It's spring and the bees are back!

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It’s finally spring and we can just feel the buzz in the air - metaphorically as well as literally!

If you take a quiet walk through the nursery and stop to listen, you can hear the buzz of the bees. They’re back. While we have had the odd forager during the winter months, most of the bees have been staying inside, feeding on their honey reserves until the warm weather returns. These last few weeks, they’ve discovered the flowers of the hellebores, and more recently, they’ve returned to the lavender.

Bees are wonderful creatures - non aggressive little guys with an amazing work ethic. We co-exist with them quite peacefully here where they forage amongst the flowers while we deadhead, prune and fertilise. It’s quite unusual to be stung, and Noel even likes to pat them (although we do not recommend doing this yourself)!

Many people are scared of bees, but we love them and our gardens are so much healthier and more abundant with a thriving bee population. If you are growing veggies in your backyard, bees will most likely be your primary pollinators, so they are essential for a good harvest. On a global scale, it is recognised that bees pollinate around 80% of our food, so these little guys are literally making food to feed the whole world! That’s a pretty important job they have.

Bees are vulnerable and need to be protected

Bees are facing a number of threats to their existence. Pesticide use, honey bee colony collapse, increased use of pesticides, and diseases spread by other insects such as varroa mite, means it’s important we all do our bit in our backyards to try and protect bees.

How can you help?

Limit the amount of pesticides you use. Chemicals can’t differentiate between a good bug and a bad bug. Many beneficial insects also die when we spray to control common pests like aphids, caterpillars, thrips etc.

If possible, try to manage insect outbreaks naturally, or choose the pesticides with lower toxicity levels. Some chemicals are so toxic to bees that they can wipe out a whole hive if an exposed bee takes it back to the colony.

Put a bee bath in your garden. We have bird baths in the nursery filled with ornamental fish. The bees love it! They land on the fish and take a drink. You could try this at home.


It doesn’t have to be a bird bath, it could be a bowl of water with some pebbles in the bottom, or a rock placed in the middle. They just need something they can land on.

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Plant bee attracting flowers. Bees love lavender, catmint, echinacea, hellebores, the flowers of herbs such as oregano, thyme, chives and mint. In the nursery, ur bees are very fond of foraging in the salvias and foxgloves.

Echium candicans, sunflowers and Sedum Autumn Joy make bees go crazy!

Scientists say that the easiest colours for bees to see are purple, violet and blue, followed by yellow and orange.

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Try to plan your garden so you have something flowering for the bees each season.

Planting a bee friendly garden isn’t just good for the bees either. With a variety of flowers blooming and bees happily foraging, your garden will feel alive all year round. And surely that is good for the human inhabitants too!

Let’s talk about dirt!

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Give your soil some TLC

It’s spring!  We all get so excited when the sun comes out and buds seem to appear overnight on our favourite plants.   Sometimes it actually feels like you could sit and watch the grass grow!  All this energy that the plants put into growing has to come from somewhere. 

It comes from the soil.  A plant could be in the best position in perfect light, with ready access to water.  But all the TLC in the world won’t help if you don’t look after its lifeline.  So now is the time to give it a transfusion.

 Improving your soil

Spring is a great time to focus on improving the soil conditions in the garden.  Plants will put on the majority of their growth in spring, so feeding in September will help get the most out of this active season.

We could talk about soil all day (yes, really!) but we won’t bore you with all the dirty details (unless you ask us)!  What we can do though is give you some basic tips that you can use to get your garden soil ready for an amazing spring.

Understand what type of soil you have

Knowing your soil type will help you figure out how to improve it.  If your soil is sandy, you will have great drainage but the soil is likely to be very low in nutrients.  At the other end of the spectrum is clay.  If you have clay soil, you are lucky in one way as clay is very high in nutrient. But it drains very slowly and can be hard for plants to access the nutrients (you may have sodic soil).

One way to quickly check the soil type is to grab a handful of wet soil and squeeze it together. Can you mould it into a ball and it stays in shape?  Then you are looking at clay.  Does it run through your fingers as you try and squeeze it, not sticking together at all?  Then you have sand.  If you have something that partially sticks together then you likely have a loam soil.

Sandy soils

Sand dries out very quickly, and you may need to re-wet the soil with a wetting agent. Check what happens when you add water.  Push the top layer away and check if it is still dry underneath.  If it is, it’s likely your soil in hydrophobic.  A product like Saturaid or Rapid Soak will help the soil particles absorb water. Add a decent layer of mulch to retain the moisture in the soil and this also helps moderate soil temperatures.

