Posts tagged ‘Bees’

May 6, 2014

It’s a Robin’s nest

5 May 2014

We’ve now had a sighting of the bird on the nest in our greenhouse, and it’s not a finch, it’s a robin. Our bird book said robin eggs were blue, which is what led to our confusion, but checking on the internet, they often seem to be brown. We’re just as pleased to have her! You can just see her in the photo, peering over the edge of the tray to see what I’m up to.

Robin sitting on her nest

Robin sitting on her nest

The eggs have just hatched, and we managed to get in while she was off the nest for a quick look – all four eggs have turned into baby birds and all four reacted to us by opening their beaks, so they seem healthy enough. They should fledge in about two weeks apparently – it seems so quick.

We’ve also had the first green-veined white in the garden, as you can see below – the green veind on the under-wings are clearly visible: these are not present if the butterfly is a Large or Small White. It is on the honesty called ‘Corfu Blue’ that I have mentioned before.

Green-veined White

Green-veined White

And just to finish off – a lovely clump of bugle (ajuga reptans) in full flower, which is attracting lots of bees. It is one of those plants that spreads quite rapidly if it finds the right spot, and makes for good ground cover – it can get a bit over-enthusiastic, but its dark leaves are so attractive, I forgive it. The white behind is a lovely perennial viola called ‘Ivory Queen’.

Clump of buge in flower

Clump of buge in flower

February 26, 2014

I’ve got tadpoles!

26 February 2014

It’s still February and we’ve got tadpoles!

Just-hatched tadpoles

Just-hatched tadpoles

The spawn was from next door’s pond, as we’ve not had any for three years, and it’s in aquatic pots to keep the newts away, but we’re going to have to get the tadpoles out quickly or they’ll be eating each other. I’m fascinated to be able to see in the photo how little they look like tadpoles at this stage: they’re too flat, except for one or two where you can see the bulge of the head. The stuff they are resting on looks like stones here, but it’s actually the circular blobs of jelly from which they emerged, which are bigger than they were when the tadpoles were still inside them.

We had a day of sunshine today, so the spring flowers were out too, plus several bees.

Bee on purple crocus

Bee on crocus

I’m guessing this is a honey bee on the crocus. There were at least three buff-tailed bumble-bees around, too, but I didn’t get a shot of any of them.

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign

Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

The plant above is a good early nectar plant to have in the garden for bees: lungwort (pulmonaria). This is one called ‘Blue Ensign’ and it’s a really good blue. The wild version is also very pretty: it’s got spotted leaves and the flowers fade from blue to pink (or is it the other way round?) and both colours are visible at once.

Having some plants for early nectar in your garden is very important for the early bees and butterflies which get tempted out by warm weather, so do make sure you’ve got some. As well as crocus and lungwort, you can try primroses, hellebores, and mahonia (all of which are in flower in my garden at the moment). Mahonia is a small bush, but the flowers are very highly scented and a real treat when there’s not much else. You can also – if you dare – try dandelion and lesser celandine, but they both spread uncontrollably, so don’t blame me if you end up with more than you want!

June 22, 2013

Growing Herbs for Bees and Butterflies

22 June 2013

This year in the garden is amazing. Maybe it was last year’s copious rain, maybe it was a reasonably normal winter (whatever normal is these days), maybe it was a late Spring, but the speed at which plants are growing is incredible. I’ll swear our potoatoes are growing visibly every day: I just hope they are busy below ground as well, given they were very late getting going and we usually get hit by pototo blight.

I just came across a photo I took of our herb bed back in April – 24th to be precise, so that’s not quite two months ago, and look at the difference:

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

It’s a bed just outside the back door, and we dug it right out and re-started it this year, as the mint had rampaged and nearly flattened everything else. Now the mint is (hopefully) limited to either end of the bed, and in the middle we’ve got sage, lemon balm, marjoram and buckler leaf sorrel. For this year there is also a bit of thyme and some flat-leaved parsley, but they will both be gone by next year; I might re-plant some flat-leaved parsley, as I like it in salads, but the main parsley crop will be in the veg beds – we always aim to freeze a load to get us through the winter. If you haven’t tried buckler-leaf sorrel, by the way, do: it’s got a lovely lemony zing, and though it’s a bit too strong by itself, it peps up salads a treat.

