Tuesday 15 May 2012

A baptism of fire, swarming bees, woodland walks, and jolly nice tea and cake at an NGS garden in Dulwich

The weekend started well, sun, warmth and the prospect of 2 days doing productive things in the garden. Even the slaves were back from Scotland so could help create a woodship path round the far end of the garden, almost completing a track round the outside. I had even encouraged Steven to don the bee suits and have a look as I inspected the hives which all went well with nothing worrying to note. Steven didn’t go rigid with fear and enjoyed seeing our little friends at home.

whats not to like about a penguine sculpture by a pond! beauty at the Alleyn Park NGS garden opening

All was well, but as usual a simple bit of digging turned complicated as we dug up lots of bricks, rubbish, barbed wire and a long fetching piece of red polkadot carpet. Then mum said how the bees were very busy today, and looking there was a lot of activity with bees all around the entrance. Then as I watched there was ALOT of activity, and more and more bees were flying round the hive with the air becoming filled with a loud buzz. S*** I thought, what the hell is going on, as despite reading books and looking at the internet, when stuck with something new I was a little stunned...... I learn more about the bees every week, but things are still very new as they have only been in the hive a few weeks, we meet and start our relationship with our bee mentor on Tuesday.
So quickly I dashed to phone Charlie who I keep the bees with, whom was on a charity walk from London to Brighton...no answer, tired Hannah his girlf, no answer. Went back outside, and the air was full of thousands and thousands of bees, making this tremendous low buzz, sounding a bit like your granny hoovering next door.
Bizarrely the parents and Steven took notice but just carried on gardening, where as I was a bit like f*** *#@!:!:!## as I realised that they were swarming, and slowly they seemed to start flying towards the top of a large Sycamore tree above the hives. There they settled into a ball of bees a bit the size of a watermelon.
Swarming is a natural phenomenon, and is about them finding a new home and reproducing.  Its easier of you think of a hive of bees as one organisism, and what happened was that my hive decided that after being cooped up in the hive that this sunny day was perfect to find a new home and split the colony in 2, in essence reproducing.  Basically all the flying bees then left the hive with the queen... leaving behind lots of unborn bees and the bees that don’t leave the hive/fly yet. A new queen will then be born in the old hive, and the swarm will find a new home

So panicking I called the LBKA swarm control line....this is a free service they offer if you ever have a swarm of bees close by, most other associations do this. They came in about an hour much to the amusement of the parents, who felt they should have had a blue flashing light at the top of the van.
Then ensued the refined and highly scientific process of capturing the bees

1)      Climb ladder with a large water cooler bottle with the end cut off on an extendable stick.
2)      Ram the bottle underneath the swarm
3)      Bees lose their grip and fall into the bottle

That brown mass is a solid ball of bees
4)      Quickly climb down ladder  and empty bottle quickly into a waste paper bin which is then put upside down on a sheet
5)      Repeat until there aren’t many bees left

All I can say is that I’m glad I wasn’t the person on top of the step ladder ramming sticks into a bee swarm.....they weren’t very happy!
What then happens is that if they have got the queen is that the others will then come to her and all nestle up in their new home (the bin). There is actually a very good blog post with pictures of lots of bees swarming and marching up to their new home here
So all seemed ok, but lots of bees stayed in the tree making the swarm people wonder if there were 2 queens....after a while the bee people left with the bin (one of whom was also called Clive (first Clive I have met in many years) and apparently there are lots of bee keepers called Clive!)
Although there were lots of bees left in the tree after the bee patrol left they returned to the hive like naughty schoolgirls....
So a huge baptism of fire, but an amazing phenomenon to see. Do I feel a bit rubbish and inexperienced...yes, has it put be off bees....no,

After all that stress, and an evening with a bottle of wine, it was jolly nice to have a quiet evening, and then have a nice Sunday with lots of gardening and a trip to see a very pretty garden in Dulwich on Alleyn Park Road. It was a huge house with a large lawn and established flowerbeds with low growing plants splattered with interesting sculpture. Go next year if you are local, as it is one of the better ones
Lovely cake (mmmm brandied date cake) and Steven had a fabulous slab of Victoria Sandwich with fresh fruit and cream. All in all they made £1350, bravo! A good London start to the NGS season!

Thursday 10 May 2012

New growth

It continues to rain.....about a month ago I was thinking this would be my big planting out week and booked off some annual leave, but the reality is that it is that my tropicals, like me, wont like having cold wet feet so I would guess I will start planting in a couple of weeks.

So bits and pieces...

This is honey wort....I grew it for the first time last year and was impressed with the strange flowers, but it tends to peak early and looks a bit ropey when I need the garden to be oozing tropical exuberance. Thankfully it has self seeded and created a welcome patch of sensuous glaucous foliage and these alien flowers

The current view of the old garden, lots of forget me nots and things beginning to grow

A Carol Klein Surprise..... where her touch brought death to my banana, it has breathed life to the Kangaroo apple....this was one we caressed for camera and has miraculously survived, in a bit of the garden that has quite rubbish heavy clay soil. All the other 11? are dead but this is re shooting. 

This is one of my Paulownia stumps as I wanted to show how much I cut them down, this one is at about 2 ft, and you can just see the new bud coming at the top...when I cut it there was no sign of any buds or life, but just be patient!

