In the garden

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I swapped blogging for gardening this year. The summer took a long time to arrive and I kept busy keeping my bees alive and nursing tubs of tadpoles as prolific as algal bloom. But as the rain streamed down the windows I realised there’s nothing worse than a beekeeper stuck indoors than a would-be gardener.

The weather finally broke with heatwave after heatwave pouring into the garden and both the ivy and bamboo threatening to grow across the lawn. At the apiary the bees briefly promised a good season until an unlucky setback with several missing or failed queens. With more waiting to be done around the hives, I got stuck into the garden.

It can take several years to get a garden how you like it, but my dad, John and I made a good start this summer. We got rid of the bamboo roots and all and cleared the jungle of creepers at the back to create a new plot. It’s still a work in progress.

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My dad helped to make a new bee house, which you can see in the background, but the mason bees chose to nest in the garden sheds this year. This meant we couldn’t get new sheds and instead tidied up the old ones. A place for a beekeeper to hang her smoker.

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The walled flower bed got some new friends. A pot of geraniums from John’s aunt, a clump of chamomile, and a neglected lavender from my dad’s front garden. The best spot was reserved for my myrtle tree, which finally found a home in our garden this year.

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After the frogs had hopped off into the sunset, there was an explosion of blanket weed in the goldfish pond. I got tired of pulling it out in clumps, then I read that snails might be helpful. I bought four pond snails in spite of warnings that they were unlikely to control the problem alone and that the goldfish might attack them. A few weeks later the pond was almost clear of blanket weed, the snails were enjoying a well-earned break on the floating water lilies, and the goldfish weren’t bothered at all.

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In July the garden came alive with all sorts of exciting visitors. A dragonfly on the prowl.

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An amazing array of flies like this sparkly specimen.

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And a magnificent sun fly, I think?

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The flying ants made an impressive display on the decking, gathering to swarm behind my back while I was none the wiser pruning the ivy. I turned around just as the queens took off and watched them fly away. It was rather a privilege.

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Something I really wanted to make a start on this year was planting a bee-friendly garden. The left side of the garden had several bee-pleasers like jasmine, sedum and cotoneaster.

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But the right side of the garden was surprisingly lacking. I spent a day pulling weeds and sieving the earth, before the fun could begin choosing a bed of new herbs like verbena, salvia, echinacea, and this pretty scabiosa.

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It was the garden birds that really stole the show this year and I discovered a new passion for birdwatching. A family of sparrows provided endless entertainment from the kitchen window.

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Of course, the sparrows were seen off by the robin when he wanted his mealworms.

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When the small birds were finished feeding, the larger birds swooped in. A standoff between a pigeon and a collared dove.

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And a more sinister-looking guest, the jackdaw.

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But the most fun was at bath time.

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And that’s where I’ll leave the garden, for now.

The past month I’ve been unable to go to the apiary. Thomas Bickerdike and John Chapple have kindly taken care of mine and Emily’s bees, and I’m very grateful to them. Emily had a reunion with the bees last Saturday too, which must have cheered them up greatly!

Meanwhile autumn is setting in and so are the final preparations for mine and John’s wedding. This won’t leave much time for blogging, [EDIT] so my stories about the bees, and some butterflies, must wait till after I get hitched. Till then.

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29 thoughts on “In the garden

    • Hi Mark, first – sorry for the late reply, I’ve been in Hereford with no internet or wifi (overall not really a bad thing) so just catching up now. Thank you, I’m happy you enjoyed the pictures. A garden is such a novelty to us, living in London we’ve never had one, and finding it is, as you say, all-consuming but in a very good way!

    • Hi Erik, thank you! Sorry for the late reply, John and I have been on the farm in Hereford and a complete internet black-out! Not a bad thing really, I think I quite enjoyed it. Glad you liked the pictures, the birds have been especially squawky this morning, perhaps they are helping me to enjoy my last days of singledom too! Don’t worry, I have told the bees.

  1. You’re gonna love that garden. After some 40 years, we still love it. You can grow all kinds of bee-loving flowers. I look forward to many pictures of bees and other bugs enjoying your efforts.

    • Oh we do love the garden! Sorry for the late reply, we had a wifi blackout on the farm during our visit and now catching up! I think you are right, there are so many ideas for the garden it will take us 40 years to try them all! And so satisfying to discover all the bugs that live there. The greatest surprise was seeing a hornet mimic hoverfly – my favourite hoverfly – sitting on the decking watching me clean the fish pond one day, but it flew off before I could take its photo.

  2. Another lovely blog and gorgeous photos. It is so comforting to read about other beekeepers’ joys as well as worries.
    Your garden looks already lovely and I hope that you as well as the bees and the birds will be able to enjoy it for many years.
    I hope that your bees become strong enough to go through another winter.
    Looking forward to hear more from you and Emily about your bees. – Kourosh

    • Oh thank you so much Kourosh, and sorry I’ve replied so late, I’ve been unable to get online during a visit to Hereford. The garden has been such a surprise passion this year and the birds, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes over autumn and winter, and coming to life again next spring. Our bees did at least make it to autumn – I didn’t think they would in spring – and are stronger than they were. Let’s hope their new queens will carry them through to spring.

