Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Dahlia imperialis

Even on gloomy day the Dahlia imperialis in Gerda's garden looks stunning.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Garden Group Meeting 20 November 2012

We had a very interesting and full afternoon with a presentation by Mavis on "the life span of the bee" and "what flowers to grow to encourage bees into the garden", followed by a visit to Henriette Rooymans' garden in Lorgues. 

Back at Gerda's we had tea with mince pies.  The mince pies were delicious,  a big thank you to all the ladies who brought them along.  A thank you as well to Francoise who baked two speculaas dolls, typical Belgian & Dutch custom for this time of the year.

After tea Gabrielle explained very thoroughly the problems that bees face today.  She promised to do a blog on it.  For members who were not at the meeting it is a must to read.

Mavis gave me her presentation to put on the blog.  For all of our members who were not at the meeting I copied it.  It makes an interesting read:


I want to start by talking briefly about the life cycle of bees, before we go on to plants for bees.  There are 4 stages to a bee's development:

  • Egg
  • Larva     {This development from egg to adult takes 21 days}
  • Pupa
  • Adult

In any colony of bees, be it a hive or wild nest, there are 3 types of bees

  1. Queen - only one queen to a colony, other queens that develop are driven out.  Only the queen lays eggs and these are one to each wax cell.  A queen lives for 4-5 years.
  2. Drones - drones mate with the queen and die after fertlizing her or are expelled before winter.  Fertilized eggs become worker bees, unfertilized eggs become drones.
  3. Workers - worker bees are all females (some may think that's par for the course)!  The workers make the cells from wax and feed the larva.  Workers may live for a few weeks in summer or several months in warmer areas.  Wax is made by the worker bees who secrete it from 8 wax glands and construct the hexaganal cells for the eggs and grubs and later for storing honey and pollen.
Bees wax is an invaluable product found in many types of polish, candles, coating cheese, cosmetics, lip balm etc.
Propolis is another product from honey bees which is a resin they collect from tree buds, sap and other botanical sources and used to seal gaps in their hives.
For humans it has many uses in medicine and commercially.

Nectar is collected by bees from plant flowers.  The flower petals attract the bee with the promise of nectar, the sugary liquid found inside the flower carpel at the base of the petal.  This is collected and transported back to the hive or nest for food and energy for the larva and the colony (not to mention humans).

Honey is one of natures great health foods.  For humans it is a wonderful source of energy food combined with many health giving properties (another subject in its own right).
Honey producers often use monofloral production - that is nectar collected from one species of plant.  For this the producer may grow great areas of one plant for example lavender, place his hives in it or will take the hives by truck to an area with a dense concentration of one flowering plant - hence chestnut, clover, rosemary, pine, acacia honey or wild flower meadows for multi flavoured.  He can do this in rotation of different flowering times.

Pollen - as gardeners, pollen collection and dispersal is the most important part of a bees function.  As the bees enters a flower for nectar, the fur of its body brushes against the sex organ of the plant collecting the pollen of the male stamens or anthers.  It then deposits it on the female parts (carpel, containing ovaries) of another plant of the same species.  This is why it is good to have clumps of the same flower.

Pollination can only take place in the same species though cross pollination in the same species can create hybrids which are then sterile.
Bees also take pollen back to the hive which is stored in vacated cells and is another source of food for them (and can be bought for human consumption).  It is a little yellow dry grain, sprinkle on ones food - yoghurt, cereals etc.

Now we come to the part most interesting to us - plants that attract bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects for pollination.

The most vital part of a bees activities for humans is the fertilization of plants, carrying the pollen from one flower to another strengthens the gene pool of the plant of the same species.  It is important in creating fruit and seeds to feed us and other wild life like birds, mice, squirrels etc., especially in the winter.
Bees as pollinators are essential in food production - for fruit production and vegetables that flower - pulses, courgettes, melons etc.

So here are a few known facts about what bees like and don't like.
  1. They prefer uncomplicated flowers - that is singles rather than doubles - it has been noted they will go to single dahlias not multi petaled - the same with roses.
  2. They have good colour vision and have colour preferences.  These are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.  Apparently they see red as black and are not attracted.  For this reason it is better to have a large group of a flower species favourable to them rather the odd one or two plants.
  3. They have scent sensors in their feet but are probably more attracted by colour.
  4. They are sun worshippers (welcome to the Provence!) and will go to a sunny patch of flowers rather than those in the shade.
  5. They need water to drink and gardens with mulches are not attractive to them as some solitary species nest in a hole in the soil.
It is good to choose plant common to our area and conditions,  different bees live in different climatic areas.

