Category Archives: BEE Responsible Gardening

Bees V RHS – it’s time for the bees to win

Bees V RHS – it’s time for the Bees to win.

 

The Royal Horticultural Society is an amazing institution. It’s role is to promote gardening and educate current and future generations about gardening and all things horticultural.

 

No one can argue that it does not fulfil this role admirably. However, the RHS has created a monster in the world of horticulture and it is time to put this monster back in it’s box.

 

The monster is the Award of Garden Merit, it pits the Bees against the world of horticulture – and it’s time for the bees to win!

 

What actually is horticulture?

 

Horticulture is defined as;

‘the cultivation of flowers, fruit, veg or ornamental plants & the science and art of cultivating such plants’

 

Herein lies the problem, that short phrase ‘ the science & art of cultivating such plants’.

 

Humans are naturally inquisitive, we love to create, invent, modify and innovate. Horticulture is partly defined as a science, consequently, horticulturalists would be in dereliction of their scientific duty to not look to innovate or modify or change.

 

Horticulture is also defined as an art form, which drives the passion and provides purpose for creating plants that look more beautiful.

 

This horticultural definition provides the justification for us to adapt and enhance the natural world. Science and Art further the knowledge and understanding of mankind, so therefore the application of science and art to plants must be equally beneficial.

 

This creates a monster however, but one borne of another uniquely human trait; one-upmanship!

 

The RHS Award of Garden Merit

 

We are a judgemental society, all facets of our behaviour are judged in some way, whether we are successful business people, influential columnists or elite athletes, society provides a benchmark of standards by which others can judge.

 

In the UK, this standard is provided by the RHS’ Award of Garden Merit and what an influential monster it has become!

 

For a plant to be awarded an AGM it must pass the following criteria;

– Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions.
– Of good constitution.
– Essentially stable in form and colour.
– Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases.
– Available to buy in the UK.

 

The AGM allows plants to be judged – which means all those ‘scientists and artists’ in commercial horticulture have a target to aim at and be judged on.

 

image RHS

A target that, once achieved, provides them with a nice shiny gong of approval.

 

The AGM shouts out to gardeners across the country that this is a good plant. The plant buying public can then purchase plants with confidence – the RHS has deemed this a ‘good garden plant’, so it must be ‘good’ in the garden.

 

The question is though – good for what?

 

The criteria for awarding an AGM in a way isolates and sanitises the role of the plant. It defines the benefit of the plant solely in terms of it’s interaction with humans.

 

For a plant to pass the test, it must invariably look good and be easy to grow.  It must not look sickly or feeble and it must be convenient to source. No other plant purpose is deemed important.

 

The monster this creates is driven by commercialism, companies can extol their ‘success’ at breeding plants by the number of AGM medals they hold. The AGM medal provides a profit premium for growers and an incentive to strive to create more plants worthy of the AGM.

 

So why is this a problem?

 

The result, well of the 200 or so new AGM awards for plants (excl veg and fruit) in 2016, approximately 8% of these plants were deemed ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ by the RHS.

 

Which means, 92% of plants gaining an AGM medal were not deemed to be particularly helpful to pollinators!

 

This is like a Rubiks Cube puzzle for a Bee!

Incidentally, most of the new pollinator friendly plants were Dahlia’s. Although many had extremely complex petal formations that would make it difficult for any bee to even get in!

 

An analysis of the RHS plant database reveals only 10% have both an AGM and a ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo.

 

Now it is not the case that all plants not bearing the Perfect for Pollinators logo have zero benefit to insects, of course it doesn’t, but the trend is there for all to see.

 

If usefulness is not even on the AGM criteria, there is no incentive for plant breeders to create a useful plant!

 

What is the purpose of the AGM to the RHS?

 

In Rory Stuarts book ‘What are Gardens for’ gardens, to be fully understood must be viewed in the context of culture. The RHS has historically demonstrated how both the science and art of horticulture has created plants of great beauty. It has displayed the prowess of the horticulturalists scientific and artistic ability with lavish shows and promoted the art of competitive show-casing of plants, flowers and vegetables. Thousands have flocked to these shows to see who has been the most successful. We all want to know which plant has been deemed the ‘best in show’.

 

The culture created is all about spectacle and how well a plant performs – for us!

 

The AGM needs another overhaul, plants should not be judged so one dimensionally. The purpose of plants, in fact the only purpose of a plant is to reproduce itself. The RHS are wrong to exclude the usefulness of a plant to it’s environment from the AGM criteria. After all gardens are now an increasingly important part of the environment.

 

The horticultural culture of the RHS needs to evolve, just as nature does. We have created thousands of plants that look great, but contribute nothing other than aesthetics to a garden. In an age where we understand far more the negative impact humans have on our planet, it is an anathema to hand out ‘gongs’ of approval to plants that look good, but offer little else.

