from the scorching heat of the borders, straight into the jaws of Winky the Sphynx. One such happy incident resulted in seven cats staking out the sofa with frog in hiding underneath. David applied the glass jar and plate method of capture, frog relocated to pond and all was well.) Back to the matter at hand, consequently the irrigation system was rendered useless during the hottest September temperatures for the last 40 years so watering had to be done with hose and sprinkler twice a day for nearly a fortnight. A heated debate ensued amongst friends, as to the relative merits of watering as a means of relaxation as opposed to deadheading. My money’s on deadheading every time!

Petunia 'Mandevilla' & Today's Catch!

Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Today’s Catch!

Since the summer holidays ended there has been a distinct change of pace (traffic, talks of Christmas) but my thoughts are naturally turning to Garden 2017. The summer house, currently decorated in the style of a 1930s tea room, is going to be transformed into a beach hut. On the patio we are going to fix mirrors along the boundary fence to reflect more light in and make it look bigger.

It’s time to reflect on the winners and losers of the season, now that this summer’s T&M trial period has concluded. Definitely to be repeated next summer are Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, minitunia Calabrachoa ‘Crackerjack’, Bidens ‘Bee Dance Painted Red’ and the un-named bidens which is being launched in T&M 2017 catalogue. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ is not for the faint hearted, although stunningly beautiful and still going strong, it needs watering and deadheading twice a day at the height of the season and sulks if you don’t feed it every week. Although Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY never really got going I am hopeful that it will come into its own next summer. Patti Pans ‘Summer Mixed’ have been great fun to grow and are very versatile in recipes for stir fry, roasted, in soups and pie fillings. Having initially been disappointed in Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’, suddenly, overnight it seems, the trusses have ripened to produce colourful little fruits, not my favourites but very pretty.

Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ has been a revelation, three magnificent specimens grown from seed, admired by all, and great fun to see people’s faces when you tell them that’s where the poisonous ricin comes from! But my absolute favourite product has got to be Cucamelon ‘Melothria’: A real curiosity on Garden Open Days, and second prize in the Any Other Fruits category at our Horticultural Society Autumn Show. (Hmm, David won first prize and Best In show for his Dinner Plate Aeonium, judged by the one and only Jim Butress no less.) So easy to grow from seed, three vines have produced dozens, no hundreds, of fruits that look like mini watermelons and taste like lemon flavoured cucumbers. They are delicious in salads dressed with raspberry vinegar or thrown into a gin and tonic (with lime juice ice-cubes) or Pimms. Anyone got any other recipes for cucamelon?

My next blog will be after the London Gardens Society awards in October; we have been shortlisted for Best Small Garden so fingers crossed…..In the meantime I intend to make the most of the autumn as it’s a long old winter ahead. Hope you do too!

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.

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