Winter Breaks for Insects

The mornings are darker, the air is cooler and there is definitely a whiff of Autumn in the air. With the success of the Nectar Bar this year I’m already thinking of expanding my interests into insect real estate….

There is already a simple insect dwelling like the one below by the front door. The Lacewings and Ladybirds love it and there are a few crafty little spiders who act as security guards. It’s easy to maintain, looks attractive and provides good shelter against the elements. Unfortunately, it gets a little cramped over Winter and there is only one bathroom so it’s time for an upgrade.

Okay, I need to source various materials such as bricks, drilled wood, pallets, tiles and pipes… thankfully I have a huge heap of these in the paddock and, once the thistles have died down, I’ll gather these up. I just need to think about what style to have. I like the thought of a country retreat for them but, as many of the insects around here already live in the country, they may wish to try something different.

Maybe I could build them a town house….

… or a whole metropolis! The nightlife is certainly going to be more vibrant and they’ll meet all sorts of interesting multi-legged friends. The only problem is that it took us SO long to get planning permission for the outbuildings that buiding an insect city may not be worth the stress!

On reflection I’ll probably build a simple pallet structure that is tucked away in a quiet corner similar to the one below! As an organic gardener I have to take care of the friendly bugs so that they can scare away the nasty ones (I was once told that they eat their enemies but this is too gruesome to contemplate).

Ever since I saw Malc’s insect hotel over at Green Bench Ramblings I have been mulling these ideas over so watch this space in a couple of months and you may just be surprised (hopefully in a good way!).

September Song

Red Admiral Butterfly

One of the best decisions I made with the garden was to plant a Nectar Bar to attract the pollinators and beneficial insects. It has surpassed my expectations and it’s an absolute must for my future planting schemes.
Today was a good day as I even managed to photograph one of the butterflies that have eluded me over the last few weeks. A longer lens on my camera and a tripod were key – but balancing on one leg whilst the tripod was in mid air probably wasn’t that helpful!

Bees on Agastache

There were a huge variety of bees out today and I noticed that each species seemed to have their favourite flowers. The Agastache, Scabious and Coreopsis were the favourites today and I noticed that whilst most bees were methodically working the blooms others zoomed around them as if the Bar was about to close!!

The Nectar Bar

The Bar is open as usual my little buzzy friends… and hopefully will be for a few weeks more! Come on in, have a good time and bring a friend too x

Sproutlets and Purple Beans!

I’ve never grown Brussel Sprouts before and I must confess that I’m as thrilled as any woman in pyjamas could be! The sproutlets are starting to appear and I’m already hoping that they’ll be a success story this year.
Brussel Sprouts are probably the most hated vegetable ever… and I once thought so too. As a child I was made to eat ALL my vegetables. The concession with sprouts was that my Mum allowed them to be covered with any condiment to make this happen. I favoured vinegar, holding my nose and not inhaling for a loooong time.
Once I left home I realised that if brussels are eaten whilst young and steamed until they are just cooked they are quite good. I also found out that if they are stir fried with a little ginger and garlic… they are fabulous!

Baby Brussel Sprouts

Elsewhere in the garden the Borlotti beans aren’t doing very well. I’ve counted three pods so far and it looks as if I’ll be using these as a garnish! My disappointment has been minimised though because the dwarf french beans are looking fabulous! I have both purple and yellow varieties and I’m looking forward to a taste test very soon.

Dwarf Purple Podded French Beans

When I planned the garden at the start of the year I imagined that it would contained mainly vegetables with about 25% flowers to attract the pollinators. What I actually planted is approximately 50% flowers and I have the urge to grow even more. I am thinking already about having a proper cutting patch next year so I can free up more space to grow vegetables. I love having fresh flowers in the house and being able to give flowers away to other people!

Morning Sun

Now that the Nectar Bar has filled out the colours mingle very nicely together. Many flowers are actually at head height because I planted them in the tallest raised bed. I was a little concerned that the tall plants may look a little strange but… I like it. It gives a different perspective and, like a five year old, I love to jump up on the walls and walk around the edges :-)

Nectar Bar in August

Just like me, the bees and butterflies are somewhat camera shy… I’ve realised that as soon as a camera makes an appearance the wildlife seems to zoom off. I have to practice the art of patience and just be still for a while – a lesson for life as well as gardening!

Floral Dance

The flowers are certainly thriving now that the sunshine has arrived, in fact, we’ve been over run with poppies! I’ve cut the seed heads off the poppies before they can spread further. I do think they’re pretty but I want to limit where they’re growing at the moment so I cut their heads off (how cruel) before they can set seed. I’d like to dry them in the hope that the seeds can be scattered in the paddock… the problem is that seed heads are usually left on the plant to dry. Has anyone managed to dry them from the green?

