The arrival of the butterfly!

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Working in a greenhouse means that you warm up quickly - you go in wearing long sleeves in the morning, but soon find the layers coming off once the spring sun’s rays stream though the glass panes. One morning this week, while working upon a bench arranging freshly potted salvias, a flickering, magical shadow bounced around which made my head look up instantly trying to spot it's maker.

This shadow was one of a butterfly. After glancing up there was indeed a freshly woken up peacock butterfly - it's beautiful undamaged virgin wings glistening in the sun. As the vents open and close daily I was not sure if it had fluttered in or if it had been asleep somewhere within the greenhouse awoken by the rising temperature, but for the past week it has been flitting about feeding upon the lavenders – it certainly won’t find any of those outside at this time of year!

Peacock butterfly rests on greenhouse fan

Despite worrying news that honey bees as well as wild bumblebees are being harboured by a virus, and talk of wing deformities, the word on the street is that last year’s hot summer has done our British butterflies the world of good and populations this year are expected to be high in number! If Madam Peacock does not find her own way out I think I will have to gently catch her and release her so she can go and court the other emerging butterflies and enjoy the magnolias which are blooming already here in London.

Wallflowers are also just starting to bloom and a bed of them I observed to be buzzing with honey bees last weekend in St James park. Camellias are coming out in force too now, my favourites are the rich, single flowering velvet reds they are surely the royal bloom  of spring. What's your favourite spring flower?

Honey bee feeds upon wallflower Camellia japonica

We are sowing the first of the summer bedding at work, and I am pleased to say the first seeds are beloved of pollinators, the once popular Victorian bedding plant – Heliotrope ‘Marine’.  This plant native to Peru and prized for its deep blue highly scented flowering clusters, is rich in pollen and nectar but is seldom seen in bedding displays, so I'm very glad to be growing it although I hope its germination does not prove to be too erratic!

Heliotrope marine in bloom

Because of this factor at home I buy the plants in, you can order plugs now from Sarah Raven. Choose them as your container plant of choice this year and you’ll be wanting it for years after – beautiful and not seen as much as it deserves to be, and you’ll be helping out the pollinators too – that’s what planting for bees and butterflies should be and can be about – planting something beautiful for you to look and enjoy while planting something rich in nectar and pollen for them.

I'm not going back home to Nottingham until the first weekend of April and that is going to be my mega seed and tuber planting weekend – here in the south you can start to sow things earlier but in the north we are a good 2-3 weeks behind. It amazes me when I go home and see how far plants are behind those in the south, it makes you realize impacts micro climates have upon gardens.

Daffodils and Hellebores

A little ending piece for hen keepers now!

A salmon faverolle rooster  - a French breed- guards his hen house!

Those of you with poultry hopefully with the recent sunny days you will be seeing more bountiful nesting boxes of freshly laid eggs to collect, but with the mild winter it's important to ensure the hen house is free from the blood sucking parasitic red mite.

The red mite is very tiny but not totally invisible to the human eye. They like dark places such as  under the perches. Red mites can quickly plague a hen-house causing hens to look dull and perplexed, in very bad cases hens may not wish to go into the hen house, hens will stop laying eggs and you may feel the mites causing an itchy sensation upon you after you have entered the hen house!  Unlike fleas they can only live off birds.

Luckily there are a number of products to combat the red mite these include - diatomaceous earth which is fossilised remains of hard shelled algae its jagged microscopic particles damage the mite’s exoskeleton causing them to dehydrate and die! This is the most ‘organic’ of treatments. It comes in a powder and can be mixed into poultry bedding or into dry sand which the hens will then dust bath in and get it right into their feathers helping to combat other lice and mites they can be affected by. Sprinkle it all over the hen house too on a weekly basis. Apparently you can blend up garlic and lemons up to a pulp, dilute it and spray it all over the hen house too as the mites don’t like this! If you find a bunch of red mites in a corner then cover them with washing up liquid!

If your hen house is really infested then you may need to remove your hens and blow torch the whole place along with several sprays of jays fluid and the household cleaning products such as Dettol but the birds cannot remain within it if you use powerful products such as these – with red mite vigilance is key it’s one of those pests that once it’s found is very hard to totally eradicate but with good husbandry populations can be kept very much to a minimum and your hens will remain happy and healthy.

Happy gardening and hen keeping!

All the best,