Many herbs are good for insects; they are often native or long-established plants, so the insects have developed to use them. It can be a problem growing for both culinary use and wildlife, as the former calls for flowers to be cut off so the leaves develop best, while the latter means letting the flowers develop. I generally go with the latter – I find there are still enough leaves to give us what we need. Sage has a beautiful flower, and the blue of the flower looks lovely against the leaves if you have the purple-leaved sage; it is also very good for bees: I spend many a contented few minutes watching them buzz from flower to flower. Marjoram flowers are good for butterflies to nectar on, especially those within the family of Browns such as the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper. One of the butterflies I wish I saw more in my garden – the Small Copper – uses sorrel as its caterpillar food plant, but I’m not sure it uses this type of sorrel – but I live in hope.

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’

So – pep up your diet by growing some herbs, and let them flower for the wildlife.

May 1, 2013

Wildlife roundup

30 April 2013. Very sorry this is late reaching you, I was convinced I’d sent it out, but I hadn’t. Blame it on the sunshine – it’s gone to my head.

Reading KiwiGav’s blog made me aware of how a list of wildlife can give a really good picture of how Spring is doing, so I thought I’d try a roundup of what I’ve seen in the garden in the last couple of days.

The weather has been really nice – today, particularly, was not just sunny but warm, which was blissful, and has obviously done a lot to bring out the wildlife:

Butterflies: Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and male Brimstone in the garden. Still no Orange Tip, though did see one in Osmington Mills today – a very hard bit of butterfly watching, over a pub lunch in the Smuggler’s pub garden.

Peacock butterfly on aubretia - he's a rather battered specimen with lots of damage to the edges of his wings

Peacock on aubretia – he’s a rather battered specimen if you look at the edge of his wings.

Other insects. Quite a lot, though I am limited in my identification skills, so I’m not sure how many different species.

Small insect on dandelion

Small bee? wasp? hoverfly? on dandelion

Birds, in descending size: Pheasants (3 regular visitors); Crow (one); Jackdaws (several – they nest in a couple of local chimneys and particularly come down when there’s big chunks of food on the ground; Wood Pigeons (several); Collared Doves (2+); Blackbirds (sadly, I think our pair may have abandoned their nest – I don’t think anything fledged and they’ve stopped looking for multiple worms); Starlings (quite a few, though their noise makes them sound as if they are in greater numbers than they are); Chaffinches (lots); Dunnocks (2); House Sparrows (only a few: there were a lot more in winter); Robins (2); Great Tits (I particularly notice one male, who is very handsome with a solid black waistcoat, but I think there is at least one other) and Blue Tits (several: they come and go so fast, they are difficult to count). Also swallows overhead, with occasional buzzards and even a heron the other day.

Crow at foot of bird feeder. Taken from inside the conservatory, as the bird is very wary.

Crow at foot of bird feeder. Taken from inside the conservatory, as the bird is very wary.

Other: Slow worms (three max so far; we found one dead under the tray we leave down for them: it had lost the end of its tail, which was also under the tray and looked very battered generally); Shrew (one for sure – under one of the slow worm trays – could it have had a go at the slow worm that died? I know they are very fierce, but???); Newts (max of 19 so far – a good way to count is with a torch at night); something that looked like a small Crane fly, laying eggs on some not-quite submerged growth in the pond. And – nearly – next door’s dog, which likes to peer under the gate – you could see its tail was wagging today, from the shadow it cast!

Have you done a list of what you see in your garden? Remember there are all sorts of wildlife organisations needing records, so get on the internet and see where you can help.

PS. Three cheers for the European Union and their two-year ban on neonectonoids; three boos for our anti-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. Bees have a right to thrive on this planet – and we need them.

April 26, 2013

Easy flower for bees

26 April 2013

Dead nettles (lamiums) are not the same family as stinging nettles – I guess the related names come from them having similar leaf shapes. They don’t sting, and are superb plants for bees. There are some that are usually classed as wild flowers, and some which have been developed from the original wild flowers to become “garden plants”. I grow four different sorts in my garden.

