Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dragonfli Bumble Bee Beepol and 2017 Villa - unboxing and review

The Dragonfli Ltd Beepol and Villa

I wrote a review of the first Dragonfli Beepol and Villa back in 2011, and I really wanted to share my thoughts of the new 2017 Beepol Hive and Villa with you.

This will be our fourth Dragonfli Beepol. This year the Villa (the pretty wooden hive that the Beepol goes in) and the Beepol itself have been thoroughly redesigned, taking on feedback from customer experience, especially with regards to pest control and colony strength.

Bumble bees are at the mercy of many enemies, man being one, destruction of habitats, mono-culture farming practices, poor weather, pesticides,Varroa mite and Wax Moth. A large, strong, healthy colony is better at surviving these perils than a weak, small one.

The delightful thing about being able to keep and observe Bumble Bees is gaining an insight into their life, beginning right from the moment they arrive.

Unboxing the Dragonfli Beepol and Villa

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol Villa arrives two boxes
Our Dragonfli delivery arrives!
MrPB lifts Dragonfli Bumble bee Villa out packaging
MrPB lifts the Dragonfli Villa out of it's packaging.
Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol colony outer box
The Bumble bee Beepol is revealed
Inside the box marked LIVE BEES is a white cardboard box (above), containing the plastic Beepol hive, with the colony already thriving inside. When you lift the hive out, the bees will be active and buzzing noisily. They are responding to the light and movement.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol hive
The colony are contained in the Beepol Hive
Under the Hive is the new liquid feed chamber. Leaving the chamber in the white cardboard box, the cap is removed from the sponge (cylindrical creamy coloured wet thing, top centre of the chamber - see photo below) and the Beepol is clipped on top of it with the sponge poking up through the hole into the Beepol.

Previous Beepols have not come with a feeder, but should the weather be inclement after release, making it difficult for the bees to forage, this liquid feed will serve as a backup supply to keep the colony strong.

new Dragonfli Beepol liquid feed chamber
The new Dragonfli Beepol liquid feed chamber
The Beepol is then placed inside the wooden Villa. The white cardboard box should touch the back wall of the Villa, but there will be gaps on each side, and a large one at the front. The bees will be able to negotiate this gap when they leave the Beepol entrance (temporarily sealed with a yellow sliding door), to exit the villa by the wide open slot machined in the wooden Villa.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol placed inside Villa
The Beepol is placed inside the Villa
Dragonfli Bumble bee colony look fit well good nest built
Sneaky peek at the Bumble bee colony, looking fit and well with a good quantity of nest built
We sited the Hive under a Fatsia japonica, with the entrance facing east. The garden is filled with excellent pollen and nectar sources, though this doesn't seem to matter, as the bees always fly off eastwards towards the North Downs.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Villa sited under Fatsia japonica raised flower bed
The Dragonfli Villa located in a raised flower bed
Within moments of opening the sliding yellow door we saw the first Bumble bee leave the hive. NB, the Beepol has been pulled forward in the Villa to allow MrPB to open the sliding door and release the bees. It was pushed back into position after this photo was taken.

first Bumble bee come out Dragonfli Beepol
The first bee!
We only had to wait 20 minutes for the first bee to return to the hive, with its pollen sacks bulging. That's the fastest yet!

We're thoroughly enjoying watching the comings and goings of our new furry friends.

Dragonfli Beepol Maintenance

Dragonfli treat every Beepol and Villa against Wax Moth before it leaves them, and while it is advisable to leave the colony as undisturbed as possible once it arrives, you will need to respray the whole set up with Wax Moth repellent every 3-4 weeks from date of arrival to the end of the colony's life (end of July-ish). Failure to do this could result in the Wax Moth larvae eating all the Bumble bee larvae, and leading to the total devastation of the colony. Signs to look for are cobweb like threads inside the Villa and Hive, and the appearance of greyish brown larvae. These larvae are capable of burrowing into the wood of the Hive, you may see these tunnels when you clear out the Villa at the end of the season.

Dragonfli Beepol and Villa Review

The online ordering process with Dragonfli is very simple, and if you have any queries, the customer service is excellent.

Delivery is by courier, on a specified day. Remember these are live creatures, so you need to be on hand to take delivery.

The packaging is really sturdy and beautifully sized for the contents. there is no excess space, or need for padding, and the bees have good ventilation round them.

The Beepol hive is a lovely bit of design engineering, balancing ventilation and protection needs very carefully.

The Villa is robust pine wood with filtered vents at the back, a wide entrance with landing platform, and this year a felted roof. Now I know from chicken-keeping experience that the space between roofing felt and the roof itself can provide a perfect place for pests to set up home. We will need to see if this is the case with Bumble bees.