 

So, how about a new AGM criteria:

 

– Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions.
– Of good constitution.
– Essentially stable in form and colour.
– Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases.
– Available to buy in the UK

and

– Perfect for Pollinators ?

 

 

Read more on Bee Friendly Gardening

Bee Friendly Gardens

 

Bee bistro

Download for Free

Garden are for Life & Not Just for Show

Real Gardeners Love Life – But What To Do About Bugs!

Hedgehogs & Why you Need One.

How ‘Green’ are Bedding Plants

Who are Flowers For?

BEE Responsible Gardeners

Does Your Garden Taste Good

Does your Garden Taste Good?

Does your Garden Taste Good?

And why this matters.

 

Sitting in a garden in Summer watching bees buzz and butterflies flutter is one of life’s great pleasures. Not only is it a pleasure for us to watch (unless you are melissophobic or lepidopterophobic of course!), it is also hugely beneficial to all those insects too!

 

Bees have to work really hard to find a little nectar, so imagine their delight at flying into a garden that is jam packed with nectar rich flowers.

 

Sadly, all too often gardens are filled with the more spectacularly coloured modern flowers that are devoid of nectar.

 

Just imagine the bee, having flown into this incredible spectacle of colour, and finding there is nothing to eat. It’s a bit like walking into a supermarket and finding everything there is either an empty box or a plastic vegetable!

 

butterfly campaign

 

Time for a soapbox moment:

 

  • Gardens aren’t just for use to admire – they are vital sources of food

    and shelter for all our native wildlife.

     

  • Flowers did not evolve for humans to enjoy, but most modern flowers are only designed for humans to enjoy. 

 

  • Bee use UV light to find flowers – if they can’t see them they won’t find them.  (flowers in UV look amazing & utterly different)

 

  • Butterflies taste with their feet – so how good do modern plants taste to a butterfly? 

 

  • Many modern flower hybrids contain little or no nectar to feed insects – it has been bred out (in it’s place, brighter colours and more petals). 

 

What is the point of a flower that cannot do what a flower is supposed to do?

 

At PlantPlots, we firmly believe that gardens should look beautiful, but not at the expense of our native wildlife. Before you head off to the garden centre this spring, please pause for a moment. Ask yourself, is the flower useful and pretty or is it just a pretty face?

 

We are not advocating that everyone stops buying bedding plants nor indeed boycotts hybrids or highly developed flowers. Instead we are asking that you limit their numbers in your garden.

 

If 80% of the plants in your garden were nectar rich and easy for bees and butterflies to feed from, there would be plenty of food.  It would not matter what the remaining 20% consisted of!

 

PlantPlots is a new online garden design service with a twist. We provide lots of design recipes for great ‘tasting’ garden borders that are both beautiful AND beneficial. All are available to download.

 

Now obviously we have posted this article to encourage you to look through our designs (and hopefully buy one..or two!). But even if you are not interested in shopping, we hope you might consider butterflies and bees more when you go out plant buying this year.

 

After all – who are flowers really for?

 

butterfly taste 13

Bee Friendly Gardens

Bee Friendly Gardens are absolutely vital – read on to see if yours is up to the mark and what to do if it’s not!

 

bee-blog

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”  Albert Einstein

 

That’s a scary statement – but it’s pretty much true.

 

So we really need to help maintain the bee populations globally.

Although we can’t quickly influence government policy on the use of pesticides or convince supporters of GM crops and super intensive farming methods to take a more environmentally sensitive view just yet, you can still do your bit to help.

 

The flowers and plants in your garden – how many of them can the bees feed from – easily?

 

dahlia cutout  Gaillardia_fanfare_centered       bee friendly_edited-1

Avoid highly overbred flowers, they are usually sterile and have little or no nectar.

Flowers that are created by plant breeders for human satisfaction rarely (if at all) help feed beneficial insects  in your garden. You might as well fill the garden with plastic flowers – they’re just as useless! 

I planted these this year – red pelargoniums, because they looked pretty…but that’s all they did – look pretty.

Not one insect landed there, fed from them or even noticed them!

 

So what do you need to do:

 

Don’t keep spraying stuff!  – sprays kill everything, it isn’t selective about what it kills. Does it really matter that much, if there are a few holes in petals or leaves? 

 

borage flower crop

Choose flowers that are more natural looking  – so nice open petals and more natural looking colour combinations.

 

Make sure something is in flower all year round – There are lots of flowers that provide food for insects in winter, click here for a list

 

Lastly but most importantly – don’t just regard the garden as an ‘outside room’, think of it also as ‘their home’. You will find you tend to be more tolerant of Nature and you will begin to enjoy the little world you have outside more.

