Tag Archives: thyme

No Guarantees

People talk a lot as they toil up the zigzag or wander down. There are so many: mostly I tune them out. So yesterday, when someone walking up the path said ‘It’s beautiful’, I kept weeding, worrying because this year my zigzag plots don’t look as good as they did last year. And although they attracted many bees in spring, as summer progresses there are fewer.

The woman on the zigzag repeated herself.

I turned around and there she was, expensive camera in hand.

‘Thank you’, I said. ‘But this is a five-year project and I have two more years to go in this wild bit. Those plots further down are beautiful though, aren’t they?’ (And they truly are, each in a different way.)

‘It’s all beautiful’, she said, in her interesting accent (South American?), gesturing towards the houses at the edge of the zigzag and back towards the wild plot where I stood. ‘I heard that this was better than the Botanical Gardens and it’s true.’

I was gobsmacked. ‘Thank you’, I said again. ‘Are you a tourist?’

‘Yes’, she said.

‘Well, enjoy it’, I said, knowing from other tourists that they really enjoy the domestic scale of the zigzag, the historic houses as much as the gardens. ‘Because soon that house over there at no. 1 – which is older than the big brick monastery it’s next to – will be sold. And the site probably redeveloped’.

‘Whaaaaat?!’ she said. ‘That’s crazy.’

And then she left, trudging up the zigzag to her companion, leaving me in my wild zone with mixed feelings. And a couple of hours later one of those huge cruise ships sailed past. I waved, in case she was looking this way.

And thought about what’s working and what isn’t.

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Annuals like these cornflowers now self seed everywhere. I love the blue. And I’m very pleased that clover has spread, because that’s great for the soil.

And the first of my perennial hollyhocks grown from seed  have flowered, too.

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I’ve learned that honey bees and bumble bees have no interest in alyssum in this part of Wellington, whether it’s spring or summer, near fruit trees, in sun or shade. But because it spreads so well, I’m leaving it wherever it grows.

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Around the hugelkulturs, growth is good in some places. These few cavallo nero plants have done well where last year there were bordoloi beans.

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(The bordolois are doing well across the path this year.)

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This little plot grown from seeds from a well-wisher has been looking good for a while and I love the phacelia, as do the bumble bees.

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The thyme borders are terrific and much admired, particularly by those who cook. Am about to transplant some to the other side of the zigzag, down from those beans.

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But it’s not all good. Water runoff, or something harmful in it, appears to have damaged some plants, like this lavender, so I’ve spread organic biochar (it has an awful smell) under organic sawdust, after compost and other soil builders made no difference.

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I’m going to try the biochar in a couple of other places too, where there was a lot of yucky buried rubbish.

My pride-and-joys are three baby manuka trees, which I hope will give local honey bees a treat when they flower. One of them is that little spiky plant in the centre, below, surrounded by dandelions and parsley.

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Some people see this plot as a ‘mess’. For instance, as in the photo immediately below, there’s silver beet, wild sweet peas, calendula, leek seed heads and more, all mixed in together. near various native shrubs and trees.

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So I plan a sign that explains that this wilderness is for the bees (who love dandelions and calendula and clover!) and for experiments. I’ll write it on one of the tiles that fly off the monastery roof in the gales. Completely encouraged by that random visitor.

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What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

Celebration & Sadness

‘Our’ bits of the public zigzag get better and better. The man downstairs has built a second hugelkultur and some steps that make it safer to garden. (I’ve had a few near misses, slipping and tumbling.)

Our neighbour has employed a new gardener who will not spray. He’s planted the native grasses you can see in the background, beneath her (spring-flowering) kowhai tree.

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from front: steps, second hugelultur, sorrel patch, cape gooseberries and sundry herbs and then the neighbour’s place
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love that red rake!

Here are the grasses in closeup, in their cosy pea-straw mulch.

closeup of new grass & mulch

Below the first hugelkultur, parsley, thyme, bergamot, galangal and nasturtiums flourish.

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O yay to all of this. I’m very happy that our garden, the neighbour’s garden and other bits of the zigzag are all safer than they were, more welcoming for bees. And for other insects, some of them also pollinators.

But I’m also sad.

I know now that research shows that even organic honey contains glyphosate and that bees are attracted to flowers that contain neonics (obvious really, humans too are attracted to substances that affect their neurons). And when I see no bees around, I think ‘Did Wellington City Council’s glyphosate spray affect them?’.

One still and sunny bee-filled morning, not long ago, the council used the spray on patches of old man’s beard, within 100 metres of where these photos were taken. How many bees were harmed, as they flew past on the way to our flowers?

This is what the dying old man’s beard looks like.

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It could have been removed by hand. It’s tough going but I’ve done it.

And yesterday, on the far side of some dying old man’s beard, I saw lots of bees on winter kowhai.

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And I wondered, was that kowhai bought from a plant shop that sells neonic-treated  trees? Do the bees prefer these blooms to ours because they provide a neonic buzz?

That’s when I began to feel sad. Providing a sanctuary for bees is complicated.

