As children, building dens in the garden was an instinct – blankets across the washing line, cardboard boxes upended and filled with cushions, and hollowed out hideaways under bushes. As grown-ups, have much better ways to create those special places from which to make the most of our garden. When it comes to truly maximising enjoyment of our outdoor space, a permanent garden shelter is simply a must. Easy to erect and near maintenance-free, these shelters offer a beautiful standout garden feature, without significantly increasing our workload.
So, which sort of shelter is right for your garden?
The chances are that it will either be an arbour, pergola or gazebo but, to make an informed choice about which one to purchase, it’s important to consider exactly what you intend to use it for and to understand their different characteristics. Without further ado, let’s take a look at them.
Garden arbours are the smallest of the three and come in two distinct forms. Firstly, they can simply be a decorative archway, designed to provide a link between different areas of the garden, for example the main pathway and the vegetable patch. They usually come with trellis sides or roofs to support climbers.
Alternatively, an arbour can be a small, standalone sheltered area with seating, which makes a wonderfully intimate place to relax with a loved one, or even just a good book. These types of arbour also tend to incorporate a trellis design, as sitting down surrounded by climbers provides a magical feeling of seclusion.
Pergolas are usually square or rectangular and are normally erected on decks and patios. They can either link two different structures or stand alone. Instead of a conventional roof, the upper section is constructed from cross beams, often with a trellis design, which are perfect for supporting climbers. Pergolas provide a shaded area, where one can enjoy fresh air whilst being sheltered from the full glare of the sun or the worst of the rain. This makes them an ideal place for barbecues, dining alfresco, hot tubs, and social gatherings.
Click here to browse through Buy Fencing Direct’s superb range of pergolas for sale.
Gazebos are the ultimate outdoor building, offering you the opportunity to extend your living space into the garden. Separate from any other feature, they enjoy their own roof and are usually round, hexagonal or octagonal in shape. This provides an enclosed feel, making them suitable for positioning deeper into the garden than a pergola. A garden gazebo is a wonderful place to enjoy hobbies, dine alfresco, for the kids to play, or for you to entertain guests – all completely sheltered from the elements.
Click here to choose from our superb range of gazebos for sale.
Whichever shelter you buy, there’s one thing that we can guarantee: you will be investing in an attractive and effective way to shelter from the unpredictable British weather, which will ensure that you spend more time in your garden all year round. What could possibly be better than that?
Fences are the backdrop for our gardens. Like a canvas, our plants, trees and other garden features create a picture – all framed by our garden fence.
There are lots of fence styles to choose from – from traditional overlap fencing to undulating Paloma style fence panels. But for some, the usual choices aren’t enough to satisfy their creative vision.
If you want to make a bolder statement with your fence line, we’ve gathered lots of creative fencing ideas for how to use your fence to add something extra special to your garden.
Here are some ideas for your next garden makeover:
A simple way to spice up your garden fence is to give it a splash of colour. From softer greens and blues to bright pinks and purples, there is a shade for every taste. Plus, if you fancy a change next season, just grab the paint brush and you can match the latest trends.
If you are particularly gifted with the paint brush or even the spray can, you can use your artistic flair to create an art piece to show your personality and make a gallery in your own garden.
Using unusual planters can liven up a fence. From brightly coloured tin cans to the humble welly, your imagination is your only limit when planning planters for your fence.
Using lighting on your fence line can add real drama to your garden. Whether you use candles, solar lighting or call in the electrician, the use of garden lighting will have real impact.
Add Something Different
Wheel hubs? Marbles? Twigs? Think outside the box when decorating your fence and you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique fence.
During winter, there aren’t as many gardening jobs to be done. The ground - frozen solid. The flowers? Long gone. If you can brave the cold, what better time to get outside and give your tired, old fence panels a new lease of life?
The all-important preparation:
Firstly, check your panels thoroughly, especially if they’ve been around for a few years. Wicked winter winds could have caused damage: loosening fixings, snapping battens and cracking slats of wood. In a particularly bad storm this could cause your panel to go cartwheeling across the garden – no one wants that! A little bit of sprucing also doesn’t hurt: remove those pesky cobwebs, lichen and weeds.