 

Oh and if you don’t believe there is a crisis in the bee population, have a read, I know it is an American article, but much of it is true for here to.

At PlantPlots, we chose all the plants we use in our border designs carefully, we try to use plants that are not only lower maintenance and fairly disease resistant, but that are also good sources of nectar. So it’s a win win, you get beautiful border designs and the insects will love coming to visit to.

V3 real gardeners and spray  

We’ve more articles to read to; All on creating a more insect friendly and bio-diverse garden.

How ‘Green’ are Bedding Plants?

Who are flowers really for?

Which Flowers are best for bees,

Gardens are for Life, not just for Show

What about the Bugs?

Gardens are for life – not for show

Why Gardens should be for Life, not just for Show

 

Show Garden at Hampton Court Flower Show

Show Gardens are fantastic aren’t they! They represent all that is innovative, stunning (expensive!) and exciting, we wander through garden shows being wowed on every side by picture perfect paradises packed full of colour, scent and cool stuff! And it’s great, but then we all go home and I would imagine that, bar a select few, we all wander out onto our own little patches and let out a slightly deflated sigh.

 

But should we feel disappointed that our efforts aren’t quite as good or even fall a long way short of the standards set in a show garden?

 

Major garden shows are just that – Shows.

 

Hampton Court Flower Show Garden

 

The aim of a show is to impress and in order to do that you need to work at superhuman levels to elevate the garden and create a showstopping performance. In just the same way as a fashion show, all the elements have been meticulously selected, preened, pressed, powdered, pampered and exhibited; all for a small moment in time – and for that moment it has to be fantastic.

 

To try to maintain that level of perfection for the whole year is simply not possible. One could also argue that it is not environmentally sensible either.

 

For example, to ensure all the flowers bloom at the right time, heat, light, fertiliser and  refrigerators are used to achieve perfection. Plants are rehoused in poly tunnels, sprayed with insecticide and other pest control methods to appear absolutely perfect.

 

In a Show Garden that is absolutely fine, but we should not then try to emulate this at home nor indeed regard any inability to recreate it as a failure on our part.

 

We believe that gardens are all about creating a lovely space for us humans to enjoy – but whose dual purpose is to provide a small space where Nature can also thrive.

 

Gorgeous - high maintenance border!

 

Gardens aren’t separate from the outside environment, they are the outside environment, they just happen to have a little aesthetic modification from us Humans!

 

One of life’s simplest pleasures is to sit in a garden on a warm sunny day and watch the garden hum with activity. Gardens that are created solely with the purpose of pleasing us are missing the whole point of gardening.

 

At PlantPlots, the garden border designs we create use plants that insects find useful and attractive, the blooms may not be quite as spectacular as a Show Garden, but we are fine with that. For us, a plant border that has some plants in flower for many months is more attractive and more useful than one that bursts forth and disappears after a few short weeks.

 

So our philosophy is very much that if we can create a garden that provides you with a nice place to sit but that encourages and nurtures Nature – your own garden puts on the best free show of all.

 

Very very pretty

A pretty show garden that’s also good for insects

 

To create a beautiful ‘show garden’ without having to resort to all that frenetic activity of a real show garden, read on..

 

Beautiful gardens can be perfect environments for all sorts of wildlife.

 

You don’t have to have a weed filled unkempt garden to attract nature in, nature preserves can be beautiful gardens too!

 

If 80% of your plants and flowers are good for pollinators, you can treat yourself to a few show-stopping plant divas (that don’t provide any nectar) because there is plenty of food for insects in the rest of the garden.

 

Ensure you have some plants that flower in the depths of winter, you only need a few – very often these are highly scented so both you and the bees will enjoy them. Sarcococca Confusa is a really good one by the way!

 

sarcococca flowers (2) horizontaal crop

 

In every plant border, have 80% of the plants that flower from Spring to early Autumn, but have 20% that flower from Autumn to Spring.

 

Spray less – don’t fill the garden with plants that require lots of attention and spraying to look good. Chemicals aren’t clever, they just kill everything, but if you choose less demanding plants, you won’t need to spray. Ditch the plant divas and plant something less high maintenance instead.  This Rose is undoubtedly lovely, but will your’s really look as good as this…?

 

rose-1406036-1920x1440

 

Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes – before you think we are totally bonkers. When planting start with plants that are at your eye level, they are after all what you will see first. Then you start to choose plants that will grow well underneath, the ‘shoulders, knees and toes!’ By planting this way round, you group plants that fit well together, this not only looks better, it also provides a more natural habitat for wildlife, you have nesting places for the birds, and hiding places for hedgehogs!

 

verbena and butterfly

 

But I have a small garden!

