Bug Hotels

Bug Hotels

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones. What a radical concept these are for gardeners of the 21st century! For years we have been concerned with a fight against ‘pests’ that have munched all the new fresh green shoots on our plants, laid eggs on their leaves to ensure that hatching larvae would have a good meal, and burrowed into the earth chopping off each new seedling as it emerged. Then there were suggestions about which pesticide or herbicide or insecticide was suitable to combat these enemies – numerous poisons were developed to ensure that our plants survived and flourished in the 20th century. Gradually a suspicion developed that perhaps all these pesticides, herbicides and insecticides were having a detrimental effect on the wider ecology of our planet. Various alternative recipes were circulated to deter pests without harming the earth. Then – shock/horror – there was the suggestion that poisons were actually harming the ‘good’ insects i.e. the pollinators like bees, butterflies, flies, wasps etc. which the human race needs in order to survive, as they ensure that the plants we eat continue growing. Gardening books, websites and blogs suddenly became full of articles about how to attract ‘good’ insects to our gardens, while still suggesting ways of dealing with ‘bad’ insects. Now suddenly 21st century ecologists are telling us that there has been a significant decline in the number of flying insects over the last 20 years – declines of 76-82% in Europe – who knows what these percentages are in Africa? These insects are pollinators; or insects eaten by pollinators like birds; or insects eaten by other insects etc. All are vital in preserving the food chain. So now gardeners are being asked and pleaded with to build ‘bug hotels’ in their gardens to help insects survive. There are websites and numerous photos on the internet of designs for bug hotels; how to interest your children and grandchildren in making bug hotels; plans for trendy ‘designer’ bug hotels to enhance your garden. Please bugs, come back to our gardens – all is forgiven – you may eat some plants as long as you continue pollinating our plants so that the human race can survive. Why have insects declined? Some blame pesticides; some say monoculture; some say development of wilderness areas; some say sterile, bleak gardens with no place to hide. Clearly insects prefer untidy gardens, but if you prefer a neat, excessively tidy garden – please build a bug hotel. You will be contributing to the survival of the planet as well as to the lives of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click...

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A Bee Friendly Garden

A Bee Friendly Garden

Life is a Garden > Responsible Gardening > Insects and Other Visitors > A Bee Friendly Garden Recent research tells us that natural homes for bees are becoming less in abundance. Which means that planting a bee-friendly garden should become a priority when planning one.  Interestingly enough, bee-friendly gardens also contribute to increasing bee varieties. If you are considering planting a vegetable patch, another bonus you can look forward to is a bountiful harvest of vegetables as much of the heavy work of pollinating vegetable crops is done by honey bees. If you have a garden already and would like to start creating a bee-friendly haven, then doing so isn’t as complicated as you may think. Here are a few tips which will assist you in your quest to positively impact the environment: Choose plants that attract bees: This is fairly self-explanatory but there are certain plants that are more attractive to bees than others. These plants include the likes of basil, sage, thyme, lavender, watermelons, cucumbers and pumpkin. Group the same plants together: If you have the space, try to plant at least one square metre of the same type of plant together. Pick plants with long blooming cycles: This will keep the bees coming back to your garden. Let your plants flower: Leave the flowers on your plants, this will allow the honeybees to get the pollen and nectar they need. Fresh water source: Any shallow water source will do; a bird bath, a waterfall, a pool or even newly watered potted plants are good for bees. No pesticides or other chemicals: Most chemicals are toxic to bees, so when in doubt, rather leave it out. Weeds: Flowering weeds are very important food sources for bees. Your local GCA garden centre has a full range of products for all your bee gardening needs which ranges from hose pipes, spades, rakes, pruning sets, pot plants, soil and seeds to name but a few. Interesting bee facts – reference:  Buzzaboutbees.net To produce a pound of honey, foraging bees have to fly around a whopping 88,500 kilometers That’s a lot of honey bees, working very hard, because each honey bee will only produce around one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its life! That’s despite the fact that a foraging honey bee visits up to 100 flowers – per foraging trip Honey is the only food made by an insect, and eaten by both the insect and humans Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

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Attracting sunbirds.

Attracting sunbirds.

South Africa has many species of sunbirds. The beaks of these energetic little creatures are specially adapted to feed from tubular flowers.  Their  long  thin curved bills  can reach the nectar deep down in the flowers. Plant genera that attract Sunbirds include Agapanthus, Erica, Kniphofia, Leonotus, Tecoma, Wachendorfia and Protea species. Agapanthus “Alice Double” and Agapanthus praecox Blue are coming into flower now, but generally speaking, red and orange flowers are  more attractive to sunbirds.  But these tiny creatures are quite opportunistic and will feed on any nectar producing tubular flower. The easiest plants to grow that attract sunbirds is Leonotus species such as Leonotus leonorus and Leonotus ocymifolia. These plants are fast growing and they do not require much attention, so they are perfect for the gardener that has a bit of a brown thumb. Tecomaria capensis varieties are easy to look after too, they are hardy and very rewarding. These include  Tecomaria capensis “Rocky Horror”, which should be particularly attractive to sunbirds because of its deep red colour, Tecomaria capensis “Burnt Orange” and Tecomaria capensis “Pink Blush”. Kniphofia uvaria and Wachendorfia thyrsifolia  are bulbous plants and  are just as attractive to sunbirds with their orange and yellow flowers. You can also make your garden even more attractive to sunbirds by adding a birdbath. The main attraction will however be your plants, so be sure to  get some plants now that they can be well established by the time sunbirds decide to visit your corner of our beautiful country.   Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

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Beautiful but Invasive.

