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Home and away

Posted: Sunday 3rd September 2017 by My-Wild-Garden

Sunflowers with bumblebeesSunflowers with bumblebees

This month, Sue gives some tips for protecting potatoes from blight, reveals her top 10 bee-friendly flowers and, following her holiday in Spain, says the UK has at least one advantage over hotter countries.

What a difference a couple weeks away make.

Before departing for sunnier shores the allotment was looking colourful albeit, it has to be said, a little wayward, with the last vestiges of borage, poppy and phacelia flowers, a splash of scarlet from the runner beans, a couple of rows of potatoes ready to dig, an encouraging show of green tomatoes, enough courgettes to feed an army and the promise of plenty of blackberries.

I’m told it rained almost every day while I was away, causing blight to creep up on my spuds and devastate my tomatoes. At the same time a strong wind managed to fell the cardoon I had been growing for the butterflies.

The few rows of salad leaves and rocket that I sowed just before I left appear to have succumbed to an invasion of slugs.

Almost all of the flowering plants have gone to seed and a lot of weeds have crept in, which means the plot is looking tired and in need of a bit of a clear up.

The weather is something that the gardener can’t control, which means some years are better than others for certain crops.

A welcome harvest

Nevertheless there was plenty to pick when I got home, with potatoes, carrots and runner beans among the vegetables on offer. I’ve taken the precaution of cutting the haulms from the potato plants, leaving just a short stem and all the potatoes underneath, to prevent the blight from spoiling the crop.

Meanwhile the courgettes emerging from their bed on the manure heap showed just how much they had enjoyed all the rain with some having swollen to monstrous proportions while I was away.

For dessert there are plenty of blackberries to pick, the first batch of which have been frozen on a tray to keep the individual fruits separate before they’re bagged up ready for when I get around to using them. Once the canes have finished fruiting I’ll cut them right back to stop them from taking over the allotment.

The Anglo Saxons used to call August weed month, and they weren’t wrong!

The time has come to start hitting the soil, digging it over to remove any perennial weed roots such as couch grass and bindweed and any annual nuisances before they manage to set seed – the Anglo Saxons used to call August ‘weod monath’, or weed month, and they weren’t wrong!
Once patches have been cleaned up I’m scattering them with phacelia seed heads and covering the whole thing with leaf mould, which I hope the worms will take into the ground. Covering the soil means there will be some protection against the winter weather, and the phacelia will provide me with a green manure to dig in before I start sowing and planting again.

No rain in Spain

This year’s holiday took us to Spain, the warmer climate of which makes it easier to grow a number of trees and plants that would not survive outside in the UK. Among the trees that caught my eye were the pomegranate, the symbol of Granada where we were staying. I noticed, however, how much watering was needed to keep gardens looking their best – not such a challenge for gardeners at home in the UK!

Before leaving for Spain I spent an afternoon looking around a summer showcase at the headquarters of a company that supplies a lot of annual flowering plants to garden centres and other shops. It was a beautiful sunny day and the bumble bees were out in force, although it was obvious that they were favouring some blooms more than others.

We don’t just make gardens for ourselves, but for a vast range of insects who benefit greatly from the flowers we grow.

Top 10 flowers for bumblebees

Using my own, completely unscientific, observations, I’ve made a list of the top ten flowers for bumblebees.

Top of the charts – and this will come as no surprise to many – is lavender, which as humming for much of the time.

This is closely followed by the sunflower, with each bloom containing scores of nectar-rich florets.

Foxgloves, antirrhinum and monarda (shown below) which is also known as ‘bergamot’ or ‘bee balm’ aren’t far behind.

Other flowers that attract their fair share of bees are cosmos, sea holly (eryngium), salvia, marigold, zinnia and scabious.

It all goes to show that we don’t just make gardens for ourselves, but a vast range of insects who benefit greatly from the flowers we grow.

Monarda (bee balm)

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