    • Hello Kourosh, sorry I’ve only seen your comment come up! Thank you so much for your kind words too! Funnily Emily and I met today for lunch and talked about our bees, our hopes and worries for them to get through winter. So far so good but I think they will need extra blankets this year. I do hope your bees have a good winter and that both our gardens come out blooming in spring 🙂

  3. Your garden and photos look beautiful. I love the bird and insect life which I observe in my garden as well. This year during a dry spell I had humming birds regularly waiting for me to fill a trough though there were ponds nearby. Though I don’t have it I understand that ivy is a good source of bee food in the fall. Good luck to you and your bees. Bruce.

    • Hello Bruce and thanks for popping by! Sorry for the late reply, my fiance and I have been away and no internet. It is magical to have a garden and observe the secret life going on there, isn’t it? Hummingbirds sound far more exotic than sparrows. Our ivy is just coming into flower and lovely to see the pollinators flock to it, and the sparrows, robins and tits flying in and out – the circle of life!

  4. I love the picture of the wet robin! The more you plant for bees I’m sure is good for the birds too, as ours garden birds have increased with our planting. I put in myrtles last year too but they are too small to have flowered yet, perhaps in the spring. Amelia

    • Hi Amelia, thank you so much and sorry for the late reply – a wifi blackout and just catching up! The robin bath was a real joy to watch one evening. The birds had forgotten I was there and it had been a scorcher of a day. All the little birds were desperate for a bath, but the robin was quite indignant when the sparrows discovered his private swimming pool! I’ve been waiting for my myrtle to flower, I’ve had her some years in a pot and she rarely flowers. There are a lot of reddish green leaves coming showing new growth, maybe she will flower next year now she is in soil and can grow bigger.

  5. The garden’s coming on in leaps and bounds and looks very nice. A lovely choice of plants that should suit the bees nicely. The excitement of the wedding must surely be getting to you by now so don’t worry too much if the blogging slips. We’ll understand.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    • Hi David, thank you so much and sorry for the late reply – I’m catching up this weekend after an internet blackout! Yes, not long till our wedding now and though everything is organised it’s surprising how busy we feel. Perhaps those stories will have to wait afterall! Hope all’s wonderful with you xxxhugsxxx!

  6. All is looking beautiful in your garden Emma.. and typical of the masonry bees not taking up that delightful residence.
    Love that you pond cleared.. that is a good tip about the snails.. Ours has not bee half as bad with blanket weed this year.. I think because the Water Lilies leaves covered most of the surface water and the sunlight didn’t get through.. The water has been very clear fingers crossed..
    So loved your photo’s of your garden, its wonderful when you see what grows then make your plans to alter and design it..
    The birds just love their bird baths don’t they, we have two and are forever filling them up..
    And I can not fault you at all for swapping your garden for blogging this Summer.. You will have found me mostly in the allotments or in our home garden..
    And you will have lots of planning to do too for your Magical Day.. 🙂

    Lots of love to you Emma.. totally loved your post this evening xxx Hugs Sue ❤

    • Hi Sue, so sorry I’ve replied late and a very quick catch up this morning after being in Hereford with no wifi. Yes, life would be so much easier if the wildlife could learn to read the signs. I very clearly put a notice saying ‘Bees and butterflies welcome here’ which the masons chose to disregard. I got a new water lily for the pond as the first one died overwinter, but it has not covered the pond as I hoped. Maybe next year I will buy two! But the snails do seem to enjoy life in the pond and I sometimes see the goldfish ‘discover’ them but then move on not particularly interested. We have so many plans for the garden even in autumn and winter, fingers crossed it isn’t too wet this year! Lots of love, Emma xxx

      • Hi Emma. Our water lily was small the first year and never flowered.. this year however we had 3 flowers at intervals and the leaves were huge.. So see how it goes..
        Good to know you have lots of plans.. We are remodelling our back garden after we have had a short break away again in Scotland. Then we are going to start and rip up some decking we had .. 🙂 Enjoy your garden and fingers crossed its not as rainy this winter.. xx

    • Thank you so very much RH! So glad to get back online this weekend and see everyone’s happy messages. And, of course, most importantly I’ve told the bees I’m getting hitched otherwise they would be most upset! All best, EST!

    • Thanks Charlie! 🙂 Three years doesn’t sound as long as I thought. I’m most looking forward to cultivating the myrtle tree as I’d love to see her flowering all over the garden, but I think we may need warmer weather!

  7. Your new found joy of gardening really shows through in this post Emma – I’m sure your plot will keep you absorbed for years. It’s great to see how quickly the local wildlife are making the most of your facilities, especially the House Sparrows which are still almost ‘rareties’ in London! Good luck with the wedding preparations – at least you now have your outdoor space to keep you sane!

  8. It is really nice you have a good start on your garden. You made some nice selections of plants too. The birds are a wonderful addition to the garden, especially that adorable robin. BTW, do you work or volunteer at Kew? I thought I saw you teaching kids at the outdoor learning area. I did not want to interrupt as the teacher was reading to the children. I even got a photo I think.

    • I wish it had been me teaching at Kew – what a great job! Yes the garden is getting going and I am watchful of my plants over winter to see how they fare in the cold. I forgot to feed the squirrels today and they were at the door!

      • Grey squirrels. I’ve never seen a red squirrel in London. The greys are so cheeky and I know that I shouldn’t encourage them, but we have an agreement – I fill the squirrel house with nuts and they don’t destroy my birdfeeders!

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