Belly Down and Buzzing; Hellebores’ Hurrah. NGS Snowdrop and Spring Bulbs Garden ‘Fourth Week’

SDIM5912 (2)After weeks with no dry weather (1089 mm rain for the 3 ‘winter’ months here), West Wales weather finally reverted to normal, and has given us a sun drenched and completely dry 10 days. The very first sunny day of this spell saw light winds, temperatures rising, and the garden exploded with insect life and smashed some of the clearly false impressions I’d developed about insect – flower interactions over the last several years.SDIM5905 (2)

We opted to allocate a postprandial walk to just looking and physically noting where gaps in the planting of our spring bulb display are most evident. We find this invaluable when prioritising bulb ordering and planting in the autumn. We keep thinking that we’ve only got one more year of this to go, and then realise that you can’t beat en masse spring bulbs, and with care you can have wave after wave of interest from the same bit of ground. It just needs a bit of time, effort and modest investment.SDIM5873 (2)

But observation of relative heights and flowering times in your own plot, does seem critical to achieve the best results, and for us this means years of small scale trials before buying successful varieties in bulk. And one has to accept that no 2 years will ever be quite the same. But that’s all part of the fun of gardening, isn’t it?SDIM5909 (2)

I now always take the camera on these walks and it not only helps to record just where particular bulbs will need to go in amongst all that dense September perennial foliage, but also captures those sometimes fleeting insect-flower visits. For many of the images here, I literally nearly squashed unseen bees as I lay on the ground to get the right camera angles, and so provoked lots of annoyed buzzing from the surprised and worried-about-being-flattened insects.SDIM5917 (2)

There were just so many bumbles, honeybees and more recently even a few early solitary bees, around.SDIM6050 (2)Since this explosion in numbers occurred so quickly, just 3 days after the first bumble was sighted in the garden, I’m wondering if it even means that entire colonies of bumblebees have successfully overwintered through this mild winter, rather than just the normal solitary overwintered mated queen? I’m afraid I’m pretty hopeless at spotting the difference between a worker and queen bumble of most species.SDIM5969 (2)

But why the different insect-flower interactions which I’ve never seen before? In particular bumbles on snowdrops.SDIM5937 (2) And on Scilla mischtschenkoana.SDIM6027 (2)And on Primrose, Primula vulgaris, and Iris reticulata.SDIM6020 (2)And butterflies on snowdrops.SDIM5883 (2)And on Crocus.SDIM5914 (2) We’ve certainly had them all around in the garden at the same time before, in apparently similar weather conditions, and I’ve always been looking in such suitable weather to see which insects visit which flowers.SDIM6092 (2)

If you google search for images of bumblebees or butterflies on snowdrops, you can’t seem to find huge numbers of them either, unlike those featuring honeybees which will often visit snowdrops if there is a colony nearby.SDIM5941 (2)

So what was special about this spring? Maybe the large numbers of bees meant a lack of availability of nectar for all of them from the usually more ‘popular’ flower sources in the garden at this time of the year?SDIM5900 (2)Or maybe there was a particular change in pollen, or more likely nectar production and release, after this very curious mild wet winter?

Or perhaps on these particular days, the temperatures were a little warmer than previously and this made the nectar more available, or in larger quantities, or more attractive or highly scented? Though last Sunday wasn’t exceptionally hot.SDIM6041 (2)

Such thoughts led me to reading on line, a fascinating chapter discussing some aspects of nectar chemistry (by Susan Nickolson), which I found so interesting, that I’ve dropped hints to Fiona that the shockingly expensive book (“Nectaries and Nectar”) the chapter was lifted from, might be a perfect birthday present for me in future. (Fiona, being the on the ball, diligent recorder of such observations, meant that a copy duly arrived, once I’d forgotten all about mentioning it!) The book is based on a 2007 symposium of the limited number of scientists from around the world who work in the field of nectar production by flowers, and its use in attracting pollinators. It contains some up to date thinking on this ecologically vital aspect of most plant, and by extension, animal life, though clearly there is much still to be learned.SDIM6006 (2)

All this insect – flower interaction meant that the crocus and snowdrop season was almost finished by the end of last week. If you look closely at some of the crocus images on this post, you can see the multitude of pale brown blotches on the crocus ‘petals’ (tepals), where the hooked talons of the bees’ feet have gripped on to them, whilst visiting the flowers.SDIM6086 (2)

Fortunately, the daffodils and Chionodoxa have taken up the baton extending the spring bulb season, though altering the colour palette (any ideas on the small starry Scilla like flower to the bottom right below?).SDIM6109 (2)SDIM6095 (2)

But I must also refer to the fabulous hellebore display this year. After the freeze drying of last season, they have bounced back with a vengeance and have illuminated the garden with their masses of bee and moth friendly, pollen abundant, flowers.SDIM5968 (2)It’s sometimes a challenge to get natural images of how they look en masse (and most of ours are home grown Helleborus X hybridus seedlings), but with a blue sky background it was a great way to waste a few minutes inspecting some mature favourites, as well as the latest newcomers flowering for the first time.SDIM5970 (2)SDIM5973 (2)SDIM5981 (2)SDIM5989 (2)SDIM5943 (2)

And for those who haven’t worked it out, Fiona designed our blog gravatar image from a hellebore photo not dissimilar to the one below.SDIM5994 (2)

With a huge amount to do outside just now, and vast numbers of images to process, (whilst our computer or internet connection is giving us problems), this will be another word-short post, so some more images below from the garden, for what will be my last weekly session to try to capture how the garden has looked for the NGS Snowdrop season for 2014. And we have indeed been able to share it with a few brave visitors this year, so thanks to them for coming.SDIM5877 (2)SDIM5850 (2)SDIM5893 (2)SDIM5920 (2)SDIM5953 (2)SDIM5949 (2)SDIM5963 (2)SDIM5966 (2)SDIM6095 (2)SDIM5938 (2)SDIM6011 (2)SDIM6080 (2)SDIM5939 (2)SDIM5944 (2)SDIM6036 (2)SDIM6119 (2)

Finally, Galanthus ‘Washfield Warham’ is usually one of our last snowdrops to flower, and I’m guessing that since it’s only just emerged, it may last to the end of the month.SDIM6122 (2)

2 thoughts on “Belly Down and Buzzing; Hellebores’ Hurrah. NGS Snowdrop and Spring Bulbs Garden ‘Fourth Week’

  1. Beautiful photographs. Spring is looking magnificent in the garden. I agree that the early warm spring is resulting in plant/insect interactions rarely seen. Late, cold, wet springs are often fatal for bees, not giving them a chance to forage. Bumble bee colonies usually die off in late summer but the new queens will have had a better chance of survival tucked away throughout this mild winter to awaken to warm days and abundant flowers. Seeing the garden so full of colour is a testimony to all your hard work in planting the bulbs.

  2. Hello A,
    Thanks for the comment. I wonder if the whole bumble bee colony has survived the winter – or at least a proportion of workers, to explain the huge numbers suddenly seen in the garden – how they manage to achieve this? Since there have been no foraging opportunities for months with the rain, do they have sufficient food stores in the colony to keep a number of workers alive for all these months, or do you reckon that all these bumbles would have been overwintered solitary queens, which descended on the garden from the surrounding flowerless countryside, when the nectar started to flow? All this buzzing activity certainly adds another dimension to a spring garden.
    BW Julian

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