Choosing your treatment:
Try and calculate how much treatment you’ll need. This will vary from product to product, and we’d also recommend sticking to reputable, established brand names. Picking the best colour for your panels from the plethora now available is a little trickier. Maybe this is the year to opt for a bold, statement shade to liven up your garden? Top tip: buy two tins and keep the receipts. The nights are drawing in and you don’t want to run out of time should you underestimate and have to pop to the shops!
Treating your panels:
Remember to look at the weather forecast - treating fence panels would be a rather miserable task in the pouring rain! Once any necessary repairs and replacements have been carried out, it’s time to paint your panels. To begin, simply do what it says on the tin! It should be fairly self-explanatory; stir the contents carefully and away you go. Make sure to use the appropriate equipment - high quality brushes or a purpose-built sprayer are a must.
Sit back and relax:
Once you’ve finished, admire your handiwork. Doesn’t your garden look so much better now? You’ve certainly earned a hot cup of tea and a biscuit after all that hard graft. Now you can rest knowing your panels are protected for another few years, and you didn’t trample any plants in the process. Job well done!
Earlier this month, we caught up with Guy Barter, RHS Chief Horticultural Advisor, about horticulture, wildlife, and his plans for 2017. Check out his interview below.
Our interview with Guy Barter
1. Why is wildlife so important to the horticultural industry?
Wildlife in the general sense of biodiversity is important to everyone as our existence is tied to that of other living things. However for the horticultural industry, in particular, there is a sort of invisible help from wildlife that acts to keep populations in check, so unbeknown to gardeners, pest and diseases are generally suppressed to manageable levels by their natural enemies. Without these, there would be much more pest and disease troubles.
Pollination is, of course, important as most garden plant seeds and virtually all fruit, broad and runner beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables require pollination by bees, and also although this may surprise people, by flies, beetles, moths and other insects. This year the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts are ‘Going wild for bees in 2017’ with many activities around bees and gardens for 2017: http://www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk/home
2. What do you see are the biggest impacts on horticulture right now, positive and negative?
Costs are rising due to increased prices for imported materials from fertiliser to seeds. Ingenuity to get the best from these inputs will increasingly exercise gardening minds.
Pesticides are becoming less available. However, there are many new products to replace the withdrawn ones based on biological control or botanical materials. These almost certainly offer a low environmental impact resource but we are still finding out how to use them for best effect.
Unfortunately, the arrival of alien plants, pests and diseases is a very worrying trend that is affecting gardening, think of fuchsia gall mite for example, and also the environment. Gardeners can help by not importing plants or even seeds and ensuring garden plants stay in the garden and don’t end up in the wild.
3. What do you think is the future for horticulture and where do you see RHS developing?
Sustainable horticulture is what I think we all aspire to and this involves reducing the use of non-renewable resources such as peat and plastic for example, and re-using timber, and also recycling such using home-made compost to replace fertiliser. This is a challenge for commercial producers but for gardeners, it is much more feasible, and in fact enjoyable.
Wildlife friendly gardening is also very much a growing trend as people and especially children have the most available, closest and easiest experience of nature through their gardens.
Health and well-being are also increasingly recognised as a benefit of gardening be it a houseplant, window box or for fortunate people an outside space. Gardening is restorative to the psyche and also a valuable form of exercise that promotes physical health.
4. As Chief Horticulturist at RHS, what is your role in National Gardening Week that is approaching?
The nice thing about National Gardening Week is that it is not ‘owned’ by the RHS and is promoted as high point in the gardening year as the growing season begins to encourage others to generate activities around gardens and gardening. I have been helping prepare the activities and information resources, lists of top houseplants, for example, that will, I hope, encourage wider participation from all involved in horticulture.
5. What part of National Gardening Week do you enjoy the most and why/what are you looking forward to at this year’s campaign?
One prime aspect this year is helping people new to gardening get started. For example, there will be ‘Houseplant Hospitals’ at RHS gardens (13th April) where people can bring their ailing houseplants for some expert assessment. It sounds like a lot of fun. We hope this will inspire others to offer support to new gardeners.
6. Children today are always on their phones; how do you propose we encourage the younger generation to get out and into gardening or perhaps involved in campaigns such as these?
