Our biggest success

On the corner of Cheshire Street and Kerbela Street, right opposite where Yummy’s Cafe used to be, is our most successfully integrated planting site:

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A great mass of lavender, where there used to be nothing except litter and weeds. There’s still a tiny patch of weeds to the right of this image, but they’ll soon be edged out by the bulk of the lavender.

Here’s how the patch looked just after planting, back in December 2012:

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The lavender has really taken over. All this summer, the flowers have been covered in bees, and even now, in the second half of August, you can find some tenacious honey bees hanging around for some late season food:

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Late season bumble bees

It’s getting on towards the end of August, but the bumble bees are hanging on:

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The smaller honey bees have all but gone now. The lavender flowers are thinning out, and food is getting scarcer. Some of the lavender plants have still got a fair few flower heads, whereas some of the lavender varieties had completely gone to seed as early as the first half of July:

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It just reinforces the importances of a staggered season. As for the bumble bees, we’ll keep an eye out and see how long they manage to hang on…

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Successful integration

Here’s one of the better established of our bee-friendly planting sites:

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Note how it has been trimmed by the council gardeners into a hedge around the metal fence. We’ve discovered that one of the hardest things for our plantings is to become ‘accepted’ into the general landscape of the council tended borders. Sometimes they’re grubbed up or weedkillered to death before they can reach this point. The battle for the plants is to get a foothold and grow large enough that they become part of the established flora of the area.

In the case of this border, it’s become a real feature of the street: it’s full of blooms and humming with bees…

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And here’s another (much smaller) patch that seems to have got a foothold:

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Hopefully next year – if it can last that long without being weeded up, or scuffed out by car tyres – it will get some size.

 

 

White Lavender & Richard Gray

Here’s a bumble bee enjoying some late-season white lavender:

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White lavender gets an honourable mention in a 2012 Daily Telegraph article about bee-friendly plants, citing research by the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex:

The best plants are the Mexican giant hyssop, which was particularly good for bumblebees, while borage was best for honeybees and lilac sage was second best. Wild marjoram and Greek Origanum were found to be most attractive to wild solitary bees. Lavenders such as the white Lavender edelweiss and the blue lavender grossblau were also good for attracting the insects.

The article is by the paper’s science correspondent, Richard Gray – which, coincidentally, is the name of a species of lavender that we have been planting in Tower Hamlets: Lavandula × chaytoriae, ‘Richard Gray‘. Here’s a photo of lavender ‘Richard Gray’, from the RHS website:

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In the coming planting season, we’ll hopefully find space for plenty more ‘Richard Gray’, with some Mexican giant hyssop for good measure.

Neglected planting site

Here’s what happens when you don’t stay on top of a lavender patch:

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The weeds come in, and the lavender suffers. We’ve left this patch alone, as an experiment, to see if a local resident or council gardener might tidy it up. Sadly, no one has.

Here’s how this patch looked in neater days, back when it was planted – in December 2012:

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The lavender is still struggling a little to get established. We’ll wait until the end of the summer and fill up the gaps with new plants for next season. Hopefully force out the weeds by sheer force of lavender, and have it looking a less straggly and bare:

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Maybe we’ll take the opportunity to mingle in couple of different varieties, to extend the bee-feeding season of this patch.

 

A different kind of bee

Spotted hanging around the lavender, an unusual bee:

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A bit smaller than the average bumble bee, and with a distinctive dark dot at the centre of hits back.

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We’ve seen this species of bee on a couple of occasions; it seems relatively rare.

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We think it might be the ‘Tree Bumble Bee’, first spotted in the UK in 2001. More info here.

A touch of yellow

We spotted this yellower-than-usual bumble bee out on some lavender:

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It has a white tail, but more yellow on the thorax and abdomen than the bumble bees we’re used to seeing:

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Is it perhaps a pale example of the The white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a useful chart for comparison. And from that chart, here’s Bombus lucorum:

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Messy eater

A messier bumble bee than this we’ve never seen:

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Covered from head-to-foot in pollen, it must have been having a whale of a time wherever it was feasting before it turned up on this bit of lavender:

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Here’s a reminder about dwindling bumble bee food from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust:

it has been estimated that we have lost 97% of our flower-rich grassland since the 1930s. As bees rely entirely upon flowers for food, it is unsurprising that their populations began to rapidly decline in most places.

Loving the ragwort

Tucked away on some weed-covered wasteland, we noticed this: a bumble bee on some common ragwort.

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Bees and insects love ragwort, but gardeners and livestock don’t. It’s poisonous to horses, and earns a mention in the Noxious Weeds Act, 1936. Other names for the common ragwort include: Bowlocks, Devildrums, Dog-stalk,  Stinking-Davies and the charming Stinking Nanny. Not that bees care whether it stinks to high heaven or if the devil uses it as a drum. They adore it, plain and simple.

Bees aren’t the only feeders

Spotted on a prong of lavender, a cabbage white butterfly:

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Although it’s beloved by bees, the lavender supports other insects as well. And because each prong doesn’t flower all at once, even a single lavender bush has a staggered season.