Dine with Bee; Snow and Colour Drops; Moon and Starls; Cutting back on Honesty, and Gardening as Therapy.

Contemporary science, pollinator decline, the theory of evolution and crowd funding are all linked with the following plea. Please consider supporting the team behind the urban pollinators research at Bristol university with their upcoming “Come Dine with Bee” project. Click here for more.SDIM7182 (2)

Essentially they want to produce a list of the most beneficial flowers to grow to support our native pollinating insects, by studying levels of both nectar and pollen in different commonly planted garden flowers, as well as monitoring actual insect to flower visits. Readers will know that this is a subject of long term interest to me, and Helen Morse and colleagues have chosen the crowd funding route to raise the £40,000 necessary to undertake the project. They’re a long way off this at present, and there is a target date for raising sufficient money, so if you feel you can help, do follow the link above to the hosting Walacea site.sdim5623-2 (2)

This organisation was new to me, and is named after Alfred Russell Wallace who was a key figure, with Charles Darwin, in collecting the data, and having the ideas, to formulate the concepts of species evolution. He also spent several of his early years in nearby Neath. Click here for more. Or here to listen to an excellent radio broadcast about his fascinating life. Wallace often raised funds for his own work from selling items he had collected in Indonesia, on his return to the UK – perhaps a variant on the contemporary ideas of crowd funding through the cloud?

My first post of the new year was going to be review based, but events overtook me, shortly after the pink grey, wet dawn of January 1st 2015.S1030011a (2) However, for the longer term I shall now record that 2014 was a significant year in the UK according to the Met Office, and indeed here at Gelli Uchaf. Click here and here for two Met Office posts confirming that it’s been the warmest year on record since 1910, and one of the wettest – though after the very wet January and February, Gelli has seen rather lower rainfall than in previous recent years. More significantly, the Met Office reports a trend for more records being broken over the last few years than one might expect, particularly with regard to the rainfall, and temperature maximums. Since 2000, there have been 10 times as many hot records as cold records, and 10 times as many wet records as dry records. More dramatically the period since 2010 accounts for more wet records than any other decade – even though this is still only a 5 year period.

So, our climate does seem to be becoming more volatile, which is what was predicted with many climate change models. One corollary of this is evident in the exceptionally early flowering of many garden plants here at Gelli this winter – many snowdrop varieties seem a good 3 weeks earlier than ever before.S1030025 (2)

Is this the consequence of the hot dry summer, followed by the mild early winter? I’ve always noticed that newly planted Crocus corms, flower weeks earlier than the same cultivar which has had at least a year in the ground, like the C. ‘Snow Bunting’ top up corms above, which were flowering by the first week of January. sdim6446-2Is this because of the dry stress from being lifted and replanted? It seems counter intuitive, in that one might expect a bulb which has been fully dormant out of the ground, would take a little longer to get going when planted again.

Further evidence of the impact of the weather on our native flora came from the annual new year plant hunt, organised by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Click here for their results, but the gist is that in a ‘normal’ year, they would only expect records of perhaps 20 – 30 native species to be found in flower. This year, records of 368 species, or about 15% of all native flowering plants were found in bloom somewhere across the UK between January 1st and 4th. Further confirmation of what I guess many gardeners will have noticed on their own plot.SDIM0042 (2)

Predictably, as I planned this post, the temperatures dropped and the first snow of the winter came and went. And highlighted the big downside to my much loved snowdrops. Although we’ve currently got about 25 different cultivars with flower ‘drops’ obvious, and indeed open on those rare sunny moments, after a snowfall they completely disappear into the monochrome blanket, and temporarily look quite floppy.SDIM0066 (2)

It’s then that the colour drops of other early gems consistently light up the mid January scene. January 2nd saw me out in sunny weather with my Cyclamen coum pollinating brush.SDIM0013 (2) Since then, masses more flowers have opened, supremely tolerant of frost and snow.SDIM0025 (2)Along with the best ever display from Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’.SDIM0035 (2)Several Hamamelis (‘Robert’, ‘Diane’, ‘Vesna’ and ‘Nina’).SDIM0061 (2)SDIM0062 (2)SDIM0065 (2)SDIM0070 (2)And even the first Iris reticulata. SDIM0023 (2)All of them are winter stars.

