Covered in bees*

The alliterative first line of Keats’ ode To Autumn gets bandied about with predicatable regularity at this time of year. And quite rightly too; it may be bordering upon cliché, but were there a more apt, evocative or economic description of the time of year now being ushered in than “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, I’m sure we’d all be using it. But, for the past week or so, it’s the passage at the end of the first stanza that I keep thinking of, those lines that describe the bees making the absolute most of the late-season flowers, drunk on nectar and basking in the late sun before returning to hives dripping with honey after the summer’s generosity.



This mental picture seems particularly apposite just now. The radio tells me we’re enjoying the driest September since 1960, while my ears tell me that the bees are certainly taking advantage of the weather. When out walking Bill in the fields I pass between two ivy-clad columns – heaven only knows what trees are providing the structural support, the climber is all-encompassing and glossy with luxuriant mature foliage, in full flower and cacophanous with all manner of flying insects. I identify wasps, several kinds of bee and hover flies among the cloud of voracious activity, before deciding to retreat to a safer distance. They all look perfectly preoccupied, but the sound is slightly intimidating, and I don’t really fancy hanging around in case the general mood should suddenly change.

Back in the garden, the dahlias continue to romp away in the borders, the asters are coming into flower and, while most of the lavender has now been cut back, there are a few patches which we’ve deliberately left. All of these late flowers seem to be enormously appreciated by the bees, our most welcome neighbours, and in a year when the plight of the bumble bee continues to be a serious concern, their presence in our garden in such enthusiastic crowds is both welcome and encouraging.

We’ve no immediate plans to have hives of our own, happy for the time being to let others do the hard work; it’s far less bothersome to get one’s honey from a jar, rather than a wooden box full of buzzing insects. In the meantime, I’m more than content that while we didn’t set out to plant a ‘bee friendly’ garden, by virtue of that fact that it’s brimming with flowers, that’s exactly what we have.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
and still more, later flowers for the bees
So that they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells. 
from To Autumn by John Keats, 1819

Some bee related links:

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign page
The British Beekeepers’ Association


*The title for this post came to mind from a sketch from Eddie Izzard’s Glorious tour. Maybe not Keats, but more belly laughs.
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Big daisies

Early September; sun-warmed days, cooler nights, and moisty mornings of mists and plants dripping with dew. This is the month when the romantic notion of the gardener you wish to be can collide head-on with the stark reality of the gardener you are. Having occupied myself over the past few months fighting a series of losing battles against foes including greedy molluscs, disappointing compost (I really must sort that out – too much unrotted wood in a lot of the peat free jobbies, locking up all the nitrogen) and a general inability to make the most of limited time, it’s now getting a bit too late in the year for even the most heroic of my efforts to make much difference to this year’s garden. I find myself on the brink of thinking that, with the growth rate now slowing markedly, the most I can hope for is to make the place look a bit tidier and, having concluded that such a dour state of mind is neither helpful nor particularly enjoyable, I opt instead for a course of retail therapy.



To Perryhill Nurseries in Sussex, then, there to buy a cartful of of fabulously cheerful daisies in two and three litre pots, ostensibly to increase the stock and variety of the plants in my borders, but in all truth to perk up the prospect by filling the gaps left by dahlias which fell victim to the combined efforts of winter flooding and the bloody slugs.

My haul included three asters, the purple leaved Aster lateriliflorus 'Lady in Black', the reasonably mildew resistant Aster 'Little Carlow', and the small, gorgeous Aster divaricatus, all of which are tantelisingly bedecked with buds about to burst open. I also couldn’t resist some more echinaceas, especially the wonderful 'Tomato Soup' – just the colour of a bowlful of Heinz – and a few more 'White Swan', whose blooms I find hauntingly beautiful. They’ll be going over soon in time for the asters to step up, but I’ll pull the spent petals off to leave the firm, coppery central bosses of the flower heads, which are worthy of their space in the border once the inital drama of the flowers has passed.

Echinacea 'Tomato Soup', with a hitchhiker

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan', soon to be de-petalled

Echinacea flower bud, looking very Sci-Fi

Of course, notwithstanding my uncharacteristically mopey moments earlier, there’s still plenty of exciting stuff to do in the garden. While some plants will soon need to be prepared for overwintering, now is also the time to start planning in earnest for next year’s garden. In practical terms, this mean sorting out my growing mediums and compiling a list of biennials and hardy annuals for autumn sowing. And, it goes without saying, leaving plenty of time for daisy gazing.