 

You can still make a difference by adding a few easy features. You’d be surprised at what you can do with even the smallest of spaces. Even if you’ve just got a border or a small patch of patio, there are still things you can do.

 

  • Be a little less tidy, just a little unkempt area will attract lots of life
  • Don’t spray or if you must make it the last resort
  • Have an insect hotel, bird box, bat box or hedgehog house
  • Only buy plants that are good for bees and insects
  • Have one plant that flowers in Winter
  • Have a Hedgehog hole in the fence
  • If you only have space for a few pots, use large pots, plant bulbs in layers so you get lots of different stuff appearing from one pot.

 

If you can create a garden that hums with life you also help yourself, Nature balances out the volume of pests with the volume of predators, which means you don’t get overrun with bugs that chomp your favourite flowers. You also help the environment by being just a little more nature aware in the garden, so it really is a win win. It’s good for you and good for all our furry little friends!

Next week: As it’s coming up to ‘get in the garden again’ season, we start looking at how you can get your garden really low maintenance.

bee-friendly

Real Gardeners Love Life – but what about the bugs!

Insect Friendly Flowers also attract bugs

Why would you want to attract insects to the plants and flowers in your garden – all they do is eat them!

That’s true, but it is absolutely vital to human survival that they do!

 blackbird v snail

 

To explain, first we have to take a step out of your garden.  Humans are part of the great ecosystem of this planet, we don’t run the ecosystem of this planet. Secondly, and apologies for the cliche, but there is a circle of life as well, so if we cut out one part, life can’t circulate.

 

Plants get eaten by bugs, bugs get eaten by predators, predators get eaten by bigger predators etc and so on. So if bugs have a prolific breeding splurge – more predators are attracted to eat said bugs thus bringing it all back into balance. So we do need some bugs in the garden.

 

But, you cry – the bugs are still eating my plants! Well yes, although you will never prevent that happening entirely – but spraying will only prolong the problem.

 

Insecticides work by killing all insects, insecticides sprayed onto flowers can last on there for weeks, so will kill any insect that feeds off the plant or drinks the insecticide soaked nectar! The result is that although you kill the ‘pests’ you also kill the first rung of pest predators as well as killing all the useful insects too.

 

 

butterflies 2 

 

So you need to accept some ‘bad bugs’ in your garden, as they are the bottom rung of the food chain. These will attract predators which in turn attracts predators higher up the chain –  everything starts eating everything and over a period of time Nature balances out the volume of pests with the volume of predators.

If you get infested with plant eating pests, it is most likely because you have been too zealous with spraying and thus you get trapped in a vicious circle of more and more spraying to deal with the problem.

 

You need to break this cycle and adopt a more balanced long term strategy.

 

Start by accepting you are not going to have a show garden with picture perfect plants and not a munch hole in sight.

 

Take a look at the plants you have – are there any flowers or plants that are attracting insects (other than aphids). If not, then your garden is not a balanced ecosystem. You need to plant more insect friendly flowers – helpfully we have a list right here!

 aphids

 

Are there any plants that have been decimated by a bug attack – decide do you really love this plant enough to keep it in the garden and defend it every year?

 

Can you see hoverflies, ladybirds or lacewings?  – These are the next level up the foodchain and either they or their larvae love aphids. So if you haven’t any, then you can attract them easily by planting more insect friendly flowers to attract them in. Once again have a look at our list on insect friendly plants.

 

Download our Free BEE Bistro border – and BEEcome a more responsible Gardener!

 

green-lacewing 

 

Birds, Bats, Frogs, Beetles and Hedgehogs – All these are much more efficient bug hunters than you could ever be, so do not use slug pellets everywhere – you just kill larger predators who eat the poisoned slugs. Put up bird boxes, have a hole in the fence for a hedgehog, leave a little leaf debris in the  flower borders for beetles to hide away in. And if you have bird feeders – put them high enough so cats can’t jump up and get the birds!

 

sadness 2000

 

How many plants flower in your garden in the winter? – Bees forage for food on sunny winter days, so help them out with a few insect friendly flowering plants.

 

 hellebore-flowers-1-e1423672004603

 

Don’t spray Flowers – If you do feel the urge to spray then you can minimise the damage with a little more thought. Insecticide lasts on the plants for some time, so if you spray into the flowers, you will kill any bee or butterfly that lands there, so if you really really have to spray, spray before the flowers have opened. Spray on a windless day and best for insects if you spray after they have tucked themselves up for the night, but moths come out to feed on flowers too, so either way…. 

 

 

ladybird larvae 

Use a Soft Soap Spray – Liquid detergent especially the plant based eco ones are quite handy. The detergent spray ‘gums’ up the aphids, so they can’t breathe or move and then they die. The predators won’t eat the dead bugs – who would want a soapy taste in the mouth, but at least it won’t kill them.

