Tuesday 30 July 2019

Solitary Bee Hotel

The majority of people will know that honeybees in the UK tend to live in a hive which is owned and managed by a beekeeper. Their colony consists of one Queen, hundreds of Drones, and thousands of Workers. Our fat, furry bumblebees also live in colonies which are normally located within a hole beneath the ground. However, the lifestyle of the solitary bee, that nests in my Bee Hotel has a completely different.
Whitetail bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) collecting nectar from
 Lythrum salicaria - Purple Loosestrife - a good flower for both bees and butterflies
There are over 250 species of solitary bee in this country, and as the name implies, they live alone. However, the various species will happily nest alongside one another as they do in my hotel. They do not produce honey, do not have a queen but they do play a vital role in pollinating our crops, flowers, and trees. It is known that they actually pollinate plants much more efficiently than the honey bee. They are non-aggressive because they do not have any honey to protect, and in general the males do not even have a sting. 
Each tunnel in my hotel holds roughly 12 - 15 eggs, which become a larvae before finally emerging as a bee during the following Spring. The solitary bee creates a ball of pollen, called a pollen loaf, at the far end of the tunnel which she moistens with nectar and then lays an egg on top of it. This will feed the larvae during the months ahead. She then builds a partition wall and repeats the process again, and again until she reaches the exit of the tunnel. This she then seals off with a saliva like substance made from mud or resin, or in the case of the leaf-cutter bee, masticated and cut leaves. Importantly the eggs nearest to the entrance are usually male enabling them to emerge first so that they are ready to mate with the female bees when they emerge from the other tunnels. The male then dies within two weeks of leaving the tunnel.
I can thoroughly recommend having a solitary bee hotel. They are not expensive, and if you are handy you could construct one yourself (there are instructions on the internet). They must sit in a sunny location facing south, at least 1-1½ metres above ground, and have plenty of 'bee likeable' flowers growing nearby. Purple Loosestrife, Lavender, Buddleia, and Echinops all grow in my garden along the flight path to the hotel. It is fun to watch them coming and going whilst laying their eggs and then sealing up the exit hole. Young and old can take pleasure in watching a bee hotel, and at the end of the day you know that each year you have probably added at the very least 100 more new bees to the bee population. 
During the winter months put the hotel somewhere dry and cold i.e. garage, carport. then replace it back in the spring. It is a good idea to take it apart then and give it a good clean, use a diluted solution of bleach, let it thoroughly dry, and then reassemble it.

I was checking how many tunnels had been filled when suddenly this little bee popped out, which I believe to be a Red Mason bee. You can see pollen around her mouth, so I imagine that she has been making a pollen and nectar loaf. When I checked at the end of the day she had almost finished filling the tunnel and spent the night at the entrance guarding her eggs, which she then proceeded to seal during following day. There are now nine of the tunnels filled which equates to over a 100 eggs to date, and there are still about 3 laying weeks to go. 
Convolvulus - blue ensign
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had tried to grow a blue flower pyramid from seeds that I had planted. Unfortunately only the base is blue as currently the Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories are a bit slow climbing to the top. but I should really have placed them facing south rather than north. You can just see one of the morning glories making it's way up the frame on the left.

