A Buzz In The Air

A couple of days ago there was a real buzz in the air at the hospice… literally! I was busy weeding outside a patient’s room when Anne, one of the wonderful volunteer gardeners, shouted out “Look, a swarm of bees!” I looked up and there they were, thousands of them just over my head. I have never seen a swarm like this before, so was somewhat taken aback. They slowly moved past us, and I followed from a safe distance. After a few minutes they decided to stop and rest in a conifer tree by one of our ponds. Here they are…

It was an amazing sight, one which several patients and staff came out to have a look at. There was definitely a buzz in the air.

The reason for bees to swarm is twofold. Firstly, to create more space. Like us, they need room to live in and to store their honey and pollen. In spring and summer the colony size can expand rapidly resulting in a shortage of space. When the colony grows beyond the capacity of its home a decision is made to swarm. Future queens are prepared in “queen cups”. But before any of the new queens hatch, the old queen leaves the hive with about half of the worker bees, in search of a new home. Back in the hive, a new queen hatches and quickly devours any other potential new queen larvae. The remaining worker bees then see her as their new queen. There are now two colonies, each about half the size of the original. The second reason to swarm is to reproduce and increase the number of colonies. There is an excellent account of the mechanics of bees swarming at perfectbee.com

I was not sure if there was any danger in being so close to a swarm. Apparently there isn’t. Before they leave the hive the bees stuff themselves on honey for the energy. This makes them very docile and highly unlikely to sting you. It is an exciting spectacle to watch, but slightly disheartening for the beekeeper who has just lost half of their collection!

When I left work on Monday the bees were still hanging out in the tree. They generally rest for a few hours, or potententially a day or two, whilst scouts go out looking for a permanent new home. I hope that they found one quickly, because yesterday Storm Francis had arrived with all of its wind and rain.

The wildlife on Monday was pretty good. Before the bees I had already heard a commotion with a buzzard. I heard one nearby and then saw it flying low overhead with some prey in its talons. A few seconds later there was more screaching and the buzzard was seen being chased away, empty handed, by some magpies.

Then in the afternoon I saw some beautiful tortoiseshell butterflies on the verbena. They reminded me of the “painted ladies” that we had so many of last year. This year I haven’t seen a single one. Here’s the tortoiseshell…

It is so pleasing to see the wildlife in and around the gardens and it means so much to the patients and their families. I hope to continue to develop the gardens to attract more species in.

I’m off camping now for the Bank Holiday weekend. No doubt it’ll rain!

Till next time… take care. X

July 19th 2020 – CANCELLED

July 19th 2020 was going to have been a very busy day for me. I had double booked myself by accident and had to be at two events simultaneously. I was only ever going to have been at one of them, but can you guess which one?

The first event was the NGS garden opening at the hospice. This is a big day for me and my fellow gardeners. It is a day that we work towards for many weeks, and is an opportunity to show the public that the hospice can be a beautiful place. It is also a way to make some money for the hospice through selling some plants and refreshments, on top of the money raised for the National Garden Scheme (and the charities that they support).

The second event was as a result of a very kind and generous birthday present from my son, Jake. Last November I turned 50 and he decided that it would be great if we could have a boys weekend away at a sporting event. He picked the British F1 at Silverstone. I have never been to a Formula One event, but love watching it on TV much to my wife’s surprise – she thinks it is an immoral sport!

As it turned out, my anxieties in deciding which event I would attend, turned out to be futile. Coronavirus meant that both events were cancelled… 😦

The British F1 was eventually rescheduled for today, but with no spectators. I will be watching on TV in 2 hours time. The garden opening was not rescheduled. So I decided that I would write a blog today, on the same day as the F1, to show what the gardens have been like in recent weeks.

They have been looking lovely recently and I feel so blessed being able to work in them. At the entrance to the hospice we have a new flower bed that is full of geraniums and marigolds that were kindly donated by Wigan Council. As you arrive at the hospice you are greeted with a riot of colour.

The crocosmia and verbena are looking particularly good this year.

And there is a pale orange monbretia that I am very fond of. I will have to split the clump up later in the year and spread them around a bit.

Around the back of the hospice, outside patient’s bedrooms, the borders have really filled out this year.

The penstemon have been very late coming out this year, possibly because of the very dry period we had in April and May. However, they are out now and looking lovely.

Another flower that seems very late this year are the astilbes. Back in May I thought that I had killed them by not giving them any water during the drought. The leaves and young flowerheads had all gone brown and dead looking by the time I noticed. I quickly watered them, prior to several weeks of rain, and have been rewarded with a stunning display of their feathery flowers.

You can also see in the photo above that I had just given the silver birch trees their annual wash (or should that be polish, seeing that they are silver birches).

We have a small rockery called the Daisy Garden or Trivedi Garden, named after a local GP who had close ties with the hospice. It is used as a memorial garden, with people placing a wooden daisy in memory of a loved one.In the rockery there are a couple of thyme plants, which I have never really paid much attention to. This year they are looking amazing.

We have had a good crop of wildflowers this year too, although the specific wildflower garden could do with a bit of work this winter to get even more colour in it next year. We have had poppies growing in the borders, as a result of poppy seeds being in the compost.

I particularly like these ones with the white in the middle.

We had quite a lot of wild orchids growing in the grass this year, something I haven’t noticed before. Most were the common purple orchid, but I was very pleased when I discovered this Bee Orchid.

Interestingly, I have had a bee orchid growing in my last garden in Wigan and at the last church that Sam worked at in Liverpool. They are so beautiful. Talking of bees, I took this photo of a bumble bee on some meadow cranesbill.

It is great to see so many bugs in the wildflower garden. This one was feeding on a wild parsnip flower.

I am constantly amazed at how stunning so many flowers are. A few days ago I took this photo of some purple loosestrife.

At some point I need to do an audit of all the wildflowers that we now have in the gardens, as I am sure that the number is slowly increasing.

I recently made a new “Hedgehog Hotel” in the wildflower garden. Sometime ago we were given some timbers that had been rescued from an old mill in Manchester. The aim was that we would make a bench out of them. However, this never happened and a colleague was going to throw them away in order to make space in one of our sheds. That’s when I came up with a plan to rescue them. It seemed a shame to throw away these timbers which must be at least 100 years old and which must have seen so much in their time. So a hedgehog hotel they have become!

Next year I must make sure that I do not have the gardens open on the same day as the F1, so that I can do both. But now it is time for me to dash and take my place infront of the TV!

I hope that you are all well and keeping safe.

Till next time… Bye! x