Not only would I highly recommend Dragonfli as a company, which we have personally used since 2011, I would also highly recommend giving a Bumble bee colony a home in your garden or on your roof terrace. The hive takes up only a small space, and the colony size is a fraction of a honey bee colony, so you won't ever be surrounded by a swarm, so long as you respect them and don't bang the hive. They are fascinating, educational, docile and absolutely vital for pollination - and, lets face it, for the continuation of life as we know it on Earth.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Pet Owners Have to Take the Bad with the Good

Always be Vigilant with your Pets Health

When you've got 13 pets in your life, there are bound to be health issues cropping up from time to time. For ages there'll be nothing, then suddenly everyone needs extra attention.

As we go into the month of May, here are some of the things going on chez Pumpkin Becki.


Felicity has been dreadfully broody, so she hasn't been taking care of herself with regular dust baths, eating, drinking, having grit, so it's been up to us to make sure she's getting out of the coop to eat drink and poop, inspecting her (and the others) for lice, treating with a spot-on type ivermectin (prescribed by our vets) if necessary, plus dusting her manually with diatomaceous earth. This is good, because you pick up each bird and can also get a sense of it's weight and overall condition. It's also important to thoroughly clean the coop with a red mite treatment, as warmer weather and hot. broody hens can cause a population explosion before you know it!

Hetty Orpington Hen
Hetty is such a sweet girl

Hetty is a natural midwife, when someone goes inside the coop to lay, she sits with them until they're done. With Felicity broody, Hetty has also not been looking after herself, but we thought she was midwifing and hadn't realised how bad she was until she began holding her tail was down.

Picking her up you could feel she was lighter than before, she had a few lice too but not in significant numbers. she got a spot-on treatment and a dusting. Then she pooped...well it was more of a squirt than a poop! Bright green bits in a watery white splat. This was NOT NORMAL! The ivermectin should clear up external and internal parasites including most worms, but not all. We'd been dosing the layers pellets with Flubenvet, but with Felicity and Hetty not eating properly, they probably weren't getting their proper dosage. Felicity has now come out of her broody phase and is back to her old fabulous self, but Hetty is suffering. We are now hand feeding her a mixture of growers and layers pellets, plus Verm-X Poultry Zest, softened in apple cider vinegar and water, with a sprinkling of corn for added appeal. The cider vinegar is said to be beneficial to poultry, reducing bacterial infection, and acting as a wormer and digestion aid by reducing the pH level in the chicken's digestive system.

Hetty Orpington Hen being handfed tempting mixture
Hetty being handfed a tempting, mushy mixture
On day one Hetty was silent and disinterested, she had to be encouraged to keep lifting her head up as we carefully syringe fed her. When we put her back on the ground she was very unbalanced and though she now had fluids and food in her we were desperately concerned.

On day two she allowed us to syringe feed her a little, but as I re-mixed the mashy concoction, she started pecking it off the spoon! She took little but often and we were really pleased with how much she managed to consume. We fed her three times over the day and she began standing up for longer and making her sweet little cooing sound again.

On day three she seemed a little brighter still, she had three feeds of her special concoction again, was more active in the run, pecking for her evening corn with the others, but being very submissive to them, and her droppings were definite squirts still.

Day four (today), she only ate a little of her mush this morning, but was keen to drink when she was put back in the run, and she put up a bit more of a struggle to be caught - always a good sign. By lunchtime she was coming out of the run on her own to peck for some scratch treats and beginning to stand up for herself again. Hopefully we've turned the corner, but we still need her poops to improve.

Hetty Orpington Hen being handfed
Action Shot: Omm nom nom nom


Fingers crossed, all is quiet on the hamster front.

Pip Roborovski Hamster awesome whiskers
Pip the Roborovski Hamster has awesome whiskers

Guinea Pigs

Rosie developed a bald patch on her rump last week. I suspect it's lice related, as she is quite reluctant to be touched near it. Alternatively she may be suffering from barbering at the hands (or teeth) of Phoebe or Tilly.

Rosie's bald patch

Barbering is where a guinea pig's hair is pulled out/ chewed off by itself or a cage mate. It shouldn't be treated lightly, and you must establish whether the hair loss is self inflicted or not. If self inflicted it could be the sign of a skin infection or infestation, and that must be dealt with. As with the chickens, it's the right time of year for a population explosion of creepy crawlies, so you must be vigilant for signs such as excessive hair loss, clumps of hair falling out with skin attached, scurf and bald patches. You may even see the lice wiggling around near the skin. they look like tiny fawn-brown...insects (sorry, I gave up trying to find a better description!).

If Phoebe or Tilly are barbering Rosie, it may be because she has long hair that looks a little hay-like (sorry Rosie, I'm not suggesting your hair looks like straw, honest!). If that's the case I may have to cut it shorter, but the patch is very localised, my instinct says it's lice.

