I have been in my house for nearly 12 years now, and one of the first things I did was to plant some crocus bulbs. They are the early flowering purple ones – a variety I never manage to say correctly on the first attempt: Crocus Tommasinianus (it’s up there with ‘diatomaceous earth’ which I use with the hens…) and I have some Ruby Giants as well as the smaller ones. They pop up in February and boy, are they a welcome sight. I love autumn, and winter and look forward to the quieter time of year which is something I think lots of people working so seasonally feel; summer is just so incredibly full on if you have bees and a garden, and there is an urgency and constant feeling of tail-chasing which is stimulating and dynamic, but needs to be countered with the settling exhalation after equinox of balance and a chance to rest both mentally and physically.
Bulbs are a beautiful and necessary way to link the quiet of autumn with the sign of spring – which I start to crave in February when my garden looks like an off-road race track of muddy paths and tired, grey grass. And sure enough, up come the crocus with their understated elegance and swell of colour. I have a number of different varieties, and they all attract bees. They form a vital source of nectar and pollen for the pioneering queens of early bumblebee species, and honey bees make a welcome return to our gardens if the crocus are planted in a spot which gets the weak but welcome winter sun. If you haven’t got lawn, or you haven’t had your outdoor space long enough to know where that precious sunlight falls, make up pots and planters with peat-free compost so you can move them around once you see whether there are any opportunities for the rays to hit the blooms.
I have ordered my bulbs this year from Peter Nyssen, a company specialising in bee-friendly bulbs. Sadly, many commercially available bulbs are treated with a pesticide which prevents the bulbs from insect damage, but adversely affects pollinators…which are of course also insects! The company do not use neonicotinoids on their spring bulbs so are safe for our bees.
I am running my popular Gardening for Bees & Wildlife courses again in the run-up to Christmas, where I will discuss the most effective way to help bees, whether or not you currently – or plan – to keep them. Irrespective of our beekeeping status, we should ALL be increasing our food provision for insects. Not only do we get a sweep of colour at a time our beleaguered senses need it most, but we might, just might, get the chance to see a bumblebee take a nap, cloaked in the petals of one of these amazing flowers.