Beautiful but Invasive.

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones Once upon a time, many years ago, a young man arrived in Cape Town to run an apothecary shop for a physician. He was ambitious and worked hard, and then married a wealthy widow who owned a lucrative tobacconist shop in what is now St George’s Street – a most desirable address and business. Their business prospered and the now not so young man, Carl Ludwig, had the leisure time and interest to become involved in the intellectual life of Cape Town. His favourite interest was collecting plants as well as birds and insects, which he sent to Stuttgart, in his home country. He then purchased three acres of ground in what is now Tamboers Kloof in Cape Town, where he established a garden. He collected local indigenous species, (incidentally becoming friendly with George Rex during his collecting trips to the Eastern Cape) exchanged plants and seeds with Kew Gardens, and also imported over 1,600 plants and trees from other countries. Two of the trees imported from South America, to great acclaim at the time because of their beauty and delightful scent, have nearly 200 years later become problematic. And yet today when it is suggested that they should be removed, the excuse is ‘Oh but their flowers are so beautiful!’ or; ‘But, they have such a gorgeous scent!’ You may have guessed that one of the trees was the stunning Jacaranda mimosifolia, one of our best loved street trees, particularly in Pretoria, with its spectacular mauvish-blue flowers. This tree is now listed as an invasive alien as it competes with and replaces indigenous trees and when planted near rivers is likely to impact on the flow of water in our seriously parched land. It is a particular problem in the northern provinces and must be controlled if growing near rivers and certainly no new trees should be planted. A beautiful indigenous alternative is the deciduous Tree wisteria or Bolusanthus speciosus which also has blue-mauve, fragrant, pea-like flowers in spring and early summer. The Tree wisteria has a non-invasive root system and doesn’t get too big for a medium or small garden. The other problem tree introduced by Carl Ludwig is the Cestrum nocturnum or Queen of the Night. Its only redeeming feature is the scent of its night-time blooming flowers. Its seeds are easily spread by birds and water and the plants grow quickly – invading the fringes of large gardens, suburban verges, rural lands and coastal forests. All parts of the trees are poisonous and in rural areas it has become a major problem as it is poisonous to livestock particularly cattle.  It has a deep and persistent tap root which inhibits its removal....

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Survivors of the Fire.

Survivors of the Fire.

The pictures below show the destruction of all vegetation and buildings, yet amongst the debris new life has emerged after three months. The stems are blackened and charred, but the new leaves stand proud and defiant.   Cycads have survived for over 50 million years with little change in their basic character.  Neither fire or drought presents any real danger to their survival, only man. Once found worldwide, they now grow only in tropical and subtropical regions: Florida and the New World tropics, southern Africa, south and east Asia, Australia and the South Pacific. Some of the 250 living species are relatively common, others endangered. These pioneers may have invented some of the fundamental relationships between plants and other organisms: symbiosis, pollination, seed dispersal. And they may have been among the first to evolve toxins to defend their leaves and seeds from animals. Cycads formed a partnership with nitrogen-fixing bacteria long before beans and other modern plants followed suit. The bacteria colonize special coralloid roots that grow to the soil surface. The nitrogen they provide helps their hosts persist in nutrient-poor environments. Temperature fluctuation was probably the most testing factor in the earlier phase of survival and species today suffer less permanent damage than most other plants under wide fluctuations of temperature. After the evolution and spread of the grasses and the advent of generally drier conditions within the environment, Cycads were put to the critical test of fire. To meet this new hazard, the stems of Encephalartos species already possessed the protection of persistent leaf-bases and scales to a thickness of 2 – 7.3cm.  This protective covering has withstood the test of fire periodically for many centuries. As with many perennial herbs and bulbs in grassland, fire may now act as a stimulus to fresh growth. This is illustrated by an account by Mr. V. L. Pringle of Bedford in the Cape Province:—“ I have been very interested this season in the behaviour of the Cycads (Encephalartos cycadifolius) which grow in these mountains. In August lastyear I burnt down some stretches in the mountain which had become overgrown with coarse grass and all the Cycads, of which there are hundreds, had their leaves burnt off. They soon came out in full leaf and are now looking better than ever before—and there is scarcely one in hundreds which has not fruited. I notice that where others grow, which were not burnt, there is no sign of any fruit as yet. The good rains at the end of July might have helped them but it has been dry through September-October-November. The only explanation which I can see is that the burning has stimulated the plants ” . Here it may...

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