I'm treating Rosie in several ways; she, Tilly and Phoebe have all had a spot-on treatment of ivermectin, then about five days later Rosie had a Gorgeous Guineas CocoNeem Melt treatment and a lather, rinse, repeat in Gorgeous Guineas Lice 'n' Easy shampoo. She is due for a follow-up bath one week later.

Rosie also has ongoing earwax issues. I've never known anything like it! Cotton wool buds don't really remove it, it needs emulsifying with something first and then wiping off. The internet suggests a mineral oil, but I also emailed Chrissie at Gorgeous Guineas to see if she has anything in her range to suggest. She doesn't have anything specific, but recommended an off the shelf product Otodex drops, or repeat applications of her CocoNeem Melt over three days.

Rosie is bright in every other respect, eating and drinking well, so if I don't see any improvement, including hair regrowth after all that, she will be going to the vets.

The Moral of this story is:

Always be vigilant with your pets, their health and well-being is your responsibility and yours alone. Changes happen quickly, particularly with 'prey' animals, who tend to hide their symptoms until the very end. Quick action on your part can reduce the chances of long term problems or fatality.

If you've experienced any of this issues too, do let me know in the comments.
Pumpkin Becki xx

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Stoneacre National Trust House and Garden Visit

Several years ago at a party, someone mentioned they had visited a charming National Trust property called Stoneacre not far from our village. Despite my extensive childhood visits to National Trust properties, I'd never heard of it, so looked it up online. The NT website shows a stunning Medieval Hall House with garden, it's described as small, and being tenanted is only open on Saturdays and Bank Holiday Mondays between April and the end of September.

What with one thing and another, it's been a long time since Mr PB and I have been out for a proper jaunt, and this May Bank Holiday weekend we took the opportunity to drive over to Stoneacre, in the village of Otham, near Maidstone, Kent, an absolutely beautiful area of the county.

The journey to Stoneacre

Otham is off Junction 8 of the M20 motorway,  then travelling along the A20 Ashford Road towards Bearsted and Maidstone. The turning (Otham Lane) is marked with a brown tourist sign for Stoneacre.
Otham Lane becomes Green Hill and both are very narrow and twisty. There are lots of passing places, but oncoming traffic comes up on you very quickly, so do take care.
Turn left down Stoneacre Lane. Again this is narrow and twisty, but also drops very steeply. Concentrating too hard on oncoming traffic and the ford at the bottom of the hill, I completely missed the NT car park sign tucked in the hedge on the right hand side**

The car park is a small field below the house and gardens, but you have to walk back to the road and turn right out of the gate, over the wooden bridge crossing the ford, and on up the steep hill. There is no footpath.
There are disabled car parking spaces in a tiny stable yard immediately opposite the black iron gates of the house, but probably only fits 2 or 3 very well parked cars.

I had to just catch my breath for a moment before drawing level with the gates, only to have it taken away again by...

Stoneacre house

Stoneacre National Trust property garden front facade
The front facade of Stoneacre NT
I'm a huge fan of half timbered, Medieval/Tudor buildings and this one is really special. This is the view from the iron gates on the roadside, so anyone could enjoy this view on any day.

Walk down the path to the archway, turn right, MIND THE STEP! and you are inside the building where you pay your entrance fee. Compared to other NT properties, entry to Stoneacre's house and gardens is very reasonable, and in keeping with the size of the property. When we visited it was £5.50 per adult and £2.60 per child (inc optional gift aid, so a little less without).

Most of the house is kept private for the tenants, but visitors can access the main hall, parlour, ante-room, library (tea room), the spiral staircase and tower (a 1920's addition), plus a bedroom (see 1st floor windows in the front gable, on far left of photo above).

Once you've paid you can either cross through to the other wing of the house, or go out into the garden. The whole house has undergone a lot of modification and restoration during its lifetime, mostly during the 1920's when a building historian and restorer bought it, and began removing the smooth plaster covering all the frame timbers, inside and out - can you imagine! He also added the little stair tower, spiral staircase, fireplaces and more. He bought and demolished a similarly aged building in Chiddingstone, and used much of it for the renovations on Stoneacre, including the oak spiral staircase. This feels like a very mercenary, almost vandalistic (I think I made that word up!) way of 'restoring' a house, but it's almost a century too late to cry over spilt milk. Much of the decorative paneling, the paintings and furniture appears to be from other properties as well, bought in by Aymer Vallance during his 1920's restoration. Whilst it all looks sympathetic to the house, some of it doesn't quite look like it belongs there, more like stage props.
Stoneacre NT property garden rear courtyard
The rear courtyard with the 1920's brick built stair tower, contrasting the mellow half timber of the original medieval hall.

Stoneacre garden

We may not have picked a perfect time of year to see the garden, but you could see how it was gently easing itself from early to late Spring. The first flush of tulips and hellebores were making way for late season tulips, aqueligia and euphorbia.