Phones are a wonderful way to access information so it is possible they could be using our website that is rich in gardening information; rhs.org.uk. More realistically our Campaign for School Gardening (https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/home) has now signed up 31,000 schools and other educational institutions and is currently holding its annual School Gardener of the year: http://press.rhs.org.uk/RHS-Outreach/Press-releases/Search-Begins-to-Find-the-UKs-Most-Inspiring-Scho.aspx
Schools have an important part to play in our intention to ‘Green Grey Britain’ and wildlife friendly packs of wildflower seeds are being offered to schools.
7. What do you of think of the lack of gardening space in the inner city and what are your tips for people growing in the city?
Greening Grey Britain is very important to us and the greyest areas are often in the inner cities. We have a scheme called ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ which any group can join as long as it is volunteer led and does active gardening in the community. We have 1600 groups so far. I have been actively involved with a gardening group in Brixton, South London, where the local gardeners took some 10,000 plants left over after the Chelsea flower show to make a lovely naturalistic garden of beautiful perennials and trees in a rather neglected local square. It is very rewarding to see how the plot has been transformed and how it is appreciated by those involved. Interestingly even in Brixton, miles from the countryside, the flowers are heavily visited by bees.
8. What are your ideas for everybody coming together and supporting the environment and horticulture in the UK?
It might be easier to ask what we are not doing. Gardens and gardeners are so diverse that we necessarily have to promote gardening and its many benefits on a ‘broad front’ of activities. This is a challenge but I think we have a good balance of effort and resources that can truly make a difference. Highlights for me include gardening for ‘generation rent’ with support for growing indoor plants and container gardening. ‘Growing your own’ is a widely held aspiration amongst gardeners which we support with community allotments in our gardens and at RHS Hyde Hall we are distributing seeds from the giant pumpkins grown by Matthew Oliver our veg grower at Hyde Hall during National Gardening Week (Wednesday 12 April, from 10.30am).
9. What are your plans for any other campaigns and events during 2017?
It is all about plants for us here at the RHS; their ability to rejuvenate urban environments, enhance people’s well-being, increase biodiversity, cleanse air indoors and out and a campaign for bees in gardens to name but some. I am delighted to be using my expertise in plants and growing to develop these important areas.
Featured Image Credit: Anne Heathcote
Earlier this month, we got back in touch with the lovely people at Freshwater Habitats Trust to get their advice on ponds before the summer months. They tell us all about the different wildlife ponds can attract, how to create your own wildlife pond, and whether or not you should worry if water levels drop in your pond in our interview below.
Our Pond Advice interview with Freshwater Habitats Trust
1. What are some of the benefits of wildlife ponds?
Wildlife ponds are fabulous places that can do much more than just offer a home for plants and animals. They bring so much pleasure to people and fascinate many a pond dipper, young and old.
But when it comes to wildlife, making a pond is the single most effective way of boosting wildlife in an area. It’s relatively simple too. In the wider countryside, making clean water ponds is often the only way of getting clean water back into the environment. Most ponds, streams, ditches, rivers and lakes are already damaged by nutrient pollution, and no longer able to support many plants and animals. It’s nigh on impossible to clean them up, but we can make new clean water habitats. Making garden ponds helps too, offering little oases to wildlife, especially in more urban areas.
2. What types of wildlife can a pond attract?
A wide range of wildlife make use of ponds, and it’s not just the usual water-dwelling creatures that benefit. Many invertebrates, birds and mammals will use ponds to drink or find food, including bees and other pollinators, and sometimes even otters or birds of prey!
A well-designed clean water pond can support dozens of plants, and many different types of fascinating dragonflies, beetles, bugs, molluscs, and of course amphibians. Different plants and animals have slightly different preferences, so if you want to attract certain species, it is worth doing a little research and designing the new pond accordingly.
3. How can I create my own wildlife pond? Do I need planning permission?
Making a pond in your garden can be a fun and straightforward task, and you don’t need planning permission from the local council. But a little planning can make a big difference for the wildlife.
In the wider countryside, digging ponds with large machinery – excavators etc – is likely to require planning permission, and we suggest you write to the local planning office, explaining what you plan to do, and ask if you need to apply for permission.
Whether big or small, taking a little time to think about location, water sources, design, and how you are going to look after it in the future, will help you make the best wildlife pond you can. We’ve put together lots of information on our website to help you.