 

Employ other defensive tactics! – There are loads of non insecticidal methods to tackling bugs without destroying all life in the garden…so try some of these – or in the case of the fish maybe not in a small suburban garden…!

 

 

  • Garlic & Chilli Spray – Use 2-3 whole garlics, 12 hot chilli’s (or a tsp of powder), 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 3 squirts of washing up liquid (an eco one is best). Blitz in a processor and add approx 3 pints of water. Pop in a sprayer and spray on your plants. The theory is the bugs don’t like the taste so don’t eat your prize blooms!
  • Fish Spray – not for the faint hearted this, but some leftover fish in a bucket and left to brew for a couple of weeks (at the end of the garden..!) strain and then spray the ‘essence’ over your plants – apparently bugs don’t like a rancid fish taste either – but then who does?
  • Shiny Things – adding bits of tin foil or other shiny surfaces near your plants can help repel bugs (the light reflecting off them confuses bugs into missing your flowers apparently).
  • Sticky Traps – These stick any insects to their surface, they are best used in greenhouses as they aren’t the most attractive things to have dangling around
  • Molasses – 1 tbsp in some hot water along with some washing up liquid and sprayed onto plants, again the sticky molasses coats the aphids and suffocates them.
  • Vinegar Spray – Use 1 tbsp per litre but don’t spray on a sunny day or the vinegar will burn the leaves.
  • Boiled leaves – Boiled tomato or Rhubarb leaves left to infuse a couple of hours, strained and popped in a sprayer are supposed to be a useful ‘insecticide’
  • Physical Barriers – Use netting and cloches to provide impenetrable barriers to bugs, remember though, if the bugs do get in, the barriers provide protection from bug predators as well.
  • Sacrificial Plants – Why have beef when you can have steak said Paul Newman, so plant a fab food for bugs that is irresistible (Nasturtiums…) amongst your more favoured specimens.
  • Companion Plants – These are plants that either attract lots of beneficial insects like hoverflies and ladybirds, or they help disguise the scent of your favourite plant by emitting their own scent – chives do both for example.
  • Get a Duck – OK you won’t have any slugs……but maybe a bit radical for the average suburban garden?
  • Love a Hedgehog – These are some of our best bug hunters – and more cute and less messy then ducks, so always make sure any hedghog can get in and out of your garden easily. Have a little hedgehog ‘hotel’ and don’t use slug pellets!

 

hehdgehog holes 2

We hope you are more convinced of the benefits of biodiversity. If you have been a sprayer and are lovers of non-insect friendly flowers, we hope you can see how being a little more diverse can bring a wealth of beneficial life to your garden. It will take time for the natural balance to be restored. 

 

Keep the faith Nature always gets it right if we let Her.

 

 

Download our Free BEE Bistro border – and BEEcome a more responsible Gardener!

Download “Bee Bistro - Free Design” Bee-Bistro-free-download.pdf – Downloaded 939 times – 2 MB

 

 

  MPGC-FINAL-315x315         RSPB - giving nature a home     

 

 

 Next week: Why Show Gardens aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

 

All the above pest control remedies are provided for information purposes only.

Hedgehogs and why you need one

Why help hedgehogs?

 

Despite the fact they adorably cute and have been on this planet for about 20 million years, we’ve lost a third of our hedgehogs over the last 10 years.

It seems likely from long-running surveys that there are fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK.

sadness 2000

 

If that isn’t reason enough, hedgehogs actually play a vital part in the UK ecosystem, occupying an important part of the food chain. They mostly eat invertebrates, such as slugs, caterpillars, millipedes, and a range of other creepy crawlies. The more they decline, the more the ecosystem and food chains are disrupted, which is bad for all involved.

 

And as far as us gardeners are concerned, having hedgehogs in your garden is like having your very own pest controllers. Hedgehogs are far more efficient bug hunters than we ever could be!

 

So how do I encourage hedgehogs?

 

There are a few simple and easy things you can put in your garden that will help encourage hedgehogs. These suggestions are from Hedgehog Street and the Hedgehog Preservation Society, charities that are both working hard to conserve our hedgehogs.

 

Link your garden.

 

hedgehog climbing the fence

According to research, Hedgehogs can travel a mile every night on their search for food or mates. With the increasing urbanisation of the countryside, hedgehogs are finding it hard to move from one garden to the next thanks to secure fences and walls.

mini-1500-px

Give your hedgehogs treat & revamp your garden this year…they’d love it!

This is why it’s important to create hedgehog holes were possible, by either:

removing a brick from the bottom of a wall
cutting a small hole in your fence the size of a CD
or digging a channel underneath your fence or gate
swapping fences for hedges, which can also help birds and bees.

