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Volunteers' Blog - March 2019

It was with a large “Hurrah!” that, in the middle of the month, the preparing and packing of seeds was completed for this year. Over the winter the Volunteers have cleaned seeds from many thousands of flower heads, producing 3,195 packets of seeds, representing over 80 different plant species. The shelves in the Visitor Centre have been restocked, something that will continue throughout the year; and those packets on the bottom shelves, where small hands have enjoyed playing with and reorganising the ‘pretty coloured envelopes’, have been tidied. Let’s hope the children persuade their parents to bring them back so they can enjoy the Easter chick hunt. After all this work we took, what was felt to be, a justly deserved extended coffee break.

One part of the Garden that the Volunteers have been keen to develop is the area around the Bee Hive.  However, our endeavours in this area have been as much about animals as plants, more of this later. Mike Hughes ordered, on our behalf, 150 bee friendly plug plants including lesser knapweed, wild marjoram, common St John’s wort, white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, wild primrose, teasel and field scabious. He also ordered some Monarda seeds.

Monarda, also known as bee balm is a native of North America. It has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans and is a natural source of the antiseptic thymol the active ingredient in some commercial mouthwashes. More importantly, from our point of view, it is an excellent source of nectar for bees and other insects.

The Monarda seeds duly arrived and were planted in two six-inch pots and placed in the unheated greenhouse to germinate. Peter, one of Mike’s gardening team, informed us that there is a problem with mice within the heated greenhouse and many precious seedlings have been lost. Traps have been put down and it is hoped that, by means of these traps, and using the so far mouse free unheated greenhouse, the problem will not affect our seeds.

The plug plants also arrived in good time, and on a warm and sunny morning, with no more seeds to pack, we set about planting the bee friendly plugs. However, on approaching the bee area two problems became apparent, firstly the bees were very active in the warm spring sun, buzzing in large numbers around the hive, and secondly the close-cropped sward indicated the presence of rabbits. Right on cue a well-fed juvenile rabbit hopped into view, with as much nonchalance as Peter, or even his naughtier cousin, Benjamin Bunny. Concern was expressed that the new plants might go the same way as the herbaceous perennials planted within this area by members a few years ago, the rabbits regarding the new plants as a welcome additional to their diet.

In the end it was decided to plant a selection of the plug plants and see what happens. A sunny site, a little further from the hive and active bees than originally proposed, was chosen. A large iron stake made holes in the turf, which is already a mixture of grass and native wildflowers, and 40 of the plug plants were heeled into the soil. It is hoped that this method of planting will make the plug plants indistinguishable from the plants already present and therefore less prone to damage from foraging rabbits. We will have to wait and see if this ruse has worked. A cane, which if you happen to be visiting the garden you will see just beyond the hive, was stuck in the ground to mark the area planted.

The Volunteers have also been busy elsewhere tidying the Garden, sweeping the paved area within the Cherry Tree circle in the Oriental Garden, and preparing for Easter and our first walk of the year around the garden with Mike Hughes at the end of the month.
Alex Taylor.