Dead heading is great therapy and a good snipping session always makes me feel better – especially as I know the reward will be further flowers!

There are several stars in the floral department and most of them have come from Sarah Raven. I am a huge fan and I’ve been very impressed with her plant selections, reliable service and customer care. The small sunflower Vanilla Ice is such a pretty lemon colour and compliments many other plants. I still love the Cosmos and will definitely be growing more next year.

Helianthus “Vanilla Ice” and Cosmos “Antiquity”

In the herb bed the Curry Plant is a clear winner… I love the smell if this plant so much and, although it’s not the edible variety, the flowers are pretty enough to use in bouquets and aromatic enough for a pot pourri.

Curry Plant and Agastache

Three Agastache plants were carefully labelled as, until they flowered, I had the urge to weed them out thinking they were dead nettles! The insects certainly love them, especially the bees, so they have earned their place in the nectar bar.

Despite the floral dance that happens this time of year there has been a distinct lack of butterflies. I assume that this was due to our very soggy weather this year – any ideas? I’ve seen the odd Cabbage White trying to access the netted brassicas or the odd Fritillary or two. In your experience, apart from Buddleja, are there any other plants that butterflies go particularly mad for? I want the Flutter-By’s back x

Magic Beans

One of the best things about gardening are the lessons that Mother Nature teaches us each day. Broad Bean FlowerOne of my challenges in this new garden is to grow something I dislike each year in the hope that I will be inspired to eat it… and, who knows, even enjoy it! Broad Beans (fava beans) have always been my nemesis so these had to be my first choice to grow this year.
There are three wonderful things that I have discovered since growing these plants. Firstly, Broad Beans have the most beautiful, delicate perfume that fills the air with loveliness and when I first noticed this I was amazed! The smell came wafting over from the vegetable patch on a gentle breeze and it took me a long time to identify that it belonged to the bean plants. My brain would not, could not, believe what my nose was telling it. In fact, I initially started to sniff all the pretty flowers in adjacent beds as I really couldn’t quite believe that these sturdy looking plants could smell so good… and I don’t mean just plain good, I mean “put it in a bottle and wear it as a perfume” good! None of my garden books seem to mention how beautiful these flowers smell and, to be fair, I think that I would grow them for this fact alone! I must say that the garden books in question did worry me silly about swarms of blackfly and also stressed the important of proper support in windy weather.
The second wonderful thing  (probably related to the first) is that the bees absolutely love these flowers! The big, fat bumble bees seem to particularly enjoy them and they can’t seem to get enough! I’ve grown lots of plants to deliberately attract bees and butterflies to the Nectar Bar but the Broad Beans seem to be doing a better job and our buzzy friends just can’t stay away.

The final amazing lesson that I have learnt is that Broad Beans grow upwards! Not down towards the ground but actually up towards heaven!! I know you’ll probably be laughing at me for being so naive, but I’ve never grown these before and really thought that they would grow down! So, I have either a)  acquired magical, gravity-defying beans, b) I have been extremely ignorant and have managed to overlook this simple fact or c) I actually planted them upside down! Ha ha… Let me know which it is (and if they’re really magic… what shall I do with them?).  I’ve always had a sneaky belief that Broad Beans Are Evil so I’m only growing them as an experiment anyway! Wouldn’t it be funny if I went from a hater to a lover? It would be especially funny if I marketed a new fragrance based on Broad Bean flowers… called “Implausible – A Fragrance For Her”

Daffodils Aren’t Herbs

The old lady who lived in the house before us absolutely loved daffodils. She planted them throughout the garden and hedgerows and looked forward each winter to seeing them in Spring. I wanted to continue this tradition, especially as we had to unceremoniously uproot many bulbs during the building work, so I have re-planted some in the Kitchen Garden. The Victorians believed that daffodils were a symbol of regard so this somehow seems appropriate.

Narcissus Tete a Tete

Flowers and vegetables have always loved working together to encourage the bees and butterflies but I’m always careful to keep daffodils and other toxic plants away from edible produce…. if someone poisons me I want to know it was deliberate!!

Kitchen Garden in the snow

It’s hard to believe that in a few months this part of the garden will be colourful and productive! We have seven raised beds in total (excluding the central island). The long bed at the back is the Nectar Bar which will attract and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

There will be three beds for crop rotation, one for fruit, one for herbs and a perennial bed for asparagus and rhubarb. I have a cooking apple tree to grow as an espalier against the south facing wall and two eating apple trees to train over an arch. That’s the plan anyway!