Blue really is the colour this year at Chelsea and the bluest of them all is Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’. Both Cleve West’s Paradise Garden and The Telegraph Garden by Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz featured a good daub of this striking plant from the Borage family.
Despite BBC presenters calling it An-choose-a I found a plant names pronunciation guide which confirmed what I’d imagined, it’s an-kew-sa, with a hard ch. As in Italian when ch is followed by an i or e it turns soft as in ‘chuffed’ and ‘ciao’ but before a, o and u it’s pronounced like a k.
I digress. Ankewsa is a close relation of the virtually weed-like Alkanet and both are great honey bee plants. On a walk by the sea a week or so ago my ears pricked up at that gentle buzz that suggests more than a few bees in the vicinity. A patch of alkanet was providing lunch. Unlike in the beautiful Telegraph garden this bright blue wasn’t set off by acid green Euphorbia but it had its own gentle appeal.
A few days after visiting Chelsea I brought a new swarm back to my work garden and was desperately trying to work out if there might be enough forage close by so that I wouldn’t have to feed candy if the weather stayed wet. It struck me that a swathe of either of these planted close to the hive would be perfect for just this situation. Oh, and these Boraginaceae flowers are edible for us too.
I love Euphorbias for their variety and structural presence in a garden border but they are of no interest to our honeybees. The family has over 2000 species in it and they are pollinated by a diverse range of insects, birds and even lizards! I’ve seen flies buzzing around my Euphorbia ‘Portuguese Velvet’ and can hear the seeds popping on a sunny day!
Another blue featuring at Chelsea was the Iris – I. sibirica, I. bulleyana and I. robusta. Irises are usually well-represented at Chelsea as they actually flower at this time but it was good to see the more delicate species outnumbering the bearded Irises for a change. Irises are pollinated by insects with longer–tongues then the honeybee has, such as bumble bees and long-tongued flies.
Bees see blue and yellow but aren’t able to see the red end of the visible light spectrum. However some red flowers do have UV markings that we can’t see but they can, such as Heleniums. For some amazing images of flowers in UV go to http://www.naturfotograf.com/UV_flowers_list.html#VIOLACEX.
Prize for the best nectar bar goes to aptly named Hugo Bugg. His Waterscape Garden featured a patch of Cirsium rivulare, the plume thistle, which was covered in bumble bees. He and several other gardens used a newly introduced plant, Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ which attracts butterflies.
Alan Titchmarsh’s seaside space for RHS Britain in Bloom highlighted the vast range of plants we can grow in this country with some unusual orange foxgloves and the stately (if a little bent) Echium pininana. I was surprised not to see a Begonia or Petunia in sight!
Other highlights for me were to see charred oak fence panels in the Cloudy Bay garden although rather than embracing charring as a new and more ecological way of preserving wood it was there to symbolize the oak barrels used to make Cloudy Bay wines. The plants did stand out well against the dark background.
Finally Nelson Mandela’s face in Protea flowerheads on the Kirtstenbosch exhibit was amazing – looking directly it appeared pixelated to the point of obscurity but through the viewfinder of a camera it all fell into place!