The Bee’s Knees

Earlier this year I decided to focus on pollinators at the school summer fete plant stall and since then I’ve been a little obsessed with growing and learning about plants which give our pollinators a helping hand. I’ve been raising a small army of dwarf sunflowers from seed (Helianthus annus ‘Little Leo’ and ‘Waooh!’), dividing garden plants like Echinacea purpurea and Monarda didyma, and still have Nasturtium and Marigolds (both Calendula officinalis and Tagetes patula) to sow.

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Some of the sunflower army ready for pricking out and potting on

I’m planning on creating a pollinator quiz at the fete to encourage the children to think about the role of insects in our lives. Entries with correct answers will be entered into a draw to win a ‘make your own bug hotel’, which will hopefully give one of the children the chance to get up close with pollinating insects in their own garden. We’re also taking a class of students to a local community pollinator garden so they can learn a little more about these important insects and then help the volunteers plant sunflowers in the meadow. The plan is to use these nutrient and moisture hungry plants to reduce the fertility of the soil ready to sow a wildflower meadow for pollinators later in the year.

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Pollinator fun for the kids

My daughter and I had fun a couple of days ago creating a butterfly bath next to the bird bath so our welcome visitors could drink without danger of submersion. The back garden currently houses two bee and insect hotels, one made by the kids and one given to us, to try and encourage as many pollinators as possible. I have also tried providing sugar solution on a sponge, but without much take up, so perhaps that’s an aspect of our hostelry skills which needs honing this summer.

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The pollinator and bird baths – apologies to the birds as theirs needs a bit of a clean!

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Last year’s homemade bug hotel

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And the deluxe version

Then today, the bee’s knees – quite literally, as we noticed that solitary bees were building nests in our new green roof binstore. I’d put holes of different sizes in the side of the wooden supports when we built it in the hope that the bees would find it accommodating. We’d previously found one hole blocked up with mud which told us that bees were using the holes to lay eggs. When we were in the front garden today laying the gravel, there were several bees investigating and filling the holes. In fact, in between leaving this afternoon for the allotment and returning, another hole had been filled.

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This one’s taken, mate…

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The completed bee nest

During the day we laid gravel on the side garden which now only needs a few extra plants adding when the weather gets a bit cooler, and started the dinosaur garden in the allotment (more on both of these projects in another post.) Sunshine, three generations of helpers and lots of laughter ensured a good time all round, and the bees were a lovely addition to a fun and satisfying day.

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This bee spent ages trying to decide which hole it preferred

Binstore green roof (part two)

Pallets and Pj’s

No sooner had we been woken this morning by our two mini tornadoes (the kids) than the bell rang with the exciting news (in my eyes) that the green roof substrate was waiting outside. In the end, creating our own 2-5mm crushed brick proved impractical and I was determined to use recycled materials, so I sourced a low-nutrient extensive green roof substrate based on crushed recycled brick and green waste compost from Garden Topsoil Direct. This evening I filled the roof and watched it change from a gravel pit to a promising growing space.

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Earlier today…

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Halfway there…

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The filled bed as the light was fading

Plant me…

I’ll start with the white alpine strawberries and then I can enjoy collecting various thymes, sempervivums and other alpine and small Mediterranean plants from nurseries, plant sales and flower shows throughout the year. Part three of this blog post will cover the planting and is the bit I’m looking forward to the most. Happy spring gardening! 

See how the idea to hide the bins started in Part One and read about the creatures which are now calling the binstore home in The Bee’s Knees…

Out with the Ugly: Bin with the New

Cars, concrete, lines of brightly coloured bins – not easy to integrate into a friendly front garden. My front garden, like many others around the country, has to accommodate these elements, but I’m determined they will not dominate it. I’ve already cut down the 20 year old Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) which was growing too close to the house and darkening our inside space. Then there was the removal of the patchy front lawn – not sure all my neighbours understood that one! Now I have a little planted space with evergreen structure and bright spring, summer and autumn flowers (more on that later) and a narrow gravel path with stepping stones interplanted with creeping herbs. Beautiful, but not enough to completely deflect attention from the imposing purple and brown bins still lining the drive.

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From this…

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To this…

Mini Green Roof Beginnings

At Hampton Court last year I saw the beautiful blue binstore in the Community Garden and fell in love. I took lots of photos and spent ages asking questions about the construction and planting of the green roof. Unfortunately my budget wouldn’t stretch to an aluminium binstore, so with the help of a local carpenter, I planned a wooden structure with a green roof to hide my bins from the side view. Now it’s in place and the next task is to decide on the growing medium and plant it up.

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Loved this binstore

Crushed brick conundrum

At the moment the base of the green roof is lined with a plastic waterproof membrane and there is a drainage hose covered with a screwed down tea strainer. The base is filled with a shallow layer of 10/20mm gravel whilst I debate what growing medium to use. I’m planning a 30%/70% – inorganic aggregate/green waste compost mix and trying to decide between recycled crushed brick and expanded clay pebbles. The former is more sustainable and I can get it locally – but only in 20 tonne lorry loads. Currently I require about 90 litres, so I’d have enough left over to green roof the rest of my street! I’m pretty sure crushing the bricks myself isn’t a viable option as the particles really need to be 2-5mm and that’d be a lot of lump hammer wielding. Alternatively I can hire a crusher for upwards of £300 a day (!) So I’m coming to the conclusion that the local sustainable option isn’t viable unless I can find another 40 people locally who also want crushed brick for their own green roofs.

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Tea, anyone?

Having fun with plants

So with the rudimentary drainage system sorted and the growing medium (nearly) sorted I should soon be able to start the most interesting part of the experiment – the planting. The front garden is south-west facing and should be ideal for herbs. I’m intending to move a group of white alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca ‘White Soul’) which I grew from seed from under the apple tree in the front garden to the roof, where they’ll get more sun. Then I’ll add herbs like Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), the trailing Indian mint (Satureia douglasii) and some Sempervivums. I’m planning on growing some Black-Eyed Susan from seed to climb up the external trellis and to complement the planting in the narrow strip between mine and next door’s garden which is due to commence in a few weeks (more on that later too). Who knows what the bin store will look like when it’s finished and what plants will ultimately take up residence on the roof as I experiment merrily. All I know is I’ll have a lot of fun and learn a lot along the way. See the next stage of the process in my next bin blog post and read about the creatures that call it home

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New bin storage with green roof nearly ready to be planted

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And a side border to fill with goodies…

If you have planted up a green roof I’d be interested to hear what worked and anything which didn’t work. Please leave me a comment – this is my first blog post and I’ll no doubt have lots of learning to do…

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.