Hellebores tulips and aqueligia
Hellebores, tulips and aqueligia

Some flower beds were a subtle blend of deep purples, mauves and pinks, but other beds, such as those at the front of the property, were an exuberant riot of colour, a precursor to the blousier summer planting inspired by Great Dixter and Christopher Lloyd. The garden planting of tenanted National Trust properties is in the hands of the tenant. Physical structures,trees or important plants must remain, but herbaceous plants, bulbs and annuals are bought, paid for and tended by the tenants, so the garden is free to evolve and develop with time .

A beautiful collection of trees provided a canopy over much of the garden, the polished red bark of the Prunus serrula was a definite highlight, as was the stunning white-blossomed tree along the front wall of the garden with a welcoming bench underneath. Sadly I can't remember what the tree was called, even though the lovely volunteer gardener did tell me. He was a delight to talk to, and clearly relished being able to garden in this amazing place.

Prunus serrula tulips tower house
Prunus serrula forms a canopy over purple and white tulips at the tower end of the house.
In contrast to the vibrant Spring flowers was the lush Kelly Green growth of the Shuttlecock ferns, planted in a huge swathe next to a moss-clad stone wall.
Shuttlecock ferns stone wall
Shuttlecock Ferns
The scent of this Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata) in full flower over an archway, was rich but not overbearing.

Stoneacre Chocolate Vine Akebia quinata
Akebia quinata aka Chocolate Vine
The house is never out of view as you wander round the many twisting garden paths, and your eye is always drawn back to it's mellow solidity.

Stoneacre viewed woodland path
Stoneacre Hall House viewed from a high woodland path
Stoneacre Wealden Hall House Garden
Stoneacre is a collection of additions on a classic Wealden Hall House

I am almost guaranteed to find a small fluffy creature wherever I go, and Stoneacre was no exception.
This little chap must belong to the tenants but is clearly very used to strangers in his garden.

Tenants Stoneacre sweet little dog
Cute dog! :)

Stoneacre accessibility

Unfortunately there are quite a few areas of the house and garden that can't be accessed by wheelchair, but it is still possible to enjoy some of it.

Stoneacre visit in summary

I thought Stoneacre was beautiful, and very well worth the visit. It is on the smaller side, so 2-3 hours is more than enough time to look round everything thoroughly, as well as speak to the guides and gardeners.
You don't need walking boots, as everything is very close by, but I wouldn't recommend wearing heels either.
The car park is a field in the bottom of a valley, sited next to a pond and stream, so probably gets rather soft in wet weather.
Would I go back? Probably not to see inside the house, but I'd definitely like to go back and see the garden at other times of year.

Have you been to Stoneacre? Let me know in the comments.
Pumpkin Becki xx

**If you should miss the turning for the car park like I did, you will drive over the ford at the bottom of the hill, follow the road sharply right and upwards again. A few moments later you might glimpse the black iron gates of Stoneacre, set into a stone wall which runs along the right of the roadside, with a tiny yard of four stables opposite (Disabled parking). Immediately beyond these is a farm yard, with the road continuing through it. The road narrows to single file and becomes a horrible, bumpy, rutted, stone-laden dirt track. This track is soul and car destroying, but does eventually bring you on to Honey Lane.
Clearly I do not recommend contact with this section of 'road', so if you overshoot the car park, drive up to the farmyard, turn your vehicle round in it, and try again.
I have emailed the National Trust asking them to review the car park signage for the sanity of their visitors and the farmer, but I am yet to hear from them. Personally I did not find that a disagreement with a stressed out MrPB was conducive to an enjoyable visit to this rather lovely property.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

We're on Instagram too!

I've added another string to my social media bow!


I'm loving the quick updates I can do, sharing photos with you all as they happen.
I'm using a little selection of hashtags on my posts, including (but not limited to ;) :

Cookie Syrian hamster Instagram
Cookie is excited about Instagram x

and most importantly... #pumpkinbecki - oh yeah! My own hashtag :)

Make sure you follow us on Instagram too @pumpkinbecki
Pumpkin Becki xx

Monday, 24 April 2017

Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants Unboxing and Review

There's something you don't know about me, I like to keep...

Carnivorous Plants

In the beginning there were Venus Fly Traps

I've owned carnivorous plants (on and off) since my teens, I seem to remember collecting margarine lids and sending them off for my first Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula).

It was tiny with three or four softly blushing traps. I wasn't great with it. I gave it tap water - very infrequently. I would try to make the traps close by poking it, try feeding it dead flies, you know how it is. Needless to say, the poor thing died very quickly - probably from tormented exhaustion!

Then there were Sundews

Later I got a gorgeous Sundew (Drosera), which was fantastic at catching fungus gnats, and other teeny tiny flies. The glistening, sticky 'dew' fascinated me, as did the unfurling leaves and graceful flower heads. My mother was very enthusiastic about keeping it on the kitchen windowsill.