Some fencing companies are now supplying ready made fencing with hedgehog holes...so helping open up the gardens couldn’t be easier.

Log piles.

ebay pics 011

These are one of the best features you can create when encouraging wildlife in your garden. Not only do they attract and produce insects as the wood rots down, making a hedgehog buffet, they can also provide a safe place for breeding and hibernating. You can either collect any wood you cut from your garden, or ask a local park, landscaper, or tree surgeon. Place the logs in an undisturbed corner of your garden and replenish with newer logs every now and again.

 

Open compost heaps.

 

IMG_3168

Again, these are great sources for insects and invertebrates, but just be careful when you come to turn the pile with a garden fork, in case you’ve attracted any hedgehogs. Oh and they don’t have to be perfectly tidy either, just accessible.

 

download-new-garden

Revamp your garden, dig up those borders – the hedgehogs will love slug hunting in them

Leaf piles.

 

These not only provide good sites for nesting and hibernating, but also good bedding material for other nesting sites and hedgehog boxes in the local area. It’s helpful to think of your garden as part of a local network, rather than a home for one population of hedgehogs. Again, be careful when clearing away, in case you find a sleeping hedgehog.

 

Wildflower patches and overgrowth.

Now this is a good one, not only do you get a hedgehog friendly area – you don’t have to do so much gardening!

IMG_3839

Leaving one corner of your garden untrimmed and overgrown can help both insects to thrive all year-round, as well as providing nesting and hibernation sites for hedgehogs. Wildflower patches can also attract more wildlife such as caterpillars and other insects hedgehogs can eat.

 

Pop in a Pond.

 

While you may think ponds are dangerous to hedgehogs, hogs are actually very good swimmers. A pond provides them with a year-round water supply, and also a place where insects, frogs, and even lizards can thrive, which means more food for the hedgehog. Just ensure the ponds have gently sloping edges so any hedgehogs can escape.

 

Have a Hedgehog house.

 

You may as well go the whole hog (pardon the pun) and build a specially made hedgehog house. There is a range of designs and styles of houses you can build, and a house will really help a hedgehog breed, nest, and hibernate. Hedgehog Street has a fantastic guide to building hog houses.

 

Gardens are lifelines for our wildlife, so by us being a little more wildlife aware and maybe a little less worried about everything looking perfect, to coin a well known phrase. ‘every little helps’, just think how much ‘help’ we could all create together!

 

Let’s change the law too!

We’ve set up a petition also, simple easy solutions are usually the best. We want to change planning law so all new house builds need to incorporate a run of hedgehog holes in the garden boundaries. Just think all those thousands of housing developments have acres and acres of gardens that our hedgehogs could safely forage in.

 

It’s a cheap simple win:win situation,  you get a fantastic bug hunter for free and you will help conserve our hedgehogs.

 

P.S – sadly we didnt get enough signatures to change the law, but you know what Have a hedgehog hole anyway…

back to home

 

How ‘green’ are Bedding Plants?

How ‘Green’ are Bedding Plants?

 

A strange title you may be thinking, of course bedding plants are green – they’re plants and all the plants we put in our gardens must be good for the environment surely?

 

In the UK nearly £1bn is spent on bedding plants each year – that’s a lot of money and an awful lot of plants, millions and millions of fuchsias, petunias, pelargoniums, lobelias and millions of ready prepared hanging baskets and tubs.

 

flower-bed-1616329

 

So what’s the issue here?

 

Well, before we start analysing bedding plants, what actually are bedding plants?

 

In general they are described as Annuals, Biennials, Tender Perennials or Half Hardy Annuals – so they are all plants that;

 

a) Won’t last more than one season
b) Will last more than one year, but will conk out the following year
c) Will last for a few years as long as you have somewhere to keep them for the winter
d) Are only supposed to last one season, but may in milder climates do rather better

 

The upshot being that most of these plants won’t last very long. To compensate for their short lifespans, bedding plants are designed to ‘live the life of a rock star’ i.e party hard and die young!

 

Bedding plants provide us with loads fantastically coloured flowers. These are very often bred to be much larger than a plant could sustain naturally and the plant is designed to keep on going…right until the end.

 

However, in order to ensure our little plants can ‘rock on all summer’ they do need rather a lot of attention, regular feeding, dead heading, plenty of water and protection from bugs and other nasty munching insects. If we do all that religiously all spring and summer – then we can be rewarded with fabulous displays that look like this.

butchart-garden-1373602

 

So, what’s the problem with bedding and why isn’t it ‘green’?