Saturday 27 July 2019


Triaphilia is the superstition that incidents occur in threes! But is it true? I don't relish the thought of anymore unexpected happenings to deal with this week.  
Washday blues, three loads of washing to do, the sun is out - perfect.
The almost new washing machine control panel flashes red not amber. A suggestion in the manufacturers handbook is to pull out the mains power plug. Not really understanding why, we do so, but with difficulty, hauling a fitted heavy machine out from beneath a countertop is is not easy. We leave it for a minute or two, then plug it in, push the machine back, switch on, but the flashing red light continues. 
The girl on the helpline suggests exactly what we have just done, but insists that we leave the machine unplugged for at least 30 minutes or more! She says a couple of minutes aren't sufficient. If it doesn't work then we should get in touch with the technician. This all sounds extremely fanciful and rather far fetched to us, however, without much confidence we do as she says. Unbelievably the machine works - cheers - we are two happy people. If only everything could be resolved as easily as this.
If you happen to own a washing machine with one of these new fangled touch panel controls, it might be worth keeping this trick in mind for future reference.
Vernacular Cotswold houses such as ours have very steep pitched roofs. At the rear of our house is a gable which looms up above the conservatory. For the past week a fat pigeon has taken to sitting on the gable end and peering down at us. Suddenly the pigeon twirls around to face the opposite direction, lifts it's tail and poops all over the clean glass roof. It splatters everywhere making a terrible mess and if I don't run upstairs quickly with a watering can and try to wash it off it becomes rock hard. This has been happening on a daily basis and so far we haven't been able to decide just what to do about it. Maybe our local Sparrow Hawk will oblige,
and end our problem!
Thirdly, we suddenly have a leaking shower. Not expected as it is reasonably new, but it has started dripping down into the hallway below. Apparently a water pipe hidden inside one of the walls appears to be responsible. Rather drastically a hole will have to be cut out of the landing stairwell wall in order to access the pipework. I am dreading this happening in a few days time, especially with regard to the mess and dust and the extreme weather conditions we are currently experiencing. All of the paintings, objet d'art and furniture in and around the hall will also have to be removed. Fortunately I have some silk embroidered wall hangings on the particular wall concerned which will hopefully hide any residual marks once the job is completed.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, Lavender's green

When you are king, dilly dilly, I shall be queen.
Lavender's blue is an 'olde' English folk song which originated almost four hundred years ago.

As the early evening sunlight lit up the Lavender in our garden, we were reminded that now could be the perfect moment to see a Lavender crop before harvesting begins in earnest. There are several English Lavender farms around the country, but the one we visited is local to us in the Cotswolds. 
Growing Lavender in England is a tradition going back for more than two thousand years. Lavender is a mediterranean crop brought here by the Romans. It has always been highly prized for its antiseptic and healing qualities, as well as for it's unique fragrance. 

The day of our visit was very warm, the bees and insects were busy, 
and the air was enveloped in the balmy fragrance of Lavender - it was lovely.
I think this is the rather diminutive Leafcutter bee with it's black facemask. I was delighted to have some Leafcutter bees nesting in my 'Solitary Bee Hotel' last year. It is easy to tell what type of bee has arrived as the other two solitary bees that tend to come are the Red Mason bee and the Blue Mason bee both of which block off their entrance/exit hole using mud. Whereas the Leafcutter lines the tubes with leaves and also uses cut leaves to block of the entrance when it has finished the task. So far no Leafcutter bees have visited, but I have not given up hope as there are still six more weeks to go before their nesting season ends.
Forager and trailer
The foragers and attached trailers are all GPS guided. On the first harvest run they cut off the sides of the plants and then trim the tops of the plants on the second run.  When the trailer is filled with 5 tons of Lavender flowers it is taken into the distillery. The flowers remain in the trailer whilst hot steam is passed through it. The steam then passes through a condenser, and finally the condensate is sent away to have the essential oils and perfume extracted. The harvest and process is quick and efficient, and the newly cut and trimmed plants are ready for next year's growth.
When the Romans left England, Lavender was principally grown by monks in their physic gardens where it provided them with a whole range of herbal remedies. 
Lavender became entwined within English folklore. A lavender cross was often hung on the door to ward off evil spirits. In the 16th century it was effectively used to guard against cholera, and during the Great Plague in the 17th century people would tie Lavender bunches to their wrists to guard against infection. 
For the past three years the farm has been growing Camomile which thrives well on the free draining soil here in the Cotswolds.
The first recorded uses of Camomile was in ancient Egypt where it was used to treat fever. Crushed flowers were rubbed on the skin as a cosmetic, and its oil was used to embalm deceased pharaohs.
Throughout history Camomile has been used to treat a variety of ailments. In medieval times Camomile was thought to be almost a cure all. The most common way of enjoying Camomile's benefits today is in tea, especially just before bedtime. Camomile soaps, moisturisers and room fragrances are also popular ways to enjoy its properties.
The Camomile is harvested in the late summer when the flowers are at their peak. The crop is mown and allowed to dry for a day. It is harvested using a forager which gently lifts the crop before chopping it into short lengths and blowing it into the attached trailer. It is then steam distilled inside the trailers in the same way as the Lavender flowers.
But it's not only Lavender and Camomile! 
The farm grows several small meadow areas of wildflowers which create a lovely colourful display and attract a wide range of insects. 

Saturday 13 July 2019

Part 2 Westbury Court Garden & the River Severn

To learn more about Westbury Court Garden and it's history see Part 1. 