The other challenge with sand is that it’s very low nutrient content. Adding composts and manures puts additional organic matter into the soil and enlivens a sandy soil.  You need to add for good amount for the best effect, ideally dig it through the top 30cm of soil.  If it’s not possible to dig it right through without upsetting your plant roots, it will still be beneficial to apply it to the top layer of your soil.

Additional fertilisers are needed to supplement any nutrients the plant has used up in the previous season.  Fertilisers like a pelletised poultry manure, cow manure, blood and bone, or slow release fertilisers will also help boost the nutrient level.  Regular applications of liquid fertilisers like Powerfeed and Seasol can also be helpful.

Clay soil

Full of nutrient, clay is great, but like sand it comes with difficulties.  Clay can become sodic, and may have a pH that is more alkaline, making it hard for plants to access the nutrients.

Clay soil can be improved with the application of gypsum, which helps to break down the amount of sodium chloride in sodic soils.  Don’t worry about gypsum effecting your soil pH, it is pH neutral.

Because clay soil particles are so fine, they can cause problems with drainage and become waterlogged.  Clay can be improved by adding organic matter such as compost or manure, which can encourage worms into the area.  The worms help to aerate the soil.  This should be done every year in spring, and over time your clay soil will break down and become easier to work with.

Loam soil

Lucky you!  You are the envy of all gardeners – this is the ideal soil mix.  Loam is generally rich in organic matter, but can still be improved with the addition of compost and manures, and will still benefit from the application of mulch.

Plant to your soil conditions

At the end of the day, you need to work with the soil you have.  It’s no good trying to grow plants with a high nutrient requirement in sandy, dry soil; or Australian natives in waterlogged clay (although there are always some exceptions to these rules).

Work with nature, not against it and choose plants that will thrive in your soil.  This way you will be setting yourself up for garden success, rather than disappointment.

 

Hellebores put on a show all winter long

Hellebores put on a show all winter long

The hellebore really has to be one of the handiest plants in a gardener’s toolkit.  Let’s tick off what is good about them and why should have them in your garden.

Flowers
The stunning flower – known as the winter rose - lasts all through winter and well into spring.   Flowers in the garden in winter are so uplifting, and encourage you to get outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes to admire them. 

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Creating a garden oasis for your pet

Creating a garden oasis for your pet

Gardens are a great place for pet adventures!  Having an enriching environment to spend time in can increase your pet’s wellbeing.  Who doesn’t love watching a dog scooting around chasing a ball on a lawn?

As garden owners though, we don’t always want our pets to have too much fun! We hear many stories of dogs eating plants that aren't good for them, nosing through the mulch in garden beds, digging holes for bones and flattening precious flowers.

 Here are a few things to think about when planning a garden that will be inhabited by your furry friend.

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Cymbidium orchids have arrived

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When a flower has earned the praise of Chinese philosopher Confucius as “king of the fragrant flowers’ then it really must be special.

For us, the arrival of the cymbidiums symbolises the change of seasons. Winter is coming, days are cooling down, and we tend to focus on our indoor surroundings more.

Cymbidium orchids are really the perfect mood enhancer. They come in such beautiful rich colours, and flower for such a long time. Some of our customers have told us tales of cymbidiums they have owned for decades, and passed down through their family. Talk about longevity!

For tips on how to care for your cymbidium orchid, read our fact sheet, or come in and speak to our team.

Camellias to brighten a winter day

Do you enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea on a cold wintery day? It comes to you with thanks to the humble Camellia sinensis, just one of the many species of Camellia. Just like your cup of camellia tea warms your body, the camellia flower brings warmth to your garden, brightening up dark corners when there's not a lot of things flowering.

This winter beauty flowers all through winter into spring, and is an incredibly hardy, low maintenance plant.

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Winter Citrus

Winter Citrus

There is a lot of sentimental attachment to the humble citrus tree – particularly lemons.  Many of us have a gnarly, ancient, lemon-laden tree filed away in our precious childhood memories – maybe from our grandparent’s backyard where we climbed up ladders to pick the fruit for a batch of lemonade or lemon butter. We’d burst inside with our armfuls of fruit, covered in scratch marks but full of achievement!

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