I stuck with sundews over the years, though I thought I wasn't very successful with them. Now I realise they could just have been in their dormant phase...why didn't you tell me the go dormant?!

When we got the greenhouse I decided I wanted to step up my game a bit.

And then there were Pitcher Plants

Ohh yeah!
I currently have two Pitcher Plants...a tall one and a short one. The tall one is Sarracenia farnhamii, and the short one doesn't say. I bought them from a garden centre, so they didn't have very detailed labels. But what I do know is that they've come through two winters in the greenhouse, and they are throwing up new pitchers as I type.

Carnivorous plants Sarracenia Pitcher Plants
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia var unknown
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
When I cut back the dead pitchers, I split a few open along their length, and noticed they'd been very successful hunters, trapping and digesting huge blue bottles and wasps among other things!

Carnivorous plants Pitcher Plants Sarracenia farnhamii
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia farnhamii
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
I also have a Cape Sundew Dorsera capensis alba...the big question is - Is it dead or just dormant? I guess I'll have to wait and see...

Carnivorous Plants Sundew Drosera capensis alba
Carnivorous Plants, Sundew Drosera capensis alba
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Buying from a Specialist Carnivorous Plant Nursery

Inspired by the new growth on my Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia), I decided to expand my collection. I looked around online, and settled on Triffid Nurseries, a UK based carnivorous plant specialist. Their website was easy to navigate, had good photographs and product descriptions, and the ordering process was very easy.

Please note, I paid for everything except for a free plant which was an offer on the website, and a packet of seeds. These gifts were genuinely available to all customers at time of ordering, I did not announce I was a blogger, or writing a review until after my order had despatched.

 I ordered:

Plants (supplied bare root)


  • Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea x Open Pollinated
  • Drosera binata 'T' form 


  • A bag of multipurpose Carnivorous Plant Compost (UK)

I was also really tempted by the pygmy sundews, they're soooo cute! but I didn't want to get too carried away.

The delivery charge is £8.95, which at the time felt like quite a lot for bare root plants and some seed (the compost price already includes P&P), but the plant and seed prices were very competitive compared to garden centres, where you 're lucky if the labels tells you what varieties you're buying, plus the individual plant packaging is so intricate and careful, I soon realised the charge was totally justified

I picked varieties described as easy and/or hardy on the website, but they also ask you to give a few substitutes, just in case what you've chosen is unavailable. I just said that I was a 'mildly experienced owner of carnivorous plants, keeping them in an unheated greenhouse year round' so alternatives need to be 'hardy and easy to grow'.

I placed my order via the website on Wednesday 12th April. Normally their plants are selected and packed on the Monday after your order is placed, but as this Monday was a Bank Holiday, I fully expected to have to wait an extra week, which was completely fine with me. They also warn you that they do not send out order confirmation emails, so don't get anxious when you don't hear anything.

I did send them a message via their website, to see if they could advise me what the chances were of my sundew coming back to life. Not only did they confirm shipment of my order (which was sooner than I expected, and I hadn't directly asked about), but Andy also gently broke it to me that poor old 'Alba' was very probably dead *sadface* It apparently should have lots of new leaves by now. I'll do a post mortem once I have the new compost...maybe the roots will be clinging to life...maybe.

Triffid Nurseries Haul, Unboxing and Review

My parcel arrived by courier on Friday 21st April.
The box was an appropriate size and strength for the contents, and the filler was shedded paper, which I can recycle - yay!!

In the top of the box was a personalised letter from Andy and Alison of Triffid Nurseries, and clipped to the top was a ziplock bag with my two packets of seed and an additional free packet. The website stated 10 or 20 seeds of each, but there were definitely more than that in each packet. There wasn't a packing note though, and as you don't get an order confirmation, I'd kinda forgotten what I'd actually ordered (oops).
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing letter
A personalised letter, with the seeds stapled to the front in a ziplock bag
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing, letter
Opening the box from Triffid Nurseries
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Each plant was beautifully and creatively packed to protect as much of the leaf and dew as possible. The letter said the plants were just coming out of dormancy, but I think they were a bit further along than that, with lots of fully formed leaves. Each came wrapped in soaking wet paper towel (remember they are bog plants), and with a proper plastic plant label, so it was easy to identify each plant. I was really pleased with them all. Below are photos of every plant I bought and how it looked on arrival
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera capensis
Two lovely Drosera capensis plants
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera hybrida filiformis intermedia
This pot should be Drosera hybrida filiformis x intermedia but look at the tiny spatulata (my guess) round the edge - so adorable!
Phot by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera spatulata
Drosera spatulata
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera filiformis ssp filiformis
My freebie! Drosera filiformis ssp filiformis
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
The Pumpkin Becki Award for Most Ingenious Packaging goes to Triffid Nurseries
The Pumpkin Becki Award for Most Ingenious Packaging - I love the sticky tape roll to give extra height!
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Carnivorous Plant seeds Drosera binata T Form Drosera binata Otaki Forks NZ Sarracenia purpurea ssp purpurea
All the seeds are sown, Drosera binata T-Form, Drosera binata 'Otaki Forks NZ' and Sarracenia purpurea ssp purpurea
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
 And finally...
'Alba' made it through after all!! Yay!!! I started pulling away the rosettes of dead leaves and discovered all this lovely growth. I am so bloomin' happy :D

