January in the East London Bee-Balcony...
First up, I'm open to more catchy names for my little roof-terrace. Calling it a roof-terrace makes it sound much more grand than it actually is, and East London Bee-Balcony is a bit of a mouthful. I've lived here for nearly ten years, and have only recently been thinking of bees rather than Tree in my planting. To be honest, I still don't feel I'm doing enough. Nor am I successful in a number of my endeavours. I hope that makes my blogs on the matter more relatable. If you haven't seen the 'before' and the journey to where I am now, feel free to poke about on my earlier blog 'And so it bee-gins...'
09/01/2020 (Thurs) On the phone to The Mothership, who excitedly tells me about a queen bumblebee she has had visit her cyclamens. Oh no, I don't have those! I am almost overcome with envy, but very pleased for her. I don't even think anything apart from a random nasturtium is actually flowering yet Chez Tree. Eeeeeeep! (For the bee-curious among you, I couldn't work out what the bee was, as she said it had a black bottom - Mummy knows I will ask that - but that it had yellow stripes, so it couldn't be an anthophora plumipes queen. I'm guessing it had a small buff bottom that she didn't spot.)
Some of The Mothership's cyclamens - they like a bit of shade, so this clump is near her fence. You can also see in the background her woodpile for bugs.
10/01/2020 (Fri) I hit up the local supermarket at lunchtime. I found bunches of daffodils for £1 each (not in water - just laying flat on shelves - I wanted to save them all, poor things) so picked up a couple of bunches which were about to flower, and two sets of 3 hyacinths which are also on the cusp, It isn't ideal, but I feIt I needed to put something out there to show willing and give a signal to the local pollinators of things to come.
11/01/2020 (Sat) Aaaah, the weekend! Working full-time means I leave and return when it is still dark during the week, so I can only really potter at weekends. The daffodils are beginning to bloom after receiving some tender words and love from me - and some water, which I'm sure they were most grateful for. Now to assess the state of the garden. Ah... Hmmmmm... Oh my... It is not a pretty sight.
It isn't pretty, but the daffodils and hyacinths are at least out there, indicating to the bees that I've not forgotten about them. What should be a table for entertaining my many illustrious guests (hah!), is currently a platform for assorted horticultural experiments, failures and surprises.
I'd overridden my 'twitchy-eye' urge to tidy up the near-desolate mess, and left things be for the winter. I've read that birds and bugs may benefit from the twiggy, devoid of apparent life, post-apocalyptic landscape that is my garden. How on earth am I going to make a dent in this? And this is only a tiny space! Still though, I yearn for the time I can have my own proper garden. And a dog. Anyway, I make a cuppa and put together some mental notes for what needs to be done.
Cripes, that's an awful lot of twigs! Naturally, I found that a fair few annual plants had expired and there was a lot of pruning to be done. I'm one of those people who is hesitant when cutting back plants, so I'm certainly no expert in this area. I set about my garden with some secateurs, ensuring that anything I cut off, was placed in an accessible pile for insects to make use of/continue living in. It certainly looks much more tidy now, but it is a long way from how it looked last summer.
Planters are now ponds. Stinky ones. Bleh. Most of my planters have drainage holes in them, but I have a set of self-watering troughs, which I used for my tomatoes because I found them to be quite thirsty. The down side however, is that when you get a LOT of rain, there's nowhere for the excess water to go. I like the design but it would be super if they included drainage bungs in them for this scenario.
From time to time I fixate on an idea, and I fear that I'm now going to want to make at least one of these troughs into an area for bog/marginal plants. Nature is clearly hinting at me that I should do this, right? It could make an interesting or amusing blog piece, and I've just stumbled upon this article about bee friendly pond plants by Gardener's World...
By Thor's beard, how is that still alive?! I have learnt that although fruit trees are great for pollinators, they probably aren't going to thrive on my balcony in a small pot. I bought a couple last year (plum and cherry I think) and I thought I had killed them. I was devastated. Upon further inspection, their twiggy carcasses appear to be developing little knobbly bits; could this be proof of life?
When I was making space for my hyacinths, I noticed that my chili plant has new growth on it, despite having been (left to meet its maker) outside over winter. I was shocked and impressed with its determination.
In 2018 I dabbled for the first time in echiums; I planted some echium pininana seeds and entirely forgot about them - in 2019 I had my first beautiful spire of flowers, which the bees just loved. I was so surprised to find that the lower part of last year's spire is still in flower!
One of my allegedly 'annual' nasturtiums has been flowering all through the winter, laughing in the face of what is expected of it. I must say, I'm a little proud. It must get its stubbornness from me.
I also noticed that one of last year's borage plants was growing away quite happily. It was the smaller of a trio in a pot, whose larger siblings have died off - perhaps it now believes it is its time to shine? I'd love some January borage flowers, as I'm sure the bees would too.
Move over 'Baby Yoda', my 'Baby Borage' is one of the cutest things of 2020 so far.
Oh bugger, I thought that would be close to flowering by now. I fear I have let one of my pulmonaria/lungwort plants down by not removing the dead foliage. It isn't as large as I'd hoped, and seems a long way off flowering, despite usually being the first pop of colour I see. I had bought a hellebore for winter/early spring flowering, but as yet there's no indication it is going to come up with the goods any time soon. I have plans this year to increase the amount of winter flowering plants I have, including getting some cyclamens, and people in the bee Facebook group I'm in are often extolling the virtues of mahonia, so I'm going to give that a go too.
Oh, that looks like it may flower soon, hurrah! Once I saw how popular my echium pininana was, I decided to invest in a perennial, bush variety, and picked up an echium candicans towards the middle of last year. Given that I had seemingly killed two fruit trees and things seemed to fare infinitely better without my 'love', I didn't have particularly high hopes for this acquisition. It didn't flower in the months after I bought it, but if I kept it watered, its leaves looked nice enough. Imagine my delight when performing my January garden inspection, to see flashes of colour, indicating that it may imminently grace me with a number of bee-friendly flowers. I can't remember the last time I was quite this excited about one of my plants.
That's nice and green, at least not everything looks dead. The more I poked about, the more I realised that I'd been somewhat harsh with my earlier description of a 'post apocalyptic wasteland'. There was plenty of green around, and even some gorgeous red foliage from one of my hebes. Hebes are another plant/flower that my friends in our bee Facebook group enthuse about, so after a false start in 2017 (I guess I loved it just too much - RIP), I had another try, and bought a couple of varieties, taking care to pick ones which flower at slightly different times, to help provide ongoing interest to my pollinating visitors. They did a great job last year and I look forward to the summer when they'll be flowering again. Even when not in bloom, they look lovely.
I have two ivy plants which provide year-round greenery. I planted them when I first got into bees, after seeing people talk about colletes hederae, the ivy bee. Alas, I need to be patient (which doesn't come naturally to me), as ivy takes years to become established enough to flower. If/when they do though, it should bolster my autumn/winter flowering.
So, after making all these observations I've come up with an action plan. I'm going to:
Finish cutting back anything dead/dying
Buy cyclamens and mahonia to boost my winter/spring flowering
Attempt to make a bog/marginal garden using some of the waterlogged planters
Plant some more of the flowers that really made me (and my bees) happy last year (verbena!)
Rearrange things (because I do that every year, just a bit)
I will of course report back on how I get along, so perhaps my experiences positive or otherwise can serve to help others. I really am keen on the bee-friendly water plant idea so watch this space!