4. Is it always a bad sign when water levels drop in ponds?
Water levels go up and down naturally in ponds. In fact, surveys show that in natural ponds a water level drop of at least half a meter is typical in summer. These falling water levels create one of the most wildlife rich areas of a pond - the drawdown zone. Some plants and animals only live in this zone or need that space to reproduce, so if you keep your pond topped up, or have steep sides, you could be missing out on a whole heap of wildlife.
If you want to top up a garden pond, use rainwater rather than tap water, and you will avoid the damaging nutrients that can lead to an overgrowth of some plants and algae, and cause more sensitive plants and animals to disappear from your pond.
5. What is the biggest threat to pond wildlife?
Poor water quality is probably the biggest threat to ponds. Eight out of ten ponds in the countryside are badly damaged by pollution from fertilisers and more, leaving them with just a few plants and animals that can put up with those conditions. Many more species have been squeezed into the few clean water ponds that are left. In fact, some plants and animals are so sensitive to nutrient pollution that they are endangered. We’re left with lots of very similar, very dull ponds, a far cry from the vibrant variety of ponds we see in special areas where there is no pollution.
6. Are there any aquatic plants I should avoid, or try and remove if I see them?
Most native pond plants – species that occur naturally in your local area – would be a welcome addition to a pond, especially if the water is clean. The exception is the tough, fast growing species that love water with high nutrient levels. Reedmace and duckweed flourish in such conditions, so we wouldn’t advise planting them. There’s a good chance they’ll get there themselves anyway. In fact, we suggest most new wildlife ponds be left unplanted, to avoid unwanted plants and allow species to colonise the ponds naturally.
However, there are several non-native species that can cause problems for you and pond wildlife if they get a hold in a pond. Invasive non-native plants such as Australian Swamp Stonecrop (Crassula helmsii), Water Fern (Azolla filliculoides), Parrot’s Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) and several waterweeds (Elodea and Lagarosiphon species grow quickly into dense stands, at the expense of other plants. Once they are in, they are near impossible to remove, and anything taken out of the pond will need to be very carefully disposed of to prevent it spreading to other water bodies. It only takes a tiny piece of these plants to infest another pond. Buying plants from nurseries and garden centres doesn’t guarantee your new plants are clean and safe, so beware!
7. How can I tell if my pond is polluted?
If you take a close look at what is living in a pond, you can start to get an idea of how polluted it is. Clean water ponds tend to have a wide range of plants and invertebrates living in them, including plants that live completely underwater. The most polluted ponds have only a few tough species, like reedmace, duckweed, algae, and a few worms or fly larvae, and will likely have cloudy water. To get a rough idea of the condition of your garden pond, you can carry out a Big Pond Dip survey. It will give you an idea of how things are going.
There are also simple test kits we provide to groups who want to test a number of ponds, streams, lakes or canals in their local area. These kits give an indication of the level of the two most common nutrient pollutants – phosphate and nitrate. The results are added to our Clean Water for Wildlife survey and can help find special clean water areas, which may need protection, or could be a great place to make new clean water ponds.
8. What can I do to help wildlife in my pond in colder weather? How detrimental is frost and ice to pond life?
Pond wildlife in the UK has evolved to survive periods of cold, frosty weather. However, there are a few things you can do to help. Provide lots of shelter in and around the pond – long grass, shrubs, lots of pond plants including last season’s stems – for animals to hide in. If the pond freezes over, animals can continue to absorb oxygen from the water, but oxygen levels will soon drop if plants are not able to photosynthesise and produce more. So, encourage plenty of submerged plants and clear any snow off the ice to let the light through. Making a hole in the ice will make little difference to oxygen levels, but could help the more mobile animals such as fish.
Fencing has to be practical and look great in the garden. And not just any garden – it has to be right for your own particular plot. Most fencing is used for screening. It might be hiding an ugly view, obscuring the neighbours or acting as a barrier to unwanted guests. Or even to stop winds from howling across a site. There are fencing options that marry practicality and beauty. Check out some different garden fencing ideas and advice below.
The best fencing for different uses
Solid fencing is the best for screening. It blocks as opposed to filters and when positioned carefully and even treated with a colour stain or paint, can either blend in or become a feature of a garden. Overlapping slats on panels allow water to run effortlessly down the panel and, when installed correctly, will last for years with minimal maintenance.