#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

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The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

Bee-Loved Plants in Flower

The garden’s fading. Dry. Few bees. But on the shady side of the public zigzag, a little group of sunflowers.

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The bergamot and the thyme are growing well out there too, in a shady spot by the path. But not flowering yet.

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a volunteer parsley plant there on the right

Some hyssop is flowering at last. But it’s not healthy, in the kitchen garden or out on the zigzag.  A small insect eats at its leaves I think and it may have needed more water. Can’t see myself gathering enough to make a drink for wintry coughs.

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ratty hyssop

The plants in my pots are healthy though, waiting for their next date at the postponed fair, at the end of the month. One of them’s flown to Nelson.

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I love it when the plants go somewhere else. They often do much better in their new homes. On the other side of town, a bergamot from an earlier seeding is looking gorgeous.

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photo: Rachel Watt

The Boys & The Bees at the Natural History Museum

Jake and James at the Natural History museum
Jake and James at the Natural History museum, reading that ‘ nearly one third of all the food we eat depends on pollination by bees’

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you may remember two beautiful boys and their tomatoes– James and Jake, my grandsons who live in England, near Oxford. It’s winter there now, of course. Not much to do in their garden. So it’s lego and  library times. Museums.

And their dad, Alex, took them to the Natural History Museum in Oxford, where they read about bees. And saw bees at work, European Honey Bees – apis mellifera.

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James watching the hive

The hive was hand-built especially for the museum. It has a  tube leading to the outside world, purpose-fitted with a perspex lid so that visitors can watch the bees coming and going.

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James and the tube

The queen bee has been marked with a green spot on her back to help people identify her in the hive (but I can’t see her in this image from the museum itself).

Bees in the honeycomb

I imagine that the boys saw the attendant ring of bees that tend the queen bee constantly and watched bees storing the pollen inside the hive, to feed the larvae. They also saw extra information on the walls, like this–

the architectural

I especially like this chart of British bees. Males on the left, females on the right. There are 264 species, much more diversity than we get in New Zealand–

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I love the names of this group. Buff-tailed bumble bee. Cuckoo bumble bee. Longhorn bee. Nomad cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the mining bee). Brush-legged mining bee. Rose leaf-cutter bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. Carder bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. red-tailed cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the Red-tailed bumble bee).  Lawn bee. Sweat bee. Cuckoo sweat bee. Flower bee. Honey bee. Cuckoo flower bee.

And here’s a fact that’s new to me: most bees are solitary. Only 3% of the world’s bee species are social.

According to the museum’s website, its hive–

Eventually…will have speakers so that people can hear the bees at work in the hive. The area directly outside the windows is being developed into a mini rooftop garden with large barrel planters containing some of the bees’ favourite flowers such as thyme and lavender.

I’m delighted that Alex sent me these pics of the boys learning about bees.

London’s  Natural History Museum has got something similar and some good bee information for us all, among their web pages–

Honey bees: What’s all the buzz about? 
British bumble bee identification guide
The museum’s Bee Tree (yes!)

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bees in London Natural History Museum Bee Tree

The hive in Oxford and London’s Bee Tree installation have to be must-sees for anyone travelling with children. And for the rest of us. I hope they’re in all the guide books!

Back to bee-loved plants in New Zealand in my next post. More flowering. And too much heat, not enough rain.

P.S. For you especially, Jake and James. London’s new Bee Tree being installed.

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The hive in the new tree.

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And the door to the hive.

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A treat to come, perhaps?

The Bee-Loved Flowers Are Growing & So Are The Conversations

I had NO IDEA that growing beeloved flowers would stimulate so many conversations. Not always about bees.

On the zigzag the conversations are with passersby. Some I know. Some I don’t.  Sometimes I’m happy to chat. Sometimes I’m not.  And I loved it when a strong and chatty house guest dug a trench for me,  in a clayey zigzag spot, for the sunflowers which I should’ve transplanted weeks ago. You can see they’re not that happy, a week later. But today it’s raining steadily. That may help.

sunflowers on zigzag, with woollen weed mat (to be continued)

I left the rest of the group in my back garden where they flourish.

sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left
sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left

I loved it on the zigzag when an old acquaintance passed by and said he’d like a  parsley patch. So when the sunflowers were in, in front of them I planted a group of volunteer tomatoes a neighbour donated, some Black From Tula toms that I’d left far too long in their pots, some phacelia that the birds – or a cat frustrated by the netting on the backyard garden – immediately scratched up. And at the very front, next to the zigzag path, a little patch of small parsleys and a few calendulas.

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part of the parsley & calendula patch

I also have conversations with people who are growing tiny plants from here, at their place.

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I’ve lost track…

This picture came in a tweet, in a little group of tweets from one household–

I’ve lost track of what some of these plants are… Also, I tried three of the toms hanging from buckets but I didn’t get their roots in far enough so had to replant them more normally.

I looked at this herb, growing on a sunny windowsill I’m familiar with. It’s grown more quickly than most of my own herbs sown from the same seeds at the same time. But all their labels blew away when they were seedlings. What is it?