The particular delight of the C. coum being their tendency to cascade down the slope from unseen seeds released at moss surface level, and probably carried around by ants. Even Crocus sieberi atticus ‘Firefly’ (below) emerged during the first week of January, though we haven’t yet had a sunny enough day for the flowers to open. Sadly, this seems sterile, or pretty low in fertility, so I either need to lift and divide it, or take the plunge and buy some more corms this autumn.SDIM0030 (2)

Ongoing time lapse video recording, had me zooming in on the full moon rising earlier in the month. On maximum zoom you don’t get many seconds of imagery before the moon arcs out of the frame. But on reviewing the captured clip days later on screen, there was a fleeting split second black insect like swarm across the screen. Reversing frame by frame showed the culprit. I’d managed, by fluke, to film one of the large starling flocks heading back westwards as the light faded, and happening to fall within the sensor’s frame focused onto the moon.S1040006.aJPG (2) And more impressively they were sufficiently in focus to be worth including here. Upwards of a thousand birds I guess, though for clarity sake, I’ve included just a small section of the flock here.

Our re-positioned hares were moon gazing again just in time to catch a special moment when another ice structure fell from the sky.SDIM9968ab (3)(Click here for a more dramatic example from 2 years ago).

And why do hares moon gaze? There is a wealth of global folklore and mythology surrounding hares, and rabbits, and the moon. Click here for a good review, (by Julie, ‘The Celtic Lady’) including the idea that if you look at the full moon in May, you can see an image of a hare on it – though I thought I’d look at an on-line photo of this, and even with the eye of faith, couldn’t convince myself.SDIM9968a (3)

Did the moon fall from another strange structure recently seen in the Gelli sky? And just what was this? Who knows?SDIM0059ab (4)

On a more mundane level, and in the light of the above, I reach the appropriately related issue of cutting back on honesty.

A consequence of the last two mild winters, is that many of our perennials and biennials, like foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, and honesty, Lunaria annua var. alba, just aren’t dying back over the winter months, and so not leaving bare surfaces for smaller spring bulbs to emerge into. We’ve held off in the hope that sharp frosts will do the job for us, but as more bulbs poke shoots through, time is against us, so we’ve been working through the garden doing our own variation of the Chelsea chop, but in early January, not May, on any of these plants.SDIM0007 (2) The result looks a bit brutal, but bulbs will soon fill the bare spaces, and the honesty has sufficiently well developed, fleshy roots to recover to bloom by May or June. It’s a satisfying form of exercise, if limited to short back bending bursts, as and when the rain allows.SDIM9977 (2)

For the same reason, I’ve hoiked out the remaining papery seed capsules of the honesty, which give such good value when illuminated by the setting sun, but now begin to look a bit tatty, amongst the new year’s bulbs. Though I made the disastrous mistake of almost completely snapping off a young witch hazel stem, surrounded by half a dozen honesty stems. Will duct tape and an oak twig splint save this precious Hamamelis ‘Pallida’?SDIM0067 (2) Only time will tell. This slow progress through many areas of the garden also allows previously missed seedling or small couch grass and creeping buttercups to be removed easily from the soft rain and frost affected soil, before the fast approaching close season for weeding in these areas begins. Once dense bulb shoots puncture many areas, even croc softened, careful steps, off path, are verboten for many weeks.

And as is my self-imposed brief, I’ve mused on the real therapeutic value of such early season, benign physical and observational activity.