I’ve already written about red dead nettle, and how good it is as a very early nectar plant (4 April 2013). The next one which comes out in my garden is the white dead nettle, which I think is a very pretty plant; it spreads quite vigorously, but I don’t find it too difficult to keep under control. I sat out on the patio yesterday, trying (and failing) to get photos of blackcaps, when I noticed what I think was a red tailed bumblebee. It first tried the aubretia, but didn’t stay long, then it found a single spike of white dead nettle growing in a nicely sheltered spot between two pots, and spent quite a time working its way round the flowers. It then took off and did the round of various other flowers it came across: hyacinth (no interest), primrose (some interest), dandelion (some interest) and then came back to the white dead nettle for another go.

Left: white dead nettle. Right: Yellow Lamium

Left: white dead nettle. Right: Yellow Lamium

The yellow lamium in my garden has a variegated leaf, so it must be a cultivated variety of the wild yellow archangel. It can be very invasive: like most difficult plants, it is good in the right place – it will take shade and poor soil under trees, and if you can keep it contained it is a good plant; if you can’t, it’s a nightmare.

Lamium 'White Nancy'

Lamium ‘White Nancy’

The other lamium I’ve got is definitely a cultivated variety: lamium ‘White Nancy”. It also has variegated leaves, and the white of the flowers along with the silver in the leaves make it a lovely plant for a cool effect. I actually have some trouble keeping this going – it seems to do better if you root new plants regularly, as big plants can fade away (or be eaten?), or it could be that I just haven’t found the right place for it yet. I don’t seem to have taken a photo of it, which surprises me, but the one shown left is courtesy of, who I guess won’t mind the publicity!

This is a bee plant rather than a butterfly plant because of the shape of the flowers: bees can use it, but butterflies cannot. They are easy to grow and pretty – try some.

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March 17, 2013

When is a seed not a seed?

17 March 2013

I’m embarrassed! I thought I’d got the hang of seed saving – at least of the easy types, but I’ve found I’ve got one very wrong. I grew some penstemon last year called ‘Husker’s Red” – It has a dark red leaf and pretty pink flower. At the end of the season it formed some very solid seeds, which I picked and stored over the winter. I sowed some of these two or three weeks back, and I was wondering why none were coming up. On examining some spare seeds more closely, I find that what I’ve planted is a very hard husk, inside of which when you cut it open are …. the seeds! 

Left: penstemon 'Husker's Red'. Right: penstemon 'Tubular Bells Rose'.

Left: penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’. Right: penstemon ‘Tubular Bells Rose’.

While I’m on the subject of penstemon – butterflies cannot use their flowers for gaining nectar, because the blooms are the wrong shape; it’s possible some moths, with their longer probiscus, could do so, but I haven’t seen it. They can be good for bees, though. I came across a reference in a book: The Bee Garden by Maureen Little, that said she’d seen a lot of penstemon in flower somewhere and that the one which drew all the bees was ‘Tubular Bells Rose’. I eventually found them in stock at  (also very good for baby leaf salad seeds) and grew some last year. They are very pretty, and I did see some bees on them (as in the photo), so they come recommended. Like most penstemon, they aren’t totally hardy: I’m still waiting to see if the one I left out has survived, but I took some into the greenhouse, so hopefully they are OK.

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February 16, 2013

First bee


16 February 2013


The difference sunshine makes is amazing – yesterday the first butterfly, today the first bee. It didn’t stay around long enough to try and identify it, but it was good to see it was flying strongly; it’s presumably a queen bee looking for somewhere to nest for the year. I keep trying to improve my bee identification skills, but, while some are easy, some are not. Luckily, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust offers to identify photos of bumble bees if you are stuck.


Not much time in the garden today, as our grandson was visiting, from Cardiff. The photo is of young James and his Grandad putting back together our squirrel-proof feeder, which is very nearly grandparent-proof as well – still, according to the American instructions, it will also keep out raccoons, so a mere grandparent doesn’t stand any chance!


Gradad and James putting bird feeder back together

Gradad and James putting bird feeder back together


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