Fence panels with slats or louvres are superb at breaking a view but not causing a blockage. They filter both light and any winds making them perfect for a boundary between gardens (but only if your neighbours garden is worth gazing at). Light is an important consideration when putting up a fence - you can create areas of shade in what was otherwise a sunny garden, whether deliberately or accidentally. There are always plants to cope with shady conditions but it's worth bearing in mind if an area is already planted up - will the current plants be able to cope with less sunlight?
Security is important wherever you garden. Cross rails on the reverse of many panels can create a ladder-like structure for would be intruders. Put the fence up and ensure any rails are on the inside.
Fence panels can also be fitted to the tops of walls, and decorative panels can be added to existing panels. Decorative is the key word with soldier straight lines or undulating curves both adding to any exiting garden design. Remember to keep an eye, and tape measure, on how high your fence becomes with the addition of any trellis panelling. Once you start getting near 1.8m you may need to check out local planning regulations. It's also a great idea to chat with any neighbours who may be affected by your fencing handiwork.
School children go back to their learning institutions resplendent in over-sized blazers and blister-inducing, shiny black shoes. Crows and ravens return noisily to nest uncomfortably close in neighbours' trees. Strictly Come Dancing revs up for its sprint to Christmas and.....there's plenty to be getting on with in the garden. There's lots of crops to pick, dahlias to cut, gladioli to stake against the breeze as thoughts turn to planting again. After all, the soil is warm, the soil is moist, the soil is ready. September is a marvelous month.
Gardening is a long game and planting bulbs now for superb display next spring is a must in September. Choose whatever you want but only go for sound, solid and disease-free bulbs and plant in well-drained soil and containers. Never let the soil or compost get waterlogged and your garden will be blooming marvelous next year.
Top tips for September
- Net over ponds to stop the first falling leaves clogging up your waterways.
- Check all potatoes are out of the soil to prevent slug damage and tubers overwintering and growing in the wrong place next year.
- Net over any brassicas on your plot to avoid pigeons pecking at your sprouts – ouch!
- As plants die off in the greenhouse, take them out and thoroughly clean where they have grown. It prevents diseases from overwintering.
- Large perennial plants can be divided into smaller sections and replanted. Carefully dig a clump, divide, ensuring the new pieces have both roots and shoots, and replant elsewhere in the garden.
- Ripen green tomatoes in the house. Put them in a box with a ripe banana. Cover with a tea towel and wait. It works!
- Reduce watering many house-plants as they need to slow growth down as the light levels drop. Clean any shiny house-plant leaves with clean water to make the most of every lux of light.
- Keep an eye on watering, especially plants in containers and hanging baskets, as the leaves are full and rain will not reach the compost.
- Harvest everything as it matures. Leave it on the plant to mature and production stops, so you run the risk of slugs and snails getting a free meal.
- Sow spinach and rocket along with a few seeds of greenhouse lettuce.
- Plant spring flowering bulbs.
The humble bumblebee is more important than many may think! We spoke to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust about the importance of these little invertebrates and how to help save them from further depletion. Take a read of our interview below.
Our interview with Bumblebee Conservation Trust
1. A lot of people probably don’t know how important bumblebees are in terms of wildlife. Why should people be concerned about their declining numbers?
Our charismatic bumblebees are keystone species, holding a unique and vital role in the way the ecosystem functions. These wonderful little invertebrates play a huge part in the pollination of a number of the commercial crops that we rely on, such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries (all that good stuff that we love). In fact, according to a study by Potts et al in 2014, bees contribute over £651 million per annum to the UK economy.
Bumblebees are perfectly adapted to the cold, wind and rain here in Britain, working hard to pollinate 80% of our native wildflower species. Fewer bees means less pollination, and ultimately even fewer wildflowers. Wildflower-rich grasslands are the building blocks of a complex food chain directly affecting the success of other insects, birds and mammals which reply upon it. The high cost of pollinating plants without our prized pollinators would most likely mean an increase in food costs for us all.
Whilst bumblebees provide us with a vital service, we should also value bumblebees simply for their intrinsic value. They are an interesting wild species, perfectly endearing, and a delight to watch whether out in the countryside or at home in your garden.
