How to begin this week?
(Actually this post has been delayed by a bout of glyphosate induced illness, so the text might seem a bit out of date, but the issues with using this widely promoted herbicide will wait for another day, so here we go).
In the week of Chancellor George Osbourne’s much previewed budget speech, there was the interesting mix of freezing age related income tax allowances for pensioners, with a reduction in higher rates of income tax, currently paid by a fairly small percentage of the UK’s more affluent earners. Perhaps the fact that this single item seemed to generate more animated discussion than other announced measures indicated a distanced view from the Treasury of the real world of many ordinary folk.
The above is a poor attempt to link with thoughts I’d already had after waking early enough to listen to BBC Radio 4’s farming programme last Saturday, when it featured UK cut flower production, majoring on a visit to David Austin’s rose premises at Albrighton. Firstly, I learned that the chances of my ‘White Dragon’ rose seedling (see previous blog) being a beauty are miniscule – apparently D.A. hand pollinates and then grows on 400,000 rose seedlings every year, of which only 4 or 5 are ever selected for commercial production.
But the main point that caught my attention, was that at this time of the year they were busy putting together bouquets for the biggest commercial floral event of the year – Mothering Sunday. It was explained in a rational way that to produce English roses in bloom for this early in the year would require huge energy inputs as heat and light, so that the firm used growers in Africa to grow their English rose varieties, which were cut, air freighted to the UK and cold stored in England before making their way out as bouquets to delighted mums.
But, asked the interviewer, did the firm tell customers that the English roses were grown in Kenya? Ummm, no. Moral capitalism? This is all very shaky philosophical stuff, since as I’ve said before in my blog we (all?) seem to live lives riddled with hypocrisy, but the same programme highlighted the fact that this year because of a mild spring in Scotland and a cold snap in Cornwall, Scottish daffodil blooms were fading in the fields, unpicked for Mother’s day, because the army of itinerant daffodil pickers were still working the West Country’s fields – usually they bloom a convenient 2 or 3 weeks later in Scotland.
The same theme of how much a manufacturer has to declare about their product had first surfaced with me after discovering Beepol bumblebee colonies last week in a gardening catalogue. Having researched their commercial use in tomato production last year, I was intrigued to see where the bee colonies were bred, since they were marketed as “UK native bumblebee species: a Queen, 40-50 workers and bee food”, under the headline “Discover the value of bees!” It actually required quite a bit of detective work to find the firm behind Beepol – “Dragonfli”, and then a phone call to establish that whilst the bees are a UK species, they’re actually bred in Holland by the same Dutch firm Koppert which produces the colonies for commercial use. The colonies are posted out to Dragonfli from Holland, then sent on by them to the final UK purchaser.
I did ask the company about issues with food supply for colonies once they reached the garden. “No problem”. The firm has linked in with a supplier of plug plants and seed so can supply suitable plant plugs and seed. (Of course these will take a little while to get going, and in the meantime?). And are the British bees identified as coming from Holland? Well….Umm, no. The intermediate supplier whose catalogue I read had actually told me on the phone that they were UK bred.
I’ve been interested by this commercialisation of what is a native insect, since in small print in the product information is the caveat that “Before bumblebee colonies die back (perhaps this should more correctly be die out! Sic.) they do produce new Queen bumblebees that start new colonies in the surrounding area, but it is recommended to remove the old hive and replace with a new one the following spring for optimum yields”. In other words unlike a honeybee hive, which with luck and perhaps good management you can maintain for a number of years, and even expand to more hives, by their very specific biological life-cycle a bumblebee colony will never survive in one nest for more than one season.
So the perfect product for commercial capitalism to exploit – it’s guaranteed to need replacing annually. And what price for this slice of bee action? A shade under £65.00, though if you add in a little wooden ‘lodge’ to sit the colony’s cardboard and plastic box into, that rises to £125. “Discover the value of bees!”.
