Sylvia Clare’s Column – March 2013

Published: July 31, 2022
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A Day in the Garden – Tuesday 5th March 2013

Today was a warm dry day, temperatures into double figures and warm enough to be outside in the garden working without even a jacket on, just a polo jumper. My garden in on the side of a down on the Isle of Wight and the soil is well drained (even in this last winter and often too much drainage) and on chalk, and facing south, so warm too when the sun is out. But it is also a frost pocket as the cold air comes flooding off the top of the downs after dark and flows into the valley where we sit just above the floor which has a very pretty stream running through it. So that said, it is fun gardening here, with its own set of challenges each season.

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I am not such a plants-person as many of my HPS friends are, but I am a lover of plants and gardening. I am also an amateur beekeeper and chicken keeper. So today I was delighted to see that my single surviving beehive from last years deluges has overwintered well and the inhabitants were out in their numbers. One never knows how many bees in a hive but I reckon around 15 -20 thousand this time of year. A sneak a few weeks ago on a warm day showed me a melon sized ball clustered in the centre of the hive and plenty of food left which is what I was checking for. Generally I would not ever open a hive in February but it was a particularly warm day and they were out and about so I though a quick check for supplies to see them through would be in order. They have only been flying a few times yet this year and I have planted my garden as a winter/spring garden mostly for their benefit. I was delighted to see many of them on my native Hellebore foetidus which I grow in plentiful numbers around the garden, also many different forms of orientalis including some party dress and other doubles and all in the variety of shades and spottiness now available. The bees do not seem to mind what colour the hellebore is, they just love them and were seen buzzing around many clumps in various parts of the garden. Similarly pulmonarias in various forms. I am not very good on plant names of varieties but I am looking forward to Pulmonaria Opal opening soon and see if the bees like it as much as I do; it has some nice buds in it, but this lovely blue one has been in bloom for some days now. Also available to the bees at present are some daphnes, shrubby honeysuckle, many primroses, crocus and snowdrops, and even some early daffodils, forget-me-nots, blue blanda anemones that peek our between black straps of ophiopogon together with some species of golden crocus. The final treat for the bees is all the catkins on various hazel trees in our hedgerows.

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I love having a vibrant and colourful winter / early spring garden but most of all I love watching my precious little foragers wander around and find food on the odd day when it is warm enough to venture out and replenish their winter supplies. It is about now that they start laying a brood that will form this years honey making bees, a much shorter lived but harder working generation than those they were reared by, who have lingered snug and warm inside my lovely blue hive all winter, living for nearly 6 months, compared to six weeks for those growing and maturing inside the hive now ready to start foraging in earnest once it is consistently warmer.

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After admiring my co-workers, I set to with a pickaxe clearing a little more of our site, totally derelict like the house 13 years ago and still being reclaimed in stages, the final ones being our family areas, as much of the garden is given over to our holiday visitors who come and self-cater in other parts of the property. The plan is to make some raised beds using old scaffolding boards and large tyres and create an extension to our veggie plot which is usually too full to get everything in. We are re-planting fruit bushes moved from a previous site which is about to be taken over by solar panels; what a varied and interesting assortment of things grow and live here.

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Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.