Ferns: I *love* ferns, but sadly my soil isn't damp enough to grow them well. At this time of the year it is magical as the new fronds unfurl as they do look so primeval. I'm sure in another life I was one of those Victorians racing off all over the country with my hamper collecting ferns in the grip of pteridomania

Blechnum chilense *swoon*


 Fatsia new leaves and below Schleffera

Above Rheum palmatum, and below Petasites japonica 

Astiboles tabularis....needless to say all bog plants are loving the wet

This was last weeks project...moving the greenhouse door to be on the other end and creating a bigger 'secret' seating area. This is the (well another) gin spot as it gets the last of the evening sun. We are contemplating getting one of those arches, however Im not sure if they look a bit naff....

Current projects: above is the path which ends in a pile of railway sleepers and the last stand of stinging nettles....I will conquer you!

Below is the view the other side...Stevens mound, now slope that he is magnificently sorting his way through...the picture doesn't quite show the scale, however what you are looking at is our beautiful silver birch lined sunken seating area!

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Water water everywhere: why I’m not a fan of Thames Water

Yes we are still officially in drought despite it raining almost constantly for the last month. The garden is now the wettest I have seen it for a long time....my bog which I could never get to fill up with water is now full to the brim. The emergency water butt I put in the middle of the garden and which I filled with the hose (before the ban) has not been used, and the soil is so sodden underneath it that it may fall over. I think I have managed about 2 hours gardening in the past few weeks as my free time is mainly rainy with me looking longingly out the window wanting to get outside, or in my greenhouse (which is now immaculate with every seed I want planted).

Now I do know that Thames Water has a tough job....the Victorian water system they inherited is not the best and they have been doing a good job of digging up many central London streets to replace it, however in general they suck still saying that there is a problem and having a hosepipe ban. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the type of high density gardening which has the sprinkler on the lawn all the time, and the gardener is not happy unless the soil is always wet. I think gardeners do have a responsibility to conserve water where we can, and it would be great if we could better use grey water and have the space and money to buy those immense £500 water buts. Personally I don’t want to spend all my summers watering, but do know how important it is to water new plants to help them get established.
In the UK water is privatised and as a consumer we have no choice as to who to buy our water from. Yes this is a wet island, but the South East is dry and groundwater is a problem but could we be a bit more connected perhaps with a national water grid? Would the resistance to this be, perchance, because it may break the large monopolies?

So my reasons why the current situation is very irritating and Thames Water is not my favourite thing:
Fix the leaks: 25% of Thames water leaks....an appalling stat: locally there was a leak on Camberwell Grove which wasn’t reported for a couple of weeks, then took them at least 3 weeks to fix. Yes it wasn’t a raging torrent of the kind that washes away houses, but it was at least the equivalent of a tap turned on full gushing continuously for 3 weeks. Yes it can’t have been a priority, but in a time of drought where the onus is on the customer, who is paying (more!) for a product only to be told to use less of it I would expect the company to spend some of their profits on fixing leaks quicker and some type of A-team van to be roaming London fixing things ASAP.

Collect the runoff and excess water: as gardeners, we are well aware of the importance of using water butts and collecting the run off. Indeed my dream plan would be to have a huge water but with the runoff from this going to top up a pond which overflowed into a bog garden. Supposedly London reservoirs are now 100% full, but the problem with the drought is that groundwater is still low, which is a problem for boreholes where a lot of our water comes from. All the current excess of water is flowing from our concrete cities into rivers and storm drains, making them swell to the extent that currents are dangerous and people crossing fords in cars drown. This water is then simply running into the sea. Perhaps Thames Water should learn from gardeners as it doesn’t take a genius to see that there needs to be a change in how we manage the water systems in London and that something should be done to capture this water better.

Today the news is about how old reservoirs were sold off/aren’t being used...and there was planning permission refused for a new reservoir for London. But please politicians and water companies, sort it out! More people are living in London, water use is increasing, your current system of bore holes clearly isn’t sustainable, and something needs to change. If people can happily live in desert cities, where they have lots of water and lush green gardens then on our wet, cold island we should breeze it.

UG! Anyway rant over, time for some nice pictures of the garden in May
All is a sea of blue at the mo with a forget-me-not army

I always forget how nice/unique the green of Euphorbias is
Iris confusa...beautiful plant which I mainly grow for its jungly leaves. 3 yrs old and its bulking up nicely

Persicaria red dragon emerging from the depths, its leaves are a really stunning colour
The bog.....Astiboles, Rheum palmatum and Petasities japonica all coming from the depths to turn into monsters... note how the soil is literally saturated with the water filling the reserve!
Fatsisa and Tetrapanax new leaves,....the Fatsias tend to look good now for me, then hate the drought and sulk for the rest of the year. So Im enjoying this moment

My super need greenhouse, where all my seedlings will go I dont yet know!
Drosera binata enjoying all the rainwater I can give it
New projects: Ive moved the entrance to the greenhouse round opening up the space at the back. I plan on enlarging the seating area, reclaiming some more lawn (hurrah!) and creating a bit of a secret seating area,

My other project for the month is concreting the summerhouse base, buying and putting it up and drinking gin on the terrace....this is the driest and sunniest part of the garden so Im planning a dry garden with a large fig, Champerops and spiky things