I know it’s not thyme. There are thyme, hyssop and bergamot babies in my garden. I sowed two kinds of bergamot, bergamot bee balm and bergamot lemon but they and the hyssop are new to me. Thyme’s the only one I’m sure of, by look and smell and taste.

Thyme and bergamot?
thyme (left) with bergamot or hyssop

Is that plant on the windowsill anise hyssop? Maybe.

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anise hyssop

Is it bergamot? Also maybe. See how it has serrated leaves too? Do you know what the plants on the windowsill are? Please feel free to let me know–

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bergamot

Like hyssop, bergamot is an aromatic perennial herb. It’s also thought to be a good companion to tomato plants. So I hope  those little plants in the sunny window are bergamot and will  join the now-flourishing tomato plants in my friends’ also-sunny garden. And that they will flower soon and feed many bees.

Via email, I have another conversation,  with my mate who identified shepherd’s purse on the zigzag. We swapped bean seeds last year. My bordoloi for her scarlet runners. And both are going great at her place.  She sent me some photos. A bordoloi already–

the first bordoloi
the first bordoloi

And lots of scarlet runner flowers.

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scarlet runner flowers

I gave her a Florence ribbed courgette too. Like mine, it’s looking good. Well on the way.

Florence courgette
Florence courgette

And as for the bees, they’re regularly on this little path leading from my place to the zigzag, more bumbles than honey bees.

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single wild sweet pea, dandelion, alyssum, giant pink Palestine stock, more alyssum, daisy or two, calendula, borage on the left, geranium, red wheelbarrow and lavender on the right

(I’ve learned now that bees stay away from geranium, so it’s a good plant to establish around places we want bees to avoid, like a child’s sandpit. I’m keeping mine here by the mailbox, as a courtesy towards the posties.)

AND, for the first time, I’ve  seen a (bumble) bee on the zigzag. It alighted on this forget-me-not, near the new tomato plants.

yay this random, volunteer, forget-me-not
yay this random volunteer forget-me-not

Plant Progress

Out at Kapiti, the label sticks blew off the seedlings. So I have anonymous seedlings.

There are too many in each little organic pot, too, even though we sowed some of them one-by-one, with tweezers. This is how they looked last week–

lots of little ones

And they’re not growing quickly. Even when I transfer them to bigger pots. But some of their leaves are differentiating more. That’s fabulous. But because my only pictures of them are of their flowers, I don’t know what the leaves mean.

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Except for the basil. Those are the bigger seedlings in the round pots below.

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The single seedling in the big round pot at the top of the image is a courgette.

Someone told me that if we cut off the top and bottom of a used tin and place it over a vulnerable-to-slugs plant, slugs will stay away. So that courgette is sitting inside its tin-frame, inside its biodegradable pot, so it will be safe (I hope) when a friend takes it home.

I think the tiniest seedlings are thyme, which took a while to germinate. A bit like parsley, which I know takes AGES.

Bee-Loved Flowers

I worry about bees. In my garden, a wild bee is a rarity. Each year there are fewer honey bees and there are more and more bumble bees, which tend to damage the blossom on my fruit trees and beans.

When I learned that most flowering plants are grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids, neuro-active insecticides that reach flowers and harm foraging bees, I decided to grow more flowering plants. Bee-loved and SAFE,  from seeds without neonicotinoids, where possible heritage seeds and open pollinated seeds that will then provide more ‘safe’ seeds and plants. To distribute as widely as possible. Let me know if you’d like some.

bumble bee in the borage on this windy spring morning when I'll never see a honey bee
A bumble bee in the Borage on this windy spring morning, when I’ll never see a honey bee – they hate the wind

I already have Calendula and Borage. Alyssum. Poppies. Evening Primrose. Italian Parsley and other flowering herbs-to-cook-with. All self sown in my garden, which has been spray-free for almost 35 years. And some plants from the organic shop. Lavender. Rosemary. But now I’m adding others, from Koanga Institute and  King’s Seeds– Peony Black Poppy, Hyssop, Wild Thyme, Bee Balm Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, Lemon Bergamot, Cornflowers. My Sunflower seeds from last year have already sprouted.

And my mates are helping me. They live on the Kapiti Coast, where it’s warmer and their garden gets more sun. Yesterday, one mate brought the  first batch of seedlings into town. I met them at the station and it felt like meeting a new baby.

the seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels
first seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels

After that, to celebrate, we went to French Can Can, the best-ever Wellington cafe for French savouries and cakes. The boss, Eric Hauser, has TWO Michelin stars. And it shows.

French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington
French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington

One of us had a quiche and a mille-feuille with coffee, the other an amazing little chocolate friand-like cake, filled with a delicious gooey chocolate and raspberry sauce, with a pot of tea. The tea came with a three minute tea timer, so the tea drinker could be sure to get some anti-oxidants. Then I took the baby plants home to meet the tomato seedlings.

Welcome to the world, baby plants!

borage and calendula from heritage and untreated seeds, waiting to welcome the bees
Borage and Calendula from untreated heritage seeds, waiting to welcome the bees