Carnivorous Plant Drosera capensis alba emerges from dormancy
Drosera capensis alba emerges from dormancy at long last
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
And when I unpotted it to upgrade it to a bigger one, I discovered strong shoots coming from the root ball as well!
Shoot root ball Drosera capensis alba
The arrow points to a shoot coming off the root ball on Drosera capensis alba
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Huge thank yous to Andy and Alison at Triffid Nurseries for sending me such fantastic quality plants, seeds and compost, and providing additional support via email. I would highly recommend buying from them, and I'm sure I'll be ordering again soon...I'm still hankering after the pygmy sundews afterall!

Let me know if you're interested in Carnivorous Plants in the comments,
Pumpkin Becki

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Spring Gardening - it's a busy time of year

Spring Gardening - Ornamentals

The Woodland Garden brings me so much joy in Spring. It's always been the main attraction at this time of year. Being at the front of the house, it welcomes me home from a tough day at work, or sends me out into the world with a smile on my face.

I bulked out my tulip collection quite a bit last autumn, keeping purple and whites, but adding pink and extending the season with different varieties

The Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) are really starting to spread under the trees. I love the way they bask in the spring sunshine. Last autumn I felt the two clumps I had were big enough to start dividing, so with a trowel I took small sections off the outsides and planted them straight out in their new positions. I kept my fingers crossed for them all winter, and was delighted a few weeks ago to see how well they had settled in.

If you look closely, you'll also see the ridiculous number of sycamore seedlings I have to weed out - grump grump grump :(

Speaking of Anemones, the first of my Anemone coronaria (Garden Anemone) have come into bloom this week. They look electric here against the lime green leaves of the Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia).

Late last summer I dug up my bearded irises, as the clumps were getting huge and needed invigorating. I broke off all the old or diseased rhizomes, trimmed down the leaves to approximately 10cm and potted the healthy rhizomes up into individual pots. These have been stored in the greenhouse over winter, and once I started to see green growth, I cut off all the old dead leaves and began watering them. This has worked really well, and I've just started planting them back out into the Woodland Garden in full sun.

In the greenhouse, spring sown Sweet Peas are growing well, they have been pinched out to encourage strong stocky growth, and have been potted once once already.

Spring Gardening - Edibles

There's lots going on in the edibles department too.

I've learnt over the 7 or 8 years I've worked my garden that there is absolutely no point direct sowing seeds in it. Early in the year they don't get enough heat or light, and the slugs are very active. The death rate is too high. I'm far better off sowing into modules or pots, and getting things growing well in the greenhouse or on the kitchen windowsill. Then I can plant out strong healthy plants which can withstand the slugs better, plus the weather and soil will be a little warmer.
greenhouse bench April broad beans leeks iris peppers aubergine onion sets
Greenhouse bench - mid-April 2017
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

I sowed my first batch of Broad Beans (var. De Monica) early last month. They've been potted on once into 15cm square pots, and yesterday I planted them out into the square foot beds. In the meantime I've also sown some The Sutton and Masterpiece Green Longpod, which are just showing their heads above soil.

I apply the same system to onion sets as well. For me it's more reliable to pop sets into modules, let them get growing and then plant them out once they have formed 10-15cm long leaves.

I'm not having much luck with peas so far, they just won't germinate, but then lots of my seeds are very old, so I may have to start again with new seed.

I bought some parsnip plug plants, which went out into the square foot beds, but I will also sow some seeds of my own.

Leeks germinated well and are already 6-7cm tall.

I have pricked out my young chilli plants and put them next to my tomato seedlings on the kitchen window sill.

I have bought some young tomato plants as well, as an insurance policy, two orange sweet pepper (capsicum) plants, and a grafted aubergine plant. I have had great success with grafted aubergines for the last two years, so it was a no-brainer when I spotted one at B&Q last night.

I've put all these beauties on the bench in the greenhouse to grow on a bit.
Hope your season is going well too, let me know in the comments xx

Monday, 10 April 2017

Introducing my Family - part 6 - Daisy


Friday 31st March 2017 was a particularly bad one at work. We needed to pick up our mood, and some more hamster and guinea pig food, so dropped in to Pets at Home on the way back from work.