So what plants

I will start with what some consider the best 5 plants for bees which are important and easy to find:

Echium vulgare (Vipers Bugloss).  Borago officinalis (Borage) - related, both blue and grow in the wild here.  The Bugloss flowers April - July, Borage April - September.

Lavender especially Lavandula angustifolia flowers June - August.  Lavandula  x intermedia, Salvias, Sunflower family.

Sedums spectabilis (Ice Plant) plus smaller varieties, large group, many wild, flowers in September also Aster (Michaelmas daisies).

Mahonia, Elaeagnus, Hellebores, Hedera (Ivy) and Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) - winter flowering.

Crocus, Narcissus and Daphnes - early spring.

Bees in our area only sleep when it is very cold and are often quite weak in late winter so winter flowering plants are important.  Saskia did us a good list of these at a previous meeting.  It is a good idea to plant at least 2 varieties of plant for each season of the year so that there is a continuous food supply.

There are many herbs that bees love like wild thyme, rosemary, sage, dill, fennel etc. all of which grow wild in our area so are very little work in our herb garden.  For those who have the space and the right kind of terrain a patch of wild flowers is a wonderful idea.

Hope this has given you some ideas and enthusiasm.



We continued the afternoon with a visit to Henriette Rooymans' garden in Lorgues.  Henriette is a garden designer.  She re-designed Gerda's garden.  We were first introduced to her when she led us around Gerda's garden a few months ago and explained to us the reasons behind the design and choice of plants.  Her own garden is only two years old.  She is not quite finished yet, but it is absolutely amazing what she managed to create in such a short time.

When they started building the house, they were told that quite a thick layer of soil would have to be removed to be able to lay the foundations.  All the soil that was removed was placed in front of the house, together with a layer of top soil it formed an ideal condition for plants to grow.

Henriette works in large blocks of plants (small to medium in height) with in between shrubs, trees, bamboos and grasses.  There were several olive trees already on the plot which have been incorporated into the garden.  A lot of the plants are very suited to the area,  lavender, rosemary, thyme, salvias and olive trees.

Among the various trees are two Prunus subhirtella "Pendula", their leaves turn an orangy-red in autumn.  A lot of the shrub have greyish tones, but then as an contrast there are green leaved shrubs like Ceanothus and Pittosporum tobira.

She has a large collection of Bamboos.  I asked her if she would not mind to write out the names of the different Bamboos, Grasses and Acers.  The following is her list:

Pleioblastus variegates: ground cover bamboo with yellow/green leaf.

Pleioblastus auricomus
Phyllostachys Nigra (black stem)

Phyllostachys aureacaulis vivax (yellow stem (culm) with green stripes (sulcus)
Phyllostachys aureum (rough yellow culm)
Phyllostachys bornyensis (spotted culm)
Pylostachys holochrysa (orange culm)
Phylostachys castellionis inversa (green culm with yellow sulcus)

Phylostachys castellionis (yellow culm with green sulcus)
Phylostachys nidularia (thickening at the nodes)

Pennisetum alopecuroides “Hameln (requires more water than the more common Pennisetum, makes new shoots around the plant, does not like direct sunlight)

Pennisetum alopecuroides
Calamagrostis Karl Foerster (even by storm and heavy rain the stem stay upright)

Panicum virgatum "Rotstrahlbusch"
Miscanthus "kleiner Silberspinne"

Miscanthus "Krater"
Miscanthus “zebrinus"
Carex morrowii "Ice dance"
Festuca glauca "intense blue"

There were two wonderful Acers in the garden.  Acer palmatum "Sango Kako" with red branches and bright green leaves near the entrance:

Acer palmatum atropurpureum (red leaves).
Henriette mentioned that the ordinary Acer palmatum grows well in our area.  Even other Acers will cope as long as they get sufficient water and are not planted in a spot where they get the midday sun.

Another very pretty Cotoneaster with dropping branches is Cotoneater lacteus.  Apparently very suitable for hanging over a wall.

Photos: Gerda, Web & Saskia


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...