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This week in the garden

In the news....



Further research came to light this week pointing the finger at pesticides as a cause of catastrophic declines in populations of honeybees, responsible for pollinating one in three fruit and veg plants we grow.

Tests in the US showed neonicotinoids – pesticides used widely in America and the UK, but banned in several other European countries – made bees more susceptible to disease even in tiny doses.

In the UK, the chemicals are used on oilseed rape and also in gardens – look out for the names thiamethoxam, thiacloprid, acetamiprid and imidacloprid on pest control sprays.

UK scientists say other factors may play a part and more research is needed. But 25 MPs supported an early day motion from Labour MP Martin Caton calling for all products containing neonicotinoids to be temporarily suspended.

On the subject of pests: the tiny viburnum beetle has knocked the mighty slug off the top of the RHS's list of most troublesome garden critters. The beetle's creamy yellow larvae reduce beautiful viburnum leaves to ugly lace doilies in late spring. No wonder we're bothered.

Elsewhere on the web...
We're getting the first sneak peeks into the show gardens being created for this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Anne-Marie Powell gives a hint of the emotional rollercoaster designers must ride: 'palm-sweating', 'sickening' and 'petrifying', followed by screams, tears and quivering – and that's just when the RHS gave her the thumbs-up.

Kew has announced it's staging its first Chelsea garden for years, while Cleve 'Five RHS Gold Medals' West has been talking to his sponsor, The Telegraph, about the Libyan inspiration behind his sunken garden: 'I'm sure it will be fine,' he says, opting for bravado in the face of rising panic. 'The only concern I've got is that some people might not quite get it.' 

This week's good listen: Sarah Swadling visiting a commercial Cornish daffodil farm in the rain for BBC Radio 4's 'On Your Farm': a world in which daffs come in the tens of millions.

And this week's good read: the ongoing saga of Rhizowen's attempts to introduce Peruvian root vegetables into UK gardens. As heartbreaking a tale of life conspiring against a dedicated gardener as you will ever hear.

Out and about...
For keen veg growers, Potato Days are like being let loose in a sweetshop. Old heritage varieties with names like Shetland Black rub shoulders with the very latest modern disease-resistant types, tempting you to try something new. The king of them all is the National Potato Day next Saturday at Ryton, Garden Organic's show garden near Coventry, but there are others all around the country too.

Also next weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch: 530,000 people, 280,000 gardens, and 8.5 million birds took part last year.

Birdwatcher extraordinaire Bill Oddie is dropping by later in the week with a post giving his take on this national love-in with our garden birds; and there are dozens of mass birdwatching events all over the country on the weekend itself. RSPB experts are at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and you can feed the birds at the Winkworth Arboretum in Gloucestershire, or enjoy the shelter of the Palm House at Sefton Park, Liverpool, where there's also a display of tropical birds to brighten the winter gloom.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for mentioning my blog, Sally. Despite a few setbacks of late, I am determined to continue my research. A wonderful tuberous polyculture awaits.

  • Comment number 2.

    No problem Rhizowen - I love following your experiments (and have a bit of a vested interest as I'm trying out a few "cr** crops of the Andes" myself!) Good luck and I hope you get over the virus problem soon...

  • Comment number 3.

    Sally, thanks for mentioning the issue of bees and systemic neonicotinoids.
    As a beekeeper I am very concerned about the use of these neuro-toxic insecticides in the garden. They are present in the sap, leaves, pollen and nectar of any plants which have been treated - and the lethal dose for a bee, bumbleee, butterfly or hoverfly is just five parts per BILLION, in pollen or nectar. Even worse, the 'sub lethal' effects begin to disorient the bees at fifty times less than this - just 0.1 ppb. Why should this be of concern to gardeners who don't actively spray these pesticides? Well, virtually the entire horticultural trade uses seeds and compost which are already impregnated with neonicotiniods - especially if they come from Holland. So you may buy a tray of geraniums or begonias in a garden centre - completely unaware that the plants are already saturated with bee-killing pesticides, regardless of what YOU do.
    The worst pesticide pollution of all relates to the Dutch bulb industry - and especially the bulbs of tulips, daffodils and lilies, which are grown in beds which are liberally saturated with nicotinoids before they are sent to us here in the UK. I hope you garden experts can take an interest in this hidden world of pesticides which many of us are convinced are devastating bee and butterfly populations.


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