Last weekend I went to visit my friend Tessa who has just moved to a new house in Kent. Tess is the luckiest girl in the world as far as I am concerned because her new house comes with the most splendid garden, a really large one filled with wonderful plants of every kind.
It was a good weekend to visit too as the South East was bathed in gorgeous sunshine from a cloudless sky, and we spent a good while wandering about enjoying the warmth and admiring all the various plants, trees and shrubs. I put on a decent display of general botanical ignorance, at one point mistaking a lavender for a rosemary (although I did correctly identify a camelia; my mother has two and I remember them because they are only allowed to drink special water) and it was a relief to find that Tess also did not know many of the plants’ names, although she was a few steps further ahead than me. The plant that particularly baffled us was a vicious-looking spiky shrub six or seven feet tall with branches of ox-blood red. When I say spiky I mean thousands of extremely sharp thorns of varying lengths like stalactites, no leaves yet. It had an identical sister a little way off in another bed. Why anyone should want one such a plant in their garden, let alone two, is a mystery, and shall remain so unless come summer these fascist-looking shrubs develop an unexpected marvellous feature, such as huge blowsy flowers that attract thousands of bees and butterflies.
Speaking of bees, doesn’t love the sight and sound of bees on a summer’s day? As Tessa was showing me around her sunny and flourishing garden (notably more flourishing than mine 400 miles north and 10 degrees colder) we were delighted by the rare sight of several bumblebees zooming about. Hairy and corpulent, the bumblebees were sunning themselves on the warm wooden fence and bombarding the flowers, in particular the droopy purple and white flowers of a group of hellebores under the shade of a tree. I didn’t know they were hellebores until Tessa told me so, and I’ve remembered the name hellebore for two very good reasons: one, because they flourish in shade, of which I have plenty in my garden, and two, because they seem so attractive to the bees, of which I have none.
After the disease, pesticides, famine and death these poor creatures have undergone these past years, bees have become shockingly rare. I remember how many we used to see buzzing around my mother’s garden when I was kid (I’m making myself sound about eighty years old), and if I remember correctly, bees were certainly relatively common at the end of the nineties.
There are many other flowers that you can plant to attract and encourage bees, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some advice on how to choose bee-friendly flowers to plant in the garden, which plants to avoid, and of course a reminder never to use pesticides in the garden as all pesticides have potential to harm bees. I am sure I will have plenty to say on this blog about natural pest control in due course. Ensuring that various bee-friendly plants are in flower throughout the season is an excellent way of keeping bees happy and well fed. My absolute favourite tip is about finding out which flowers the bees like best by going to a garden centre and looking to see which plants have the most bees flying around them.
There are several unused plant pots in our garden, and I think that planting bee-friendly flowers in them seems to be an excellent way for me to them to good use.