We started our visit with a look at the baby boy guinea pigs, so many colours, so many hairstyles, so much cute! Then we moved round, past the bunnies to the baby girl guinea pigs, they were really outgoing! There were around 8-10 girls in the pen, definitely at least three different age groups, and probably from more litters than that, as they were all so different.

One of the larger girls looked very like Molly, Rex coated, but in white and lemon - very cute! then suddenly another tiny baby appeared from under a hidey! She was tri-colour, with long wavy hair...Oh My Goodness!

Daisy our new baby guinea pig
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

MrPB spotted her first, and instantly fell for her. He started talking about where we could house her, who she might bond with!! I agreed she was lovely, but we already have five piggies, could we really have two trios? A quad and a pair? One big herd?

I suggested we go and look in the adoption area, just to give us both a minute to think. We looked at the beautiful Lion Head rabbit, multiple hamsters and a trio of HUGE adult female guinea pigs who obviously needed to be rehomed together. Definitely no space for any of them!

We went back over to the the babies and looked at the tiny little girl again - she really was beautiful! MrPB gave me final say, but I knew she was coming home with us, and I reasoned that as we don't know how old Molly is, it might be wise to bond Emmeline with a younger piggie now. We know Emmeline isn't the most sociable creature in the world, but maybe she would accept a baby better than an adult. With the baby being so small, Emmeline shouldn't feel threatened by her.

An assistant got her out and let us have a cuddle with her. I checked her over, made sure she was definitely a girl, checked her bottom was clean, eyes bright and nose clear. We explained our intention of bonding her with our existing pigs to the assistant, hence why we weren't looking at more than one baby. He asked us lots of questions about our set up, feeding regime, our experience of bonding piggies, and quickly he recognised that we knew what we were doing.

By this time MrPB had already named her, she was to be Daisy.

Please Note:

I do not advocate impulse buying pets. Remember that I am an adult with my own home and a good job to cover any unforseen expenses (ie. vet bills). I have kept guinea pigs and hamsters since I was very small, I have five guinea pigs already so I know what I am doing by taking on another one. I would prefer to adopt if possible, but sometimes a little face just steals your heart.

...Back to Daisy

I believe she is (at least partly) a Lunkarya. She has the curly sideburns and two rump rossettes that differentiate the Lunkarya from the Texel. This means her coat is going to get very crazy as she grows up. At the moment the fall is quite short and tidy, but we'll keep it trimmed so that it doesn't get tangled or matted.

When we got her home at about 3pm, we separated off one level of cage, cleaned it thoroughly, put in fresh newspaper, hay and Burgess Excel nuggets, and put a fresh water bottle on the bars of the cage. We also made Daisy a little hidey area, and then put her in the cage. We also gave Molly and Emmeline a dose of Ivermectin 'Spot On' treatment to be sure they wouldn't pass any parasites on to Daisy.

We left Daisy quietly until 10am the following day. She had been silent, very nervous and desperate to hide in the cage, so we decided to try bonding her with Molly straight away. She was so relieved to see another piggie that she dashed over to Molly, squeaking excitedly. Molly gave Daisy a little reprimand to calm her down, chuttered her teeth and had to keep defending her food. Daisy was trying to eat anything Molly it disappeared into poor Molly's mouth!

Bonding baby guinea pig with adult guinea pig
Daisy was very keen to interact with Molly
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Bonding baby guinea pig with adult guinea pig
...very keen
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Initially we thought we would bond Daisy with Molly, then put them back in their own cages overnight, and start again in the morning, but Daisy was so desperate to be with others that we decided she would hate to be on her own again. So later that day, once we were happy with Molly and Daisy being together, we put Emmeline in too.

The dynamic of the three together was fascinating. Daisy rushed over to Emmeline to say hi, Emmeline ticked her off soundly, displaying all sorts of dominance behaviour, Then Molly faced-off to Emmeline to quieten her down. So Molly wasn't exactly defending Daisy, just asking Emmeline to respect her dominance. Daisy obviously felt much safer with Molly, but was still excited to be with everyone, popcorning, zooming and squeaking all round the pen!

Bonding baby guinea pig with adult guinea pigs
Emmeline joined in the bonding session
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Eventually all the excitement was too much for them, and they all flomped out for a nap, Molly first, then Daisy, then Emmeline.

Bonding baby guinea pig with adult guinea pigs
Exhausted, they all flomped out for a nap
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

When we were satisfied that the bulk of the dominance behaviour was over and they were being calmer, We cleaned out Molly and Emmeline's cage really thoroughly and put them all in together.

With lots of levels in the cage, everyone found their spot, Emmeline tried to keep Molly to herself by blocking her into a corner, while Daisy set up camp in the hayloft. We monitored them closely, as dominance behaviours can start up all over again when the environment changes. When we were happy with them, MrPB and I went into the next room to watch some tv.

