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The Bumblebee Blog - Part 14

Welcome to the latest instalment of the Bumble Blog written by the Nursery gardener, Becky Martin.

There is a distinct feeling of autumn in the air now. The lavender is still alive with bumblebees though it has lost most of its colour. The rose Blue for You is producing another flush of blooms in the central circular bed and is showing itself well above the nepeta which is still relatively low after having been cut back hard. The sweet peas are finished, apart from Matucana which is still making new flowers. They have not performed well on the obelisks this year. It may be time for a change.

There are several newcomers in the garden. Eupatorium maculatum ‘Riesenschirm’ is a very useful late summer perennial loved by all pollinators, including butterflies, and easy to grow. Riesenschirm means giant umbrella, and giant it is, reaching 6-8 foot tall in ideal conditions. It remains upright without staking and makes a valuable structural contribution to the border with deep pink heads of flowers. Eucomis bicolor, or pineapple lily, is an entirely different sort of plant. It is a South African bulb which gets its name from the tuft of leaves on top of the flower spike. It looks exotic but is easy to grow. It survives happily outside in Cornwall in a well drained sunny spot, but if your soil is wet it might be wiser to grow it in a pot. It does have one downside, and that is the smell as it goes over. Rotten honey would be a good description.

Many of the children visiting the bumblebee garden are noticing dead and dying bees on the ground and wanting to help, or rescue them. Unfortunately this is part of their natural life cycle. Apart from the new queens, they will all die as summer ends. It is sad to watch them busily buzzing amongst the flowers, collecting nectar and moving pollen from one bloom to another. They work so hard, unaware of their impending demise. The new queens will be equally busy fattening themselves up in preparation for hibernation. Before they leave the safety of their birth nests, they will be gorging on food brought in by their sister workers. After she leaves the nest and mates, she will need to feed herself from nectar and then find a site to spend the winter. Hibernation can last from 5 to 11 months so she will need substantial food stores to survive. She will excavate a 5-15cm deep burrow, ideally in a cold and dry place. It needs to be cold so she does not come out of hibernation prematurely, and a dry site will reduce the risk of fungal diseases. The site could be in a north facing bank, beneath a stone or boulder, under a log, or at the base of a tree. Only about half the queens which hibernate will emerge alive in the spring. Yet another reason for making sure there are ample early flowers to sustain these brave survivors.