Natural light levels may be low, but the air is wonderfully fresh, the birds are singing a bit more, and all these early flowers indicate that the year’s real natural cycle is getting into gear. How fortunate are we who value the often monotonous toil of some gardening tasks, when we can reap such benefits, even in the depths of winter.SDIM9982 (2)

It seems that there is increasing awareness of these benefits. In the last John Macloed memorial lecture sponsored by the RHS, a doctor and scientist discussed the possible health benefits from making gardening available as a ‘therapy’ on the NHS. Click here for more, and here for an interview with the lecturers.  Last autumn we’d been moved by an exhibition of botanical art showcasing the work of ‘Gardening Leave’ – a UK charity which uses gardening as therapy to help post conflict stress in servicemen. Click here for more. (Addendum – Oh, no it doesn’t! See where this link now takes you – yet another example of hijacked web domain names). And ‘Back to Front’ a novel approach to encourage growing vegetables in front gardens in inner city Leeds, using modular raised beds. Perhaps it’s too early to judge the long term success of this, but surely it’s a great way to link urban communities with real food production, the benefits of a bit of gardening, and valuing natural resources. Click here for more.SDIM0015 (2)

Finally, and with thanks to Anne for the link, there is the Severn project, in Bristol, which for 4 years has been producing top notch salads on an inner city waste ground site, and doing so by using labour from recovering drug and alcohol addiction sufferers. And transforming many lives in the process. Click here for more on this fascinating example of gardening/horticulture as successful therapy. (Addendum – oops, yet another hijacked site).  I’d be interested to hear from anyone, of any other similar schemes in the UK or elsewhere, where gardening is being used to real therapeutic advantage.SDIM0020 (2)

And so, to my desperate attempts to understand the motivation and life history behind the young men responsible for the recent Parisian attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

Had they even sown, then nurtured a seedling, or had a tiny bit of land to call their own, plant a bulb, and wait?


And rebirth.


We’d sat in November light in the Buttes-Chaumont park just 18 months ago, and thought what a fabulous inner city green space it is, and been asked by the staff at the lakeside cafe, whether we were in Paris on honeymoon.S1030007 (2) But in 2005 the park was the base for disaffected youths, now seen as the germ of a deadly terrorist cell, presumably chosen as a convenient outdoor space for planning and plotting. Not planting.S1030003 (2)

Googling “gardening as a counter to islamic radicalisation” produced very little – not surprisingly perhaps – apart from an interesting piece by an Australian academic on why that country desperately needs to develop a youth policy to counter radicalisation. Click here for more.

But I’m left thinking that in the week when I also read about the game changing (literally) technological breakthrough of Oculus Rift, the world’s first viable virtual reality headset, developed by 15 year old American, Palmer Luckey, the world needs to address an ever increasing divide between not just the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, but also between those who choose to inhabit and be influenced by a real world, and those for whom a virtual one will provide most of their waking sensory input, once Oculus Rift (is the clue in the trade name?) hits the shops shortly and creates more divisions. Click here for more.S1030028 (2)a (2)

Real or Virtual?

Which world will societies choose to be their dominant influence?

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Rather like the conflicts between an urban society and a rural one, it’s maybe a foregone conclusion which will prove to be the more significant force, in decades to come.

Perhaps there’s a place for a ‘Gardening for All’ (and that includes politicians) party in the forthcoming UK election?

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Hobbit, or Luddite rambling over.SDIM0056 (2)

Roll on 2015, and more time in the garden.SDIM0037 (2)


14 thoughts on “Dine with Bee; Snow and Colour Drops; Moon and Starls; Cutting back on Honesty, and Gardening as Therapy.

