As busy as a bee


23 July 2020

One of the greatest pleasures of having both a garden and time is the opportunity to observe what is happening around me in great detail. The hill in front of the house is like an amphitheatre providing endless entertainment. The silage was cut today and two young foxes were quick to arrive and scavenge for food. I suspect that they are siblings and I am delighted that a new generation has moved in to the area. Swallows are regular visitors as they swoop and dive for insects. The haunting sound of the curlews is a poignant reminder of the west of Scotland and a glimpse of a kestrel is always welcome.

There is also a lot of interesting activity within the garden. Today I am supposed to be gardening but I have become completely distracted by the activity of some bees at the side of my house. This part of the house has been finished in the traditional semi-dry-stone method. Relatively flat stones are held in place by mortar placed at the back of the structure. The result is the appearance of a dry-stone wall with an infinite number of cavities. In the past I had wondered why bees seemed to like the corner so much. A closer look today showed that they were all carrying either a leaf, sometimes bigger than their bodies, or sacks of pollen and disappearing into the wall. Apparently, the structure of my semi-dry-stone wall is providing the perfect nesting site for solitary, leaf cutting bees. These bees create cocoons for their eggs. Inside each ‘pollen loaf’ is a single egg, nectar and pollen. Once they have finished laying the eggs they add an extra thick layer of leaves to seal the cigar-like structure. The leaves need to be within a short distance from their nest.  As the herbaceous garden is just feet away from the wall and there are rose bushes nearby (apparently their preferred source of leaves) these industrious insects have all that they need. These bees only sting if severely provoked, do no damage to the building and are considered to be super pollinators so I am delighted that they have the perfect habitat and are making themselves at home.

This leaf cutting bee opted to utilise a nail hole in the more conventional stonework in the same area.


This is the best time of the year for Hydrangea and they are providing colour throughout the garden. They are easy to grow and reproduce from cuttings. They did not like the recent dry summers and are at their best this year as a result of regular rainfall. The photographs above and below are taken in a corner of the herbaceous border close to the nesting sites of the leaf cutting bees.

This Hydrangea macrophylla Ayesha is a good example of the impact of the soil on colour. This was pink when I bought it but in my acidic clay soil it quickly turned blue.

Hydrangea Macrophylla black steel Zambia. The dark stems of this plant are very dramatic but this year it ‘bolted’ like some of the other shrubs in the garden and the mature heads are dragging it down forcing me to remove many of the blossoms.

Wild flowers

Mating soldier beetles on the seed head of a sea carrot.

I have always been interested in wildflowers particularly in relation to their healing properties. I was lucky to be able to visit the Physic Garden in Chelsea last year. The original garden was created 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to provide medicinal plants for practitioners of London. In the 1700’s a global seed exchange was created and is still thriving today. The garden covers almost four acres and now has sections dedicated to medicinal plants, pharmaceutical plants, edible and useful plants and a ‘world medicine’ garden. Today it provides a wealth of information on old and current uses for the thousands of plants in its collection. I have never seriously thought of creating my own potions although I do use some herbs on a regular basis. A quick cup of tea made of lemon, ginger, fresh sage, turmeric, pepper and honey is the perfect reviver after a winter swim in Roaring Water bay or if a sore throat is threatening. However, two incidents have cured me of any thought of dabbling with the wild flowers in my garden. My first brew of homemade camomile tea brought on a bout of nausea and further research informed me that it was used as an emetic in the past. I had obviously been over generous with the herb and have never really enjoyed the tea since. The second incidence involved the delicate Water Pepper Persicaria hydropiper shown below. I decided to confirm its identification by tasting it’s ‘peppery leaves’. The instant numbing of my upper lip brought on a mild panic as I was convinced that I had poisoned myself. The effects wore off later that afternoon but I am cured of trying anything that does not come with a detailed safety label. I cannot even verify the ‘peppery’ taste that led to its name.

Persicaria Hydropiper formerly used in the treatment of inflammation and urinary infections.

Redshank or Persicaria macuosa. This plant grows throughout the garden. The young leaves have a dark blotch which sometimes to disappear when the plant matures. It is a member of the dock family and was said to be useful in the treatment of infectious diseases and diarrhoea.

Field Woundwort Stachys arvensis. This is a member of the mint family and like its relative Hedge Woundwort was used to heal wounds.

Prickly Sowthistle Sonchus asper

Apparently this plant is more likely to be found away from human habitation and influence. If so its presence in the garden confirms the benefit of a ‘light handed’ approach to gardening.

When I first moved to this area, I was very careful to remove all Common Ragwort Senico Jacobaea (above) as soon as I encountered any. It is listed under the Noxious Weeds Act and it is dangerous to horses and cattle if it gets into their food chain. However, I soon discovered that it seems to be the sole food source in my garden for the beautiful Cinnabar Moth caterpillars. These creatures appropriate the poisons in the plant to protect themselves from predators and have a distinctive striped appearance as a warning to them. I have found dozens on one stalk alone. Fortunately, they seem to leave before the plant fully flowers so I then remove it and dispose of it carefully. While the cinnabar is a day moth, I rarely see it as it as it prefers to remain in the undergrowth. Sadly, the specimen in the photograph below was dead when I found it at my back door.

29 July 2020

The pleasure of a few perfect summer days lulled me into letting my guard down re the weather. A loud bang in the garden late this evening reminded me that I always need to keep an eye on the forecast. Winds of 25 to 30 kilometres are nothing here but when combined with light garden furniture can do a lot of damage. My usual storm ritual had to be carried out in the dark and pouring rain and what was described as ‘fresh southerly winds’. Unsettled weather is forecast for the next few days so I hope my struggling vegetables survive.


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