In order to churn out millions upon millions of uniformly grown plants at the right time of the year, the production of bedding plants is very tightly controlled;

 

Uniform temperature control in vast greenhouses
Ultra sensitive humidity and climate control systems are used
Lighting controls stimulate growth even at night
A carefully managed system of chemical fertilisers is constantly applied
Insecticides and biological controls are added prevent any unwanted visitors
Fungicides and other chemical are used to ensure the plants are disease free
Plants are carefully bred and selected to ensure conformity
Plants are often bred to be sterile to insects as this prevents any unwanted cross fertilisation

 

All this for plants most of you throw away at the end of the year.

 

So much for reduce, renew, recycle!

 

The average gardener can spend £9500 over their lifetime on plants and a significant part of this is most likely spent on bedding plants. Why spend all that money on something to throw away, simply because it’s colourful for 13 weeks of the year.

 

The problem with bedding is that not only does it want to behave like a rock star, it also usually begins to act like a petulant teenager as soon as you get it home. Bedding plants have been grown in the most ideal perfect conditions. They have been cosseted, preened and pampered, then the plants go home with you.  The sudden change causes them to ‘sulk’ at the less than perfect environment. On top of which, horror upon horror, you, like the rest of us, occasionally forget to water. These plant diva’s invariably then shrivel up, never to recover!

 

We spend nearly £1,000,000,000 on plants like this each year!

 

Surely there has to be a better way, we are not advocating boycotting the bedding. More suggesting there are better alternatives for your garden than buying lots of bedding plants each year.

 

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Is this garden pretty?

 

The question here is not which garden is prettier, as that is always open to your own personal preference. the key question is whether gardens should be about pleasing only humans. Is the overall effect of mass planting of bedding worth all the investment in time energy and chemicals.  Should gardens have more than just an aesthetic appeal?

 

Bedding has an appeal, but our gardens need to more than just colourful spaces.

The plants below are also colourful. However, they also will continue to perform next year and the year after without you having to spend any more money.

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Or is this garden prettier?

Bedding Plants require disproportionate amounts of energy to grow

 

The issue here is not that bedding plants are bad for the environment.  Rather that the production of bedding plants is an extremely controlled and intensively farmed process. Much of the bedding produced is mostly for our aesthetic benefit, providing little if any benefit for pollinating insects.

 

In an age when we should all looking to reduce our environmental footprint in all areas of our lives, gardens are often forgotten places to be consider being more ‘green’ in.

 

So it’s a balance, have some bedding by all means, but balance your bedding purchases with plants that do benefit pollinating insects.

Spend the same amount of money as you would on bedding plants, but buy plants that will last for more that one season instead.

Only buy bedding plants that the label says are insect friendly.

 

Gardens are miniature ecosystems that we create, so before you buy the bedding, think ‘what good will this bring to my garden’ first.

 

V3 real gardeners and spray

We won’t promise perfect borders but at least all our designs contain insect friendly flowers. Take a Look

Who are flowers for?

Who are flowers for?

 

Flowers are for us to admire – right?

 

Well absolutely yes they are, but flowers aren’t just for us, many of today’s modern blooms however are created primarily to please the human eye – but are we forgetting who flowers are really for?

 

What would butterflies think v1
Let’s take you back a few hundreds of millions of years to when flowers began. The plants that survived and thrived were those that evolved the best strategy to reproduce effectively. The emergence of flowers and nectar allowed plants to attract insects and this improved the efficiency of the pollination process and allowed plants to proliferate.

 

Flowers evolved over millions of years to attract the best pollinating insects or they formed a symbiotic relationship with certain types of insect to develop a really efficient reproductive cycle. It created a win-win situation whereby flowers provided the insect with much needed food and the insects took the pollen and redistributed it.

Now Horticulture has thrown a ‘spanner in the works’

 

For millions of years this system has worked well and then humans discovered how we could ‘breed’ bigger and better flowers. Careful selection and cross pollinating meant we could create more colourful blooms. We could develop flowers with modified and elaborate petals and stamens and produce blooms in all the colours of the rainbow. Horticulture also developed the ability to create more bountiful crops and fruits.  We also managed to increase the range and variety of many hundreds of species of plants and thereby widen the available larder for many pollinating insects.

 

However, a whole industry has evolved to create flowering plants whose appeal and use to insects is pretty limited but to us humans they look spectacular!

These plants produce many flowers over long periods of time, often the flowers are bred to be larger and more elaborate and the colour combinations created are really quite astonishing.

 

Are these really flowers though?

 

1390282_29761392 overly bred rose

If a bee cannot recognise this as a flower….aren’t we missing the point?

 

These plants have been cross bred over time to create blooms that could never be created in nature. The stamens and petals are so modified, insects can’t access the nectar or transfer the pollen. The plant cannot reproduce itself. In fact many of these plants are sterile and so cannot reproduce without human interference.