2. What are some of the main reasons why their numbers have been declining in the UK?
The overriding reason for the decline of our bumblebees is the loss of bumblebee-friendly habitat in the UK. An increased demand for food has spurred a need for specialist technology and more intensive land management. These changes in agricultural techniques from the traditional to the modern unfortunately means fewer wildflowers for our pollinators.
Worryingly, since the 1940s, 97% of our flower rich grassland has been lost - combine this with the added complications of pesticide-use, climate change and parasites and things aren’t looking too good for our bees. Within the last 80 years, two bumblebee species have become nationally extinct and further extinctions may follow in the near future unless we act quickly!
3. How can gardeners get involved and help conserve the bumblebees?
First and foremost is making space for bees! Bee-friendly gardening is easy and doesn’t have to break the bank. If you’ve mastered this and your garden is a haven for bumblebees, you could consider holding an open garden day and inspire fellow gardeners to practice wildlife-friendly gardening. You could also link up with other gardening enthusiasts, creating a network of bee-friendly gardeners to share tips, cuttings and seeds from your own bee-friendly plants.
Supporting the Bumblebee Conservation Trust by becoming a member allows us to continue our vital conservation efforts. New members receive a great welcome pack with loads of advice about bumblebees and what to plant to support them. You can find out more at www.bumblebeeconservation.org/support-us/become-a-member/
4. Are there any tips or advice you can give to gardeners as to the best ways to attract bumblebees to their flowers?
Having a succession of bee-friendly flowers right through from March to October is the best way to attract bumblebees and support them throughout their life-cycle. Making sure there are plenty of foraging opportunities for new queens in spring will increase the chances of a nest being located nearby.
Take some time in your garden to simply watch bumblebees and see which flowers it is that they visit, you can then maximise on their favourites.
You could consider adding a pond to your garden if you have the space. There a number of aquatic and marginal plants that are great for bees such as the Yellow Iris, Watermint and Bogbean. A pond also has the added bonus of attracting a whole host of other wildlife into your garden.
5. How could gardeners and the general public help to monitor the bumblebee population in the UK?
There are a few surveys which the Bumblebee Conservation Trust run and support which you can get involved in.
BeeWalk - This survey helps us to monitor changes in the bee population and acts as an early warning system. Our volunteers walk a fixed-route of 1-2km each month and record what they see. Reasonably good bumblebee identification skills are needed for the survey, so if you are a complete novice you might be better starting with another of our options below and/or attending one of our basic ID courses, and then graduating to BeeWalk when you're a little more confident.
Blooms for Bees - This survey aims to explore which bumblebees visit gardens and allotments and discover which flowers are bumblebee favourites. Taking part in this flower friendly project is easy; simply download the app (search 'Blooms For Bees' in the App Store or Google Play) or visit the website and register your location; choose a flowering plant and observe for five minutes; photograph and ID the bumblebees, then simply submit your data!
To record bees (and other wildlife) on a more ad hoc basis, go to www.brc.ac.uk/irecord. If possible, include a photo of the bumblebee that you have seen to allow the iRecord experts to verify your sighting.
6. What are the best plants to help these pollinators?
Old-fashioned cottage garden flowers such as globe thistles and borage are brilliant for bumblebees with an added bonus of being beautiful to look at. There is also a whole variety of culinary herbs such as lavender, chives, marjoram, sage and rosemary that are all loved by bees.
Herbs and other cottage garden flowers are often very similar to the wild flowers from which they originated, and so have not lost their natural link with their pollinators. They tend to be hardy, easy to grow, and most are perennials so that you do not have to plant them every year. They will grow well in a traditional herbaceous border, but also equally as well in pots on a patio or even in a window box.
It’s important to provide a good source of nectar and pollen throughout spring to late summer to cover all stages of the bumblebee life cycle. We recommend at least 2 bee-friendly plants per season and have suggested some bee-friendly favourites below:
- Flowering current
- Pussy Willow
- Globe thistle
- Sweet pea
You can find out how bee-friendly your garden is by using our handy Bee kind app. Select the flowers that you have in your garden to calculate your score and then receive a tailored list of 10 more flowery suggestions to provide even more bee food.
7. What advice would you give to someone if they came across a bumblebee nest?
If you find a bumblebee nest, you should consider yourself very lucky! We would advise that you don’t disturb it - thankfully bumblebees are not aggressive and will quietly go about their business if left alone. If you do approach the nest, try not to breathe on it as this can cause bumblebees to become defensive. Bumblebee season starts in spring with the emergence of the queen from hibernation and will end late summer/autumn, so a colony will only live in a nest for a few months before dying off naturally.
