BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


bees


  • The Bees

    Thyme flowers with many bees

    There are about five bees here, all enjoying yesterdays sunshine. There are three carder bees and two white-tailed bumble bees.

    hairy-footed flower bee

    I’m think this is a hairy-footed flower bee.

    I suspect there may be miner bees here too. We used to have them in our walls a few years ago, and they were quite disconcerting as they headed for the cracks round the windows. They were surprisingly noisy too. They aren’t nesting there now, but we have plenty of other places for them to hide.

    We have done very well for bees for the last few years, and exceptionally well this year. I was telling myself that thirty-seven years of organic gardening had paid off, but I caught a glimpse of a deer on the river bank and an awful thought occurred to me. The deer are coming closer because they are running out of wilder places to be. What if the bees are here, not because our garden is quite friendly, but because everywhere else is so barren?

    I’m not giving in to this thought, however. Plenty of people in the village and more across the river, are planting bee friendly plants (there’s a new wildflower meadow germinating in one previously well-manicured lawn) and feeding birds. There’s someone nearby who rears thousands of peacock butterflies and releases them each year. The farmer has planted trees along the edges of the road, and the council are much less fanatical about mowing the verges, so we have had a lot of cow parsley this year.

    verge with cow parsley

    The biggest change is the birds. Twenty years ago you could walk along the road into the village past the fields and hear nothing but the occasional jackdaw, or sometimes skylarks. Then you would come into the village and it was like turning the radio on, as birds were in every garden. Now we have plenty of skylarks – I’m promising myself to go out and record their songs one evening when the rain stops – more swallows than ever zipping across the road in front of you, and a lot of these:

    goldfinch in a birch tree
    goldfinch

    They are everywhere. It’s not all good news. We don’t see half the curlews flying over that we used to, and there are no lapwings at all. But good things are happening – not enough, I admit, and there are many setbacks – but there is enough good to encourage us, enough of a nucleus to build on. The sound of bees in my garden is like a spring of hope.


  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 37 – Honeysuckle

    honeysuckletreeIsn’t this fabulous? It isn’t, needless to say, growing in my garden, but on a path near Ben Ledi, and it wasn’t taken this year, but in 2009, but it’s what I aspire to! Honeysuckle can be a bit of a thug in a hedge, growing wildly and twining everywhere and choking the life out of anything small and delicate and vulnerable, but it is so beautiful, so wonderfully coloured and so sweetly scented that you’d forgive it anything. Wild honeysuckle is mostly an elegant cream and gold, but this is a cultivar ‘serotina’ – the late Dutch honeysuckle.

    honeysuckle

    It is in flower for a long time, beginning early in June in the wild, and lasting well into October in my garden. Butterflies like it, and bees, as there is a lot of nectar in those long elegant tubular petals. It is recommended for drying and including in pot pourri, but I’ve never found that the scent survives. You can steep the flowers in oil for scent, or in syrup to make a soothing remedy for coughs – it was especially recommended for asthma or nervous headaches. However, as it also has a reputation for being an emetic, maybe this advice should be followed with caution. And although birds seem to like them, the berries are definitely poisonous, so beware.

    The long stems have been used twisted together to make baskets. In the past I have used them for centrepieces at Christmas, and this year I made a herb dryer from it:herbs dryingI’m saving acorns and pine cones and other autumnal goodies to spray with gold paint, and then my grand-daughter and I will combine them with holly leaves and pine branches to make a wreath for our Christmas front door.


  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 36 – Poppy

    poppyOne poppy! But opium poppies seem to bloom like this – no matter how many plants you have, you mostly get one bloom at a  time, for months.

    There are, of course, many varieties of poppy – the red field poppy, which has long narrow seedpods, whose seeds don’t seem up to much, (though I have found references to them being ground to make a substitute for olive oil), the big blousy oriental poppies, who don’t set useful seed at all, but which spread via their thick roots so they can be as persistent as ground elder, and the Wesh poppypoppybeewhich isn’t even the same botanical family, being a meconopsis not a papaver. No herbal uses are recorded for this plant, which also comes in a gentle orange, and seeds itself everywhere, but bees like it, and I do too. No, the one you want for edible seeds is papaver somniferum.

    Poppy has a very dubious reputation in folklore. Children were discouraged from picking them by the warning that it could bring on headaches, thunderstorms or blindness. Because it is called the opium poppy, and has been used for making all kinds of narcotics from laudanum and morphine to heroin, people have sometimes tried to change the name of this plant – the breadseed poppy, mawseed, white poppy, and so on. And it’s important to point out that every part of this plant except the RIPE seeds is poisonous. But you can’t make drugs out of poppy seeds in a domestic kitchen, thank goodness, while you can dry the RIPE seeds and use them in baking.

    And of course you can pick those pretty seedheads and put them in vases without water, when they will keep that sophisticated blue-green colour indefinitely. I’m thinking of spraying some with gold paint to use as Christmas decorations too.poppyhead



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