As I kicked this around with a friend yesterday as we caught the late afternoon buzz of the bumblebees around the flowers on our Pieris ‘Forest Flame’, he suggested perhaps I should catch some of the huge numbers of queens in our garden this year, and sell them. The large annual increase in bumblebees and other insects which we’ve seen in the garden over the last few years, does seem to endorse our policy of trying to fill the garden with the right sort of flowers, and particularly those that are of interest to our native species of insects (see my Botany of Desire Blog Pages). A lack of appropriate flowers in gardens and our countryside is probably one of the major factors, along with pesticide usage, for the decline in bumblebee numbers. Before leaving the bumblebee and MC subject (PHEW), I’m providing links here to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and Buglife sites which have really good basic bumblebee information for anyone interested, and it’s here that I discovered that in October 2011 the BCT was awarded over £300,000 to research and promote awareness of these declining species, and indeed to try to put a capital value on their true “WORTH” to the nation by dint of their pollinating capabilities.
Personally, standing in front of a 5 foot high Pieris bush in mid March with a distinctive honeylike nectar scent filling the air, and hearing nothing but the buzzing of tens of busy bumbles is reason enough for me to value and try to conserve and raise awareness of these fascinating creatures.
We’re nearly mid way through our daffodil season now, with the earliest Narcissus “Tête á Tête” and “Topolino” starting to fade as a new wave of “Thalia”, “Elegance” and “Ice Follies” takes up the baton. So I thought I’d include a few photos of last week’s best, as well as a brief reference to their historical importance as the National flower of Wales. There is some uncertainty over the origins of this. Wales had for a long time cherished the leek (Cenhinen) as its national emblem, and this apparently dates back to St. David’s time when in a major battle with the Saxons, David had advocated that the Welsh should all wear a leek in their helmets to distinguish friend from foe. Some even think that the battle took place in a field of leeks. In any event the Welsh won the day, so leeks (which after all grow well in the wet Welsh climate) achieved a permanent status as national emblem. Much more recently daffodils (which in one Welsh name are known as Cenhinen Bedr or Peter’s leeks, although there are other words used to describe them to complicate things further) became popular with Welsh ladies, and indeed were a more colourful and less smelly emblem than the leek.
Apparently their popularity was cemented when Lloyd George began to wear one on St. David’s day. Also, the thought that although leeks were introduced to Wales in Roman times, there has probably been an indigenous daffodil species growing wild in Wales for thousands of years before this. (Narcissus pseudonarcissus).
Finally, most people in the UK and ALL people who live in Wales will now be aware that for the third time in 8 years Wales have just finished the 6 nations rugby championship winning every game, and hence the coveted grand slam. As a teenager in the 1970’s I was riveted by the passion of the Welsh rugby team of that era who achieved similar grand slam heights, and indeed the wonderful singing from the old national stadium at Cardiff Arms Park. But the sound from the new gladiatorial amphitheatre of the millenium stadium is perhaps even more impressive (at least over the radio). I can still remember exactly how I spent the lovely day when Wales beat Ireland 8 years ago to win the first of this current sequence by moving Crocus in the green – (a disaster by the way), with the radio on and plugged into an outside extension lead.
This year’s championship has largely passed me by. However, I shall remember the 18th March very clearly, since I pottered round the garden as the sun broke through the clouds and I took a few photos of dancing daffodils. And finally, since you inevitably end up on hands and knees, or backside, or chest to get the best perspective, I found myself relaxing with wet denim on knees and backside, slumped against our Rosa glauca hedge gazing towards the distant blue, black mountains and beyond, out of sight, towards Cardiff, and soaking up the sun and birdsong.
A moment to savour, with no vehicles travelling on the road to Llanybydder. Before stiffness set in, I ventured inside and caught the last 10 minutes of commentary on the game as “Hymns and Arias” rang out around the stadium. And for a while the Welsh nation revelled in its day of glory.
With no concerns for moral capitalism.