It is important to remember that bumblebees will not cause structural damage and do not bore holes or chew through wood. They will rarely nest in the same location two years running, but if you do have bumblebees nesting somewhere that you don’t want them (i.e. roof space or cavity wall) then simply wait for the autumn when the nest is empty and block the entrance hole. This will prevent a new queen from finding the hole next year.
Remember to provide lots of bee-friendly plants to help the colony through its life cycle!
8. Are there any other tips on things that gardeners should be doing or avoid doing to help the dwindling bumblebee population?
There are a few things to avoid when thinking of the bees!
Invasive plant species that have a habit of escaping from gardens and into wild habitats nearby are best avoided, this includes plants such as Rhododendron ponticum and Himalayan balsam. They can look pretty but their benefits to the bees are far outweighed by their negative impact on the surrounding environment.
If you wish to have happy bees, try to avoid growing flowers with little to no pollen and nectar. These often come in the form of annual bedding plants such as begonia, pansies and lobelias and are a result of selective breeding by horticulturalists. Whilst they can look spectacular, the breeding process causes flowers to lose their vital nectar, or produces deformities in the flowers which means it is nearly impossible for insects to reach the nectar or pollen, such as double varieties with extra sets of petals.
Pesticides are often labelled as 'bug killers' or something similar, but almost all can harm bumblebees even if not intentionally. If you do decide to use them, it’s certainly best to avoid spraying them near flowering plants. Left to nature, natural enemies such as ladybirds, hoverflies, ground beetles, lacewings and wasps will usually consume troublesome aphids or caterpillars before long, but if you wipe them out with insecticides you can expect worse pest problems in the very near future.
This week we caught up with Victoria, avid allotment-grower and the mind behind Southbourne Gardens. We talk about all the benefits and advice for starting up an allotment, as well as a delicious insight into some great ideas on storing fresh produce! Have a read of our interview below.
Our interview with Southbourne Gardens
1. What made you decide that you wanted to run your own allotment having had no previous gardening experience?
When I was a growing up in Weston-super-Mare, we used to drive past a local allotment site and I was always fascinated by it. This came back to me later in life and suddenly I found myself with the time so it seemed ideal. My mother was also quite a keen gardener, mainly growing soft fruit. We had strawberries for tea every summer evening and our sideboard at home was always full of bottled blackcurrants, jams and chutneys to keep us going through the winter. I was keen to carry this on.
2. What advice could you give to someone who is thinking of owning their own allotment?
Plan, plan and plan some more! Think about how much time you have available and what you want to get out of it. Being close to the site is important and don’t be afraid to start small - my first premise was that I’d grow some herbs to cook with but now, six years on, we grow ten varieties of fruit, lots of summer vegetables and flowers for cutting.
3. How much planning and maintenance goes into owning an allotment?
I’d turn this around and say only take on what you can reasonably manage. Most sites will be able to offer quarter or half plots so if you only have a couple of hours at the weekend this is ideal. Also, some crops take far less maintenance than others in terms of protection and watering and this is really worth thinking about if you can’t easily get there during the week.
4. You grow flowers, herbs, fruit, and vegetables on your allotment. How much of what you grow goes into homemade recipes?
We don’t have a huge freezer so what we pick is eaten quite quickly. We roast or griddle a lot of vegetables, either to eat on their own or go in salads. Soups are also a favourite, as are pasta sauces and then with fruit it’s likely to be a compote or jam if we’re not eating it fresh.
5. Do you have a favourite recipe using the produce from your plot?
If I’m bringing a lot of produce back from the plot it has to be something quick and simple - a fruit compote fits the brief perfectly. Washed fruit into a pan with a little sugar heated gently until cooked. Store in the fridge in clean glass jars. I love this on yoghurt for breakfast or in a crumble or pie.
6. What do you do with leftover crops that you can’t use?
Despite careful planning, at some point in the growing season you’ll end up with more produce than you can reasonably use. This is especially true of things like courgettes and lettuce that cannot be frozen or easily preserved. Other plot holders are normally in the same position so we give any surplus to friends and neighbours.