  1. Reading your blog could be regarded as a mind opening and awareness therapy! There is always so much in it. Thanks for making me aware of the Urban Pollinators programme in Bristol. Your winter garden is so rich in flowers which is even more amazing thinking of your weather. I am trying to improve mine but it is slow progress. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia, Thanks for those kind words. It was slow progress with our winter garden too, and I think much of it came after the rest of the garden was worked on, but the great thing is that most of the bulbs/winter flowering/feature shrubs, get better year on year, so what seems like a huge effort and expense, rewards with compound interest.
      Best wishes

  2. This is a packed and very interesting post Julian, I volunteer on one day a week at a Horticultural Therapy Centre called Growing People, one of the current projects (among several run there) is a Cafe Garden I’ve spent this week working out a plan for the veg to be sown, grown and picked for the on site vegetarian Cafe to cook. One aim is to make cooking classes and demonstrations available too. I also read a study last week which predicted the trend for 2015 would be a return to basics and traditional values, less gaming and more interacting with other folk. I hope so. I follow Urban Pollinators on twitter, but I am not really up to speed with the notion of crowd funding yet, I come from the generation who held jumble sales to raise money. I hope they reach their target for this valuable work.

    • Hello Julie,
      Thanks for the comment, and really interesting to hear about your ‘Growing People’ experience. It does seem that there may be a wave of initiatives like this kicking off – I’m sure they’ll all pay handsome dividends. I too heard something around the turn of the year on the radio, that 2015 would see a return to more traditional values. Fingers crossed that this will happen, though I guess the mega bucks involved in social media and gaming will work hard to make sure that this doesn’t happen,
      Best wishes

  3. An excellent read as awalays.

    I’m always curious about you aerobically heated greenhouse…any updates?

  4. Lovely photos, especially the moon and starlings, also the different coloured Hamamelis.

    Alfred Russel Wallace was a great man and came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin. 2013 was the centenary of Wallace’s death and I wrote the following pieces about him at the time: https://philipstrange.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/the-great-victorian-naturalist-alfred-russel-wallace/

    Totnes has a gardening for health project: http://www.gardeningforhealth.org.uk/

    • Hello Philip,
      Thanks for the comments and the links. These reminded me about a great Radio 4 programme on his life from the ‘In Our Time’ series, which I heard a couple of years ago in his centenary year. And had completely forgotten about! So I’ve added the link in above, and here…


      I particularly liked his determination to bounce back from losing nearly all his specimens ( and nearly losing his life) whilst sailing back from his early Amazonian trip,

  5. Hello Julian, your posts are so full with intriguing links that is is difficult not to get led astray. I couldn’t agree more about the climate change and gardening is the perfect therapy after some extreme weather, even if it is just rescuing bulbs from overturned pots.

    • Thanks for that. Do feel free to be led away by the links… From the WP stats, I know that very few people ever look at the links, but I only include any that I find interesting, and its partly so that if I ever return to a subject (which happens occasionally!), I can easily access some of my idea sources. Good luck with your gale restorations!

  6. Yes indeed! It seems to be a warmer than usual Winter here in the NW. Today I found the Dutch iris and a gathering of purple violets happily in bloom…early! Love to read your posts…

  7. Another interesting post and your statistics regarding global warming paint a pretty worrying picture – so why aren’t more people worried?!
    Lovely pictures again and I’m jealous of your snow! Hopefully your Witch Hazel will survive; I had a problem a few years back with an apple tree dropping enormous Bramleys on a newly planted hedge and snapping a lot of hedgelets (is that a word?). Anyway, no splint but some carefully applied insulation tape worked a treat!

  8. Hello Noeline,
    Thanks for the comment. We’re getting to a stage where limited snow once in a while is OK, but it makes all tasks up here a bit of a pain. Fortunately this year so far, we’ve not had huge depths. I’m hopeful about the Hamamelis too – its almost a variant on grafting which is how Witch hazels are propagated anyway.
    As for why more people aren’t worried about climatic changes ???
    Perhaps most folk in the UK don’t have a personal slant on it – I guess many living in a more urban setting are insulated from changes, which we tend to notice more because of our lifestyle choices. I’ve no real sense of where things are headed since there’s still so much debate on even the basics, but it does seem the potential for life changing climate events is very real, even in the UK,
    Best wishes

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