Showing posts with label Honeywort. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Honeywort. Show all posts

10 Apr 2015

A whole lot of fencing going on

We've definitely been spoiled this past week - a bank holiday and good weather. The British climate can sometimes spring us a nice surprise. (Pun intended!)  I've even wondered where I left the sun cream. A glance back over my fortnight would show some sorting of plants, a bit of seed sowing and copious amounts of time cobbling together fence barriers around the food garden.

Each raised bed was previously protected with 2ft high netting; even so, I spent a good hour cleaning the empty beds of animal poo (again). Whatever these creatures are, they've managed to get through the defences and leave evidence of their visits. Foxes are allegedly partial to eating worms so that's another reason to keep animals off the soil. It was time to devise a new system of defence.

Using a metal spike to make holes deep into the clay under my soil, I've bashed 6ft canes into the ground around the perimeter of the food garden and tied 3ft high netting or wire mesh to these. Including the height of the surrounding low wall, that will present a 4ft barrier to jump. Hopefully they won't bother, unless we have particularly athletic cats and foxes around our part of town. All that remains is to find a way of letting gardeners get easy access and I'll be ready for a trial run. Then I can start planting.

It will be with some trepidation that I remove the netting from around each bed but, on the plus side, the beds will be much more accessible for weeding and for small fingers to explore and plant. A few of the kids here are keen to help with the garden and even to have a patch of their own. Answering one of their questions during the week, I explained that the people who help in the garden get to share the produce. One of the children immediately volunteered to help with growing strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. Funny that. Volunteers for carrots and potatoes were thinner on the ground.  Ho ho, little do they know!

I've used whatever materials I had (apart from buying another 10 tall canes and a piece of expanding willow for the 'gate') and was gifted a 10 metre roll of coated chicken wire from a gardening neighbour. The veg patch island is 26 metres all around (about 86 feet) - that's quite a budget breaker, so the remaining fencing was recycled from around the beds and the gaps filled with some pond netting that I had.  I noticed that bees can fly easily through the mesh but have to find a way over the netting. As you know, I'm very fond of my bees and hoverflies. The fence is currently about 50:50 mesh and netting so, if the fencing works, I'll invest in more coated mesh in the future. (And the netting can go over my brassicas.)

Meanwhile, let's have a look round the garden in early April. The daffs and cowslips are beginning to fade, the tulips planted Dec 2013 are open again (excellent spend of £5 for 50 supermarket bulbs!) and clumps of muscari, primulas, sweet scented violets and honeywort (Cerinthe) are providing a magnet for passing bees. As is the calabrese blossom left to go to seed. As the blossom is out on the plum trees, with other fruit not far behind, I'm hoping these bees will tarry awhile. Winter is definitely behind us and this is a good start to spring but let's not forget it could all still go pear shaped despite the warm sunshine of the past few days.

There's lots happening elsewhere in the garden but that will have to be for another post as the sun is shining, the fencing is finished and it's my day off so proper spade and fork gardening beckons!

Looking at fencing is a tad dull.  Have a bee on calabrese flowers instead.

10 May 2013

How to grow Honeywort - one of the best bee-friendly self-seeders for your garden

In my last post, the photo of Honeywort (botanical name Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens') flowering ridiculously early certainly generated a lot of comments. It turns out that this plant is a favourite with many folks and deservedly so.

A comment left on that last post asked for advice on growing Cerinthe from seed saved last year.  I have to say that it couldn't be easier.

At this time of year (late spring), you can sow them outside, direct into finely raked soil. Water the soil first and cover the seeds with a bare quarter inch of soil.   You can also do this in autumn (late September) to get them off to an early spring start.

On the other hand, if you only have a few precious seeds, start them in small pots or modules indoors: soak seeds overnight to break down outer casing, sow at same depth of seed (about 2 - 3 mm deep) into free draining soil, wait 7 - 14 days for germination, let the seedling grow a bit before potting on; at about 3 inches tall, with 3 to 4 leaves, harden off and plant outside, leaving about 40cm between plants.

They're a Mediterranean plant and their waxy blue-green leaves are a big clue as to where to site them - a nice warm spot with plenty of sunshine will suit them best and see them thrive.  The soil doesn't have to be anything special, but must be well drained.  Mine grow on top soil over London clay and usually reach about 50cm high.

The stems can get a bit straggly in time and, as the drooping flowers are the whole point, it's quite nice to just support the stems a bit by staking, if you can be bothered. If you plant them closer together, they'll  prop each other up but won't look as nice.

They flower over a long period.  If you're lucky, as they develop you'll get blue-green leaves with deep blue bracts surrounding a purple flower.  This isn't always the case though;  I've had Cerinthe with grey-green leaves and pink flowers in previous seasons.

Remember these plants are really good self-seeders; seedlings will pop up every year once you've had one plant in your garden.  Every purple flower has two fat seeds inside; not all will germinate but it's a good precaution to collect the seed before it drops.

Like Marigolds, etc, Cerinthe seeds can also be sown in the Autumn for earlier spring flowering. They are hardy plants and, once established, will pretty much cope with anything.  Slugs don't like them.  This is the first time that mine have come through the winter.  The warm extended autumn of 2011 meant that I pulled the ropey looking plants much later than usual, giving the seeds time to drop.  The cold and rain of 2012 meant that the conditions weren't right for germination until late summer so my plants were still relatively young by the time winter arrived and were left in situ.

A few gangly sorry looking specimens were put out of their misery earlier this year but the healthier ones were left - and I have early spring flowers as a result. It's lovely to see as other self seeded flowers (nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, orach) are only just beginning to get going.

They're not edible but are a real magnet for bees as the purple flowers are a good source of nectar. They also make an interesting cut flower and will last better if you sear the ends of the stems in hot water for 30 seconds.  Grow them with Escholzia (Californian Poppies), Atriplex rubra (Orach), Verbena bonariensis, Bupleurum rotundiflorum and Linaria (toadflax) for a colourful display.

I hope this post has been useful and will inspire more people to grow these lovely plants.  Seeds are available all over the internet, although they're unlikely (but not impossible) to be found in garden centre or supermarket seed racks.  I started my Cerinthe stock with one small plant bought from Sarah Raven's nursery at Perch Hill and saved the seed each year thereafter.

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