7. Do you have any tips or tricks for getting the most out of allotments?
It takes time and effort to run a successful allotment, if you’re making that investment it’s important to enjoy it. The best advice we were given when starting out is ‘little and often’, so it doesn’t become a chore. Also, be involved, get to know your fellow allotment holders. We’ve made some great friends and there’s usually barbecues and plants swaps throughout the season that you can take part in.
Earlier this month, we spoke to Alison from The Blackberry Garden about setting up a garden from scratch to get some excellent tips for people just getting started with gardening, and especially for people who work full time and want to know how they can make the most of their garden. Take a look at our interview with Alison below.
Our interview with The Blackberry Garden
1. What made you decide to set up a garden from scratch?
I had always been interested in gardening but I had a very small garden and I knew I wanted to expand what I was able to do. I was looking to move house anyway when I found this property with a large grassed lawn but virtually no planting at all. I was really excited by the thought of this as it meant I could do pretty much exactly what I wanted with the space. I always tell people I bought the garden, the house just happened to come with it.
2. What are some tips you would give to anyone wanting to create a garden?
Firstly take your time, the temptation is to rush right in and I admit I did start some planting before I actually properly moved in. Also, plant in stages, so my early plantings were fairly removable if they did not suit what I later wanted to achieve. The most important advice I was ever given was that it was not a good idea to rip up all the lawns to create all the borders at once. It is far easier to mow the lawn than it is to weed borders and it meant that I could develop the garden area by area and not overload myself. That is definitely my top tip – pace yourself.
3. On your website, you talk about the different gardens that you have lived with, which would you say is your favourite and why?
That is actually quite difficult to answer, I think my favourite garden is the one I currently have because I have spent so much time on it and put so much of myself into it. But I am incredibly fond of the garden I had in the railway cottage. It was there my obsession for gardening really took off and I made many of my early mistakes in that garden. It will always have a place in my heart.
4. How long did it take you to get your garden to the way it is now and what has been the hardest part?
I have been working on this garden for nine years now. The hardest part and probably the most frustrating has been the front garden. My initial moves to make into a knot garden were a disaster as I did not prepare the area properly. I fought constantly with perennial weeds for several years and it was only when I pared the design right down that I began to feel even remotely happy with it. I love my knot garden but there are times I do think that leaving a lawn there would have been much simpler.
5. How do you manage to maintain such a beautiful garden alongside working full time?
It does depend very much on the time of year but I do spend a lot of my weekend time in the garden. In the summer I will sometimes do an hour or so in the evening when I get home, I always have a wander around to deadhead roses etc. It doesn’t really take that much time once the season is in full swing. It is densely planted and that keeps some weeds down and also means I cannot see many. If I cannot see them then I take the attitude that they don’t exist. Because I love gardening so much I do not think about the time it takes, I only think about time that I lose when I am away from it.
6. For someone who is a complete beginner, what are the main things you would need to do to start growing your garden and making it your own?
Plant something – anything, even if it is just a packet of nasturtium seeds. Once you have planted something and seen it grow then I think it leads you to plant more.
7. We love your plant of the year and irritating plant of the year awards. What guidelines do you give yourself when judging these?
In the first year of the Plant of the Year Award, it was just one day when I was musing to myself in the garden that the particular plant had performed really well. The next year I was wondering how to decide again and I then realised I had photographed one plant and commented on it more than any other. This year I am starting to think about drawing up a proper shortlist. There seems to be strong competition in the garden as several plants have been quite amazing this year.
The Irritating Plant meme started in much the same way, I was looking at a plant and just thinking how really annoying it was. I liked it as a plant, but it seemed set on annoying me by not performing. There seems to be quite strong competition for this category as well!
8. You review other gardens that you’ve been to visit. For you, what makes the most amazing garden?
That really depends, what I do like is an exciting use of colour and something new to me. I look at some gardens and think that they are ‘safe’ and do not offer anything new (which might just be new to me, it does not have to be cutting edge new design). I like good planting, a good choice of plants set out well. I also like a well-structured garden. Some gardens I visit I can see maybe past their glory days, but their structure is good and you can almost imagine what it would have looked like in its heyday. I am a particular fan of Italianate Gardens and so visiting them generally makes me very happy.
All images are credited to Alison Levey, The Blackberry Garden.