The first pineapple to reach Europe arrived on a ship sailed by Columbus in 1496. From that moment the pineapple became a fruit of legend, highly prized and beyond the reach of everyone but royalty. The cult of pineapples grew, it became a familiar motif of both baroque and Neo-Classical architecture representing wealth and good taste.
Acanthus plants were in flower creating a juxtaposition
with the Acanthus leaves on the pillars to the garden pavilion.
The symbolism and meaning associated with the Acanthus leaf is that of enduring life. 
Planted in 1638 a huge Liridendron tulipifera was showing off it's distinctive tulip shaped flowers.

A wooden bridge over a tributary leads from the garden affording a way down to the River Severn itself.
The pathway skirts around the edge of newly mown hay meadows, whose sweet fragrance was attracting dozens of dancing butterflies.
Small Tortoiseshell - Aglais urticae
In the hedgerows the future blackberry harvest showed signs of being bountiful.

The mighty River Severn. 
Here the Severn has cut through the hillside to form a cliff exposing layers of Triassic white and red marl, and fragments of Ichthyosaurs fossils. 
Rising in the Welsh Cambrian Mountains, the River Severn is the longest river in Britain.
It flows in a semi-circular route through the Welsh county of Powys and the English counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and finally Gloucestershire.
At it's widest the estuary is 30 miles wide forming a physical boundary between England and Wales - in medieval days it was known as The Severn Sea. It's journey continues through the Bristol Channel until it finally joins the North Atlantic Ocean. 
The Gloucestershire section of the river is tidal and regularly experiences tidal ranges of up to 15 metres (49 feet). The world's largest tidal range of 16.3 metres (53.5) occurs in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada, which incidentally I saw whilst on a visit there in the early 1990s.
The incoming tide on the River Severn also creates a natural phenomenon 'the Severn Bore'. There are 60 bore locations around the world the Severn Bore is the second highest. The highest being in China.
The bore is an exciting event for both onlookers and surfers.
The largest bores are classed as 5* and
there are only two due for the rest of this year on the 29th and 30th September. However, both are scheduled to arrive during the late evening at around 21.30 - 22.45 hours. 
Unfortunately 'bores' tend to arrive either early in the morning or late at night. 
courtesy quintinlake

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Apricots Galore

There are plenty of cheap luscious apricots in the shops right now (costing roughly £3 per kilo) so why not make yourself some delicious French Apricot Conserve.
one kilo apricots,
750 grams sugar,
Wash and split apricots,
cover them with all of the sugar, 
leave to macerate for 18 hours.
That's all - it's so simple
18 hours later, the sugar will have disappeared and
replaced by lots of lovely viscous juice. Now they are ready to cook.
Gently bring to the boil and simmer for
20 - 25 mins.
Finally pour the conserve into warm sterilised jars, filling them to the top, 
screw on the lids, 
then turn the jars upside,
 to form a good seal
 until they cool. 
What could be easier?


Friday 5 July 2019

Part 1 - Westbury Court Garden.......

was laid out during the years 1696-1705

Engraving dated 1712 by Johannes Kip 
Westbury Court is a formal Dutch water garden created in a style that became fashionable during the reign of William and Mary. The fact that the garden has survived intact, whilst still retaining its unique charm and beauty, makes it a very rare survivor. Other similar water gardens were completely destroyed or have mere fragments of them left. Many were replaced by the more naturalistic school of landscape gardens introduced and popularised by Capability Brown in the late c18th. 
A veritable forest of artichokes 
As well as being a pleasant place to be, the garden was designed to be productive. Flowers were planted alongside beds of vegetables, water canals stocked with fish and a rabbit warren all supplied food for the table. 

A fish seen in one of the water canals but what a huge mouth he has!
The walls are lined with cordoned fruit trees - apples, pears, cherries, plums and peaches - the fruit, and flowers in the garden are all authentic to the style and period of garden.
Rhubarb Forces 
Forcing rhubarb was first discovered by a gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817 when he accidentally covered newly emerging rhubarb crowns with heaps of soil as he dug a nearby ditch. The pink, sweet, tender stems quickly shot upwards much to his surprise. 

Part 2 - the journey will continue in Westbury Court Garden but then we shall depart along a pathway which leads from the garden down to the mighty River Severn.