Wednesday 27 November 2019

Autumn: Fagus sylvatica - common beech

 Fagus sylvatica hedge (right), and the north-facing hedge flower borders

When we first viewed our home, one of the things that quickly won me over was the beech hedge separating our garden from our neighbour's. Unlike a fence that blocks out light, a hedge allows light to filter through, even in the middle of winter. So it means that my hedge borders, which are north-facing, get a lot more light all year round, giving me a wider variety of plants I can grow in that space. Which is great, but in late autumn, it's all about the beech leaves for me.

And even on cold grey days, the colours still offer a warm glow like an open fire, and welcome colour.

And a beech hedge has the bonus of retaining it's gorgeous orange-brown autumn leaves right through until the next spring, only dropping them when the new green foliage comes through.

As is so often the case, common means beautiful.

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This is the last in my Autumn series. Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'
  Autumn: in the Peak District
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'
  Autumn: Cornus 'Norman Hadden'

Thursday 14 November 2019

Autumn: Cornus 'Norman Hadden'

My friend Kate, and I, took a stroll/roll* around Sheffield Botanical Gardens the other day. As always, there was something interesting to find in the gardens. This time, it was this 'shrub', Cornus 'Norman Hadden'.

As you can probably tell, it's a rather large shrub. In fact, it can grow to between 4-8 metres! And wow, see that fruit?!

Yes, this is the fruit, AND it's edible. Apparently the skin isn't so nice but the flesh inside is rather good. I didn't try one, because it wasn't until I got home and looked it up that I found it was indeed edible.

As you can see, it's a rather large 'shrub'. It's too big for my Forest Garden Border, but I have my eye on it for another corner of the garden.

But I think I'll have to go back to the gardens and sneakily pick one of the fruits and give it a try first ;)

Either way, what a fine tree, I mean, shrub.

*she strolled, I rolled on my mobility scooter

* * * * *
Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'
  Autumn: in the Peak District
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'
  Autumn: Fagus sylvatica

Saturday 9 November 2019

Honeybees: notes from a talk by a beekeeper

Crocus 'Gipsy Girl' with a honey bee, February 2019

The speaker at the recent South Pennines Hardy Plant Society was a beekeeper, Simon Croson, and I picked up some useful info on Honeybees that I thought I’d share.

The Queen and Worker bees are female, and the Drones are male. Queen bees can live up to 5 years, though most live 2-3 years.

In the UK, there are 275 native bees, with a large amount of these being solitary bees. Of these 275, only 1 (ONE!) is a native bee. There are over 1000 species of native bee the world over, yet only 10 (TEN) species of honey bee.

So you can see immediately why problems with honeybees can have such a big impact, with so few species in existence. Overall, other native bees will pollinate more food than honey bees, yet one in every 3 foods we eat comes from honey bees. So if there was a large collapse in honey bee colonies, this could still have a big impact on food availability for humans.

Things have stabilised with the problems with the varroa mite, that hit the news a number of years ago. Partly from use of chemicals against the mite. However, Simon doesn't use any chemicals and he says there is some evidence that bees are adapting to them, suggesting new generations are building resilience.

But we shouldn't be complacent. There is still a lots of problems with access to food, especially with the climate changing, but plants haven't caught up, and they aren't necessarily flowering when the bees need them. Overall, there is still a decline in the health and population of bees that is worrying.

Honey bees don’t hibernate. They go into a semi-dormant state in the cold months, but if the temperatures rise enough, they will leave the hive and seek out plants for nectar. In Feb 2019, in the UK, we had a week of nearly 25 degrees (usually we are lucky to get to 5 degrees), and honey bees left their hives looking for food.

 Honey bee on a Helenium, August 2019

With our changing climate, with warmer wetter winters, this makes planting for winter and early spring food for bees even more important. A post I wrote back in February, Plants for pollinators in late Winter, will give you some ideas on plants you might add to your garden to help honey and solitary bees at this time of year.

With honey colour from Simon’s bees: a medium light brown-orange colour is a generalist, made up of nectar from lots of different plants. A quite pale, almost clear, colour honey, is from the nectar from an Alfalfa (Lucerne) crop near some of his hives. A dark brown-orange is made up of nectar from Buckwheat. So different plants will impact differently on the colour the honey ends up.

A couple of small points that I found interesting: pollen is a source of protein for bees, and bees take water into the hive to help regulate it's temperature. A good plant for late Autumn is common Ivy. This is a plant that a lot of people try to remove from their gardens, but try and leave a patch and let it flower, and you'll see bees supping on it's nectar.

It was an interesting talk and it was useful to know that though there is still a lot to worry about, by planting for bees, we really can make a difference, for the bees, and for ourselves.