Saturday, 10 March 2012


The clocks will be changing soon to officially welcome in British Summer Time. But, the birds and the bees have been feeling nature’s wake up calls for some time... The earliest flowers are here already and none is more welcome to hungry honey bees than the springtime crocus.

It is the larger ‘dutch’ crocus, out now in our gardens, that consistently bring bees out from their six month confinement to enjoy the first of the new season’s fresh nectar. Hidden away in their hives since the last, late ivy flowers of autumn, they have eaten their way through much of their winter honey store and need to replenish stocks fast. 

These crocus also give copious quantities of rich orange pollen, high protein food for the growing, baby bees... The colonies are rapidly expanding and have upwards of 500 extra mouths to feed every day.

I kept forty hives once, whose million busy inhabitants brought me in over a ton of delicious honey a year. But, now I just admire the industry and activities of a thriving wild swarm which took up residence in an old chimney at Levens Hall. 

Bees generally may have struggled in recent years, but we can all do our best for them in the garden by planting some dependable and delightful springtime crocus.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Spring for many has begun and includes in full all the months of March, April and May, but for more traditional calendar watchers it has yet to start with the ‘vernal equinox’ of 20th March. Here at Levens however, we make the break with winter this weekend as our first seedlings sown a while back under glass begin to germinate. It is with their magical emergence that we celebrate the arrival of new life and the new season.

Its cold still out in the garden, but things are stirring there too. As the days slowly lengthen, plants sense it and take their place in the annual sequence of bud-break and flower as in time, their turn comes.

Eagerly away is the first of our crocus, the wonderful Crocus tommasinianus. Sometimes known as ‘snow crocus’ for their earliness, or simply nicknamed ‘Tommies’, they carpet the grass in sheets of colour across our riverside lawns. 

Individual flowers are held high on slender stems, tissue thin petals an iridescent, cobalt lavender surrounding contrasting orange anthers. When warmed by spring sunshine, they are a favorite destination for bees, eager for fresh pollen after their long winter’s rest.

They look wonderfully natural in huge drifts across short turf, and where happy self-seed easily and spread freely, an exciting opener for spring....

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