 

Thus if the flower produced is incapable of performing the function for which it originally evolved – is it really a flower?

Now you may argue that it doesn’t really matter. These plants can’t cross pollinate with other plants and what’s the harm in planting them in the garden.  Flip that thought process round and ask what’s the good of planting them in the garden either.

 

The problem arises if too many highly developed flowers appear in domestic gardens – bees and butterflies would expend so much energy trying to find food.  They will have less food to store and this reduces their ability to survive the winters.

If we all try to do just a little bit…

 

Domestic gardens are becoming far more important to native wildlife than ever before. Do you really want to fill your gardens with plants that cannot provide any food for butterflies or bees?

 

All that is required is a little more thought before you buy any plants. If you go to a garden centre to buy your plants, have a look at the displays.  Do you see any insects flying around (now the Garden Centre could have sprayed the plants), but with that concentration of plants in flower, you would surely expect to see some bees buzzing around.

 

Flowers image B Roslett

image B Roslett

 

Bees see in Ultraviolet, so what we admire in a flower is not actually what attracts the bees to it. It is unlikely that commercial plant breeders check the UV look of the flowers in development to see how and whether a bee is attracted to it and it wouldn’t be commercially viable to do so.

It is quite possible therefore, what you see as a spectacular flower is totally unrecognisable to a bee or butterfly.

 

A simple check on the plant label will normally tell you whether a plant is good for bees.

 

We all love to fill our houses with beautiful things. However, you wouldn’t buy a kettle that didn’t boil water just because it looked nice. Good design is about form AND function.

So before you buy your plants for the garden, think what benefits this plant can bring to your garden.

 

 

Not sure which plants are best for bees?

All our designs use insect friendly flowers as much as possible, why not have a browse?

BEE Responsible Gardening

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”  Albert Einstein

 

 

That’s a scary statement – but it’s pretty much true.

 

So we really need to help maintain the bee populations globally.

 

Although we can’t quickly influence government policy on the use of pesticides or convince supporters of GM crops and super intensive farming methods to take a more environmentally sensitive view just yet, you can still do your bit to help.

 

 

The flowers and plants in your garden – how many of them can bees feed from – easily?

 

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Many modern flowers are poor food sources

 

Avoid highly overbred flowers, they are usually sterile and have little or no nectar.

 

Flowers that are created by plant breeders for human satisfaction rarely (if at all) help feed beneficial insects  in your garden. 

 

butterfly campaign

 

This bedding trial was at RHS Wisley 2016. We watched for 20 minutes not one insect landed there, fed from them or even noticed them!

 

 

If we all thought about the plants in our gardens just a little bit more, then we would collectively have a huge positive impact on the bee populations.

 

What changes could we all make.

 

Don’t keep spraying stuff!  – sprays kill everything, it isn’t selective about what it kills. Does it really matter that much, if there are a few holes in petals or leaves? 

 

 

borage flower crop

 

Choose flowers that are more natural looking  – so nice open petals and more natural looking colour combinations.

 

 

Make sure something is in flower all year round – There are lots of flowers that provide food for insects in winter, click here for a list

 

 

Lastly but most importantly – don’t just regard the garden as an ‘outside room’, think of it also as ‘their home’. You will find you tend to be more tolerant of Nature and you will begin to enjoy the little world you have outside more.

 

 

Oh and if you don’t believe there is a crisis in the bee population, have a read, it is an American article, but much of it is true for here to.

 

At PlantPlots, we chose all the plants we use in our border designs carefully. We try to use plants that are not only lower maintenance and fairly disease resistant, but that are also good sources of nectar.

 

So it’s a win win, you get beautiful border designs and the insects will love coming to visit to.

 

butterfly taste 13

Overly developed flowers

When is a flower not really a flower?

 

Tulips, Daffodils, Dahlias and Pansies come into this category for me, and I am talking about gilding the lily.  I know growers want to introduce new varieties to sell, which is great, but some of the varieties coming into Garden Centres I think, concentrate on what might make this a real showstopper, rather than ‘is this beautiful’.

 

Is this not beautiful?

 

philadelhus flower

Why would this flower be classed as more beautiful?

 

freeimages.com/profile/kay82

 

Some flower heads are so full of petals and frills and stripes and have two colours, three colours, I’m not sure what I should be admiring!

 

I mean if you see a diamond solitaire it is usually wonderful, beautiful and eyecatching, however is a tiara more stunning, just because it not only has more diamonds, but adds pearls and sapphires too?

 

Some flowers are now so full of petals, you can’t see the inside of the flower, now although you may not think that  too much of a problem, think how do the bees and butterflies  feed if they can’t get in?

 

What would butterflies think v1