Wednesday, 24 January 2018

unexpected problem

This morning I finally ventured out into the garden.  It was remarkably mild, with rain forecast by lunchtime, but I fancied the fresh air and wanted to try and fill or at least partially fill the brown garden waste bin before Friday's collection.  It is only emptied once a fortnight, and I didn't want to waste one twenty-fifth of its annual capacity.  Nowadays I try to keep the contents of the compost bins reasonably clean so that when I use the compost on the beds I am not spreading weeds around plus seedlings of those garden plants that self-seed too readily.  I love Verbena bonariensis, Hesperis matronalis, and the evening primrose from Dulwich beach, but that doesn't mean I want them coming up everywhere.

In consequence there is always plenty to go to the dump, or in the brown bin.  I try to use the brown bin for the dampest, muddiest, and heaviest buckets of weeds, to save putting them in the car.  When I looked outside this morning at what there was to go I found a tub trug half full of weedy stuff, now saturated by rain, and a couple of old Strulch bags' worth.  That was enough to half fill the bin, and I managed to cut some more of the tufty grass along the bottom of the rose bank and dig out some nettle roots before the rain arrived.

The snowdrops are about to open.  The first of the witch hazels have opened, and it would be nice to get the back garden sorted out, presentable, and ready for the new flowering year.  The Met Office seven day forecast on the internet says that tomorrow will be dry, but the lunchtime Radio 4 weatherman said that rain would spread to all areas, so who to believe?  And will I feel up to gardening, or slithered back down another snake in the snakes and ladders game of who currently has a cold?

Meanwhile, as I browsed through nursery websites imaging what might grow up the side of the wood, one shrub that at first sight seemed a candidate was ruled out for a novel reason.  I was looking at the Trehane Nursery site, my mind running on camellias as a possibility for part of the back line of planting, inside the rabbit fence.  I like camellias, and since they grow sturdily, albeit slowly, in the horrible dry bed opposite the dustbins, they should cope along the side of the wood.  They are much more drought tolerant than most rhododendrons, and the soil is acid enough for them.

Trehane offer a few species as well as the named varieties of Camellia japonica and the C. x williamsii hybrids.  I thought that something with smaller flowers would suit a wild part of the garden, and was eying up Camellia oleifera, a beauty with flowers like a white Japanese anemone and the added bonus of being scented and flowering before Christmas.  Then I thought that while I had proved that the usual garden centre camellias would live here happily despite the sand and low rainfall, there was no guarantee that C. oleifera would be equally obliging, so I Googled it.  I soon discovered that it was the source of a camellia oil, then came on an article from the Journal of Apicultural Research ominously titled The toxic honey plant Camellia oleifera.  It turned out that Camellia oleifera would probably not grow especially well where I was proposing to put it, since it requires sunlight and comes from an area with annual rainfall approximately twice ours.  More to the point, it turned out that I wouldn't want to grow it because the nectar is toxic to honey bees, containing caffeine and galactose.  Colonies feeding on it can show symptoms of poisoning, adults developing distended abdomens and larvae actually dying, either because they lack the enzymes to digest the galactose or because the caffeine disrupts their metabolisms.

Well I never.  I knew that some kinds of lime made bees drunk, and that the honey from some rhododendrons was toxic.  Myth has it that Xenophon's army was poisoned by eating rhododendron honey.  It would never have occurred to me to worry about a Camellia.

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