These are the new generation of virgin queens emerging from the nests. Their mission is twofold. They must mate, and they must feed to build themselves up in preparation for hibernation. We tend to associate hibernation with the depths of winter, but bumblebee queens will hibernate from late summer. They can remain in hibernation for up to nine months, so they must build up substantial reserves to survive. It is thought this long hibernation is to protect them from predation and disease. They hibernate in the ground and prefer north-facing banks where temperatures are stable, and there is less risk of flooding. If you look at the information hut in the bumblebee garden you will see an area of rough grass on the bank to your right. This is north-west facing and has been left uncultivated in the hope that it will provide a safe nesting site.
There is no doubt that the star performer in the garden at the moment is the lavender edging. This is lavender ‘Grosso’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’ to be precise). Grosso is a large and robust variety with fat, dark purple heads which yield a heavy crop of oil. Indeed, it is grown commercially for the production of lavender oil. The reason for selecting it for the bumblebee garden was, however, simply that it was the only variety available in sufficient quantity at the time we wanted to plant. A close second in the flower stakes are Malope ‘Vulcan’, pictured here with Lupinus ‘the Chatelaine’ and Centranthus ruber. Vulcan is an annual with big silky, crimson flowers. It’s easy to grow and self-seeds gently