About an hour later, there was some alarmed wheeking, which became a whimper. I rushed into the kitchen to find Emmeline now in the hayloft and Daisy down on the next level looking terrified. I scooped up Daisy and gave her to MrPB to hold while I went and got Molly and some lettuce. We all sat together for a few minutes, then slowly moved Molly over to be with Daisy. Daisy was so relieved she tried to burrow under Molly as if she was going to nurse from her. Molly was not interested in that (it's been a long time since she had babies of her own!), so with the help of the lettuce we persuaded Daisy just to sit next to Molly.

The following day we bought Daisy a toy giraffe (one suitable for a new born human baby, so no plastic eyes or loose bits). We made sure the giraffe smelt of us and we put it up in the hayloft with Daisy. She loves it! When we get her out for a cuddle, Giraffe comes too, and Daisy tries to burrow underneath. Giraffe even came out to play on the grass with everyone yesterday!

When I posted on Instagram that this was the fastest bonding session ever, I might have been a bit over-optimistic, but they are doing very well. Good job girls!

guinea pigs giraffe grass sunshine
Six guinea pigs and a giraffe enjoying the grass and sunshine
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Thursday, 23 March 2017

5 Must-Have Plants for Early Spring

Spring - a Time of Change

Spring is probably the time of most dramatic, glorious change in the garden. Whites of snow and frost, browns of mud and dead leaves are suddenly jewelled with rich, bright colour. Not only do early Spring flowers bring joy to us humans, they are also a vital nectar source for bees and other flying insects.

You'll notice I never grow 'double' flowered varieties of plants, purely because they make life too difficult for pollinators, either because the flowers are too complicated to be accessed by the insect, or the breeding process has removed the plants pollen and nectar producing organs.

Here's my Top Five Flowering Plants for Early Spring:

Hellebores (Helleborus hybridus)

These amazing perennials are commonly called the Lentern Rose. They have big tough leaves that are not attacked by slugs or snails. In the winter you can cut off all the leaves and in early spring the plant will throw up thick firm flower stems with fat buds that open into downwards facing cups. The petals are actually modified sepals, and come in a beautiful variety of colours from white to rich purple-black. They often have delicate spots, some have edges touched in a different colour, known as 'picote' (pic 1). 

Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus single white picote
Pic 1: Ashwood Nurseries Hellebous hybridus - Single Picote Photo by Pumpkin Becki
If you have different hellebores in your garden, they are likely to cross-pollinate, and the resulting seedlings will be your very own hybrid. The flowers last into May, and when pollinated, you'll be able to see the seed pods fattening and ripening over time.

They like a woodland/ semi-shaded position in the garden. They can survive dry or wetter conditions, but they don't really thrive. Once a plant is settled and growing well it won't appreciate being moved or divided, so make sure to give it a permanent location at it will bring you joy every winter/spring.

Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus Single Primrose Yellow
Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus - Single Primrose Yellow
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Helleborus hybridus single pink
Helleborus hybridus - single pink
Photo by Pumpkin Becki


I have two varieties of Crocus in the garden at the moment, both are spring flowering (rather than autumn). I have a small clump of buttermilk yellow ones, and several clumps of delicate lilac ones. I'm sorry, I can't tell you want they are called.
Cream Crocus
Creamy Yellow Crocus
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
I love the way they hold their flowers carefully shut until the sun hits them and they fall wide open, revealing vivid orange stamen.

Lilac Crocus
Pale lilac Crocus
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Pulmonaria officinalis (aka Lungwort)

Another woodland perennial, the Pulmonaria is so surprisingly pretty. The emerald green leaves are decorated with silvery spots, and in spring, flower spikes explode into clusters of five petaled flowers in shades of pink, turning to rose, violet and then blue, as the plant changes the pH value within the petals from acidic to alkaline the longer they are open for.

Pulmonaria officinalis Lungwort
Pulmonaria officinalis (Lungwort)
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

The common name Lungwort is centuries old, and comes from when it was grown for its medicinal properties. It was believed that because the leaves resembled the human lungs, they must be healing for illnesses involving the chest and respiratory system.

Whether that is true or now, they are definitely a valuable food source for bees and moths.


I have two varieties of these tubers in my Woodland Garden, Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum. I have tucked them right up near the trunks of the Sycamore and Horse Chestnut trees.

Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

The tuber should be planted quite shallow, so they are perfect in rooty soil where Spring bulbs couldn't be planted. Cyclamen coum flowers in the winter through to spring, and hederifolium flowers in late summer to autumn.


This year my Primroses in the Woodland Garden have been in flower since Christmas - that's not right! It is one of the earliest plants to flower in the UK (just not quite Christmas-early)

I grow the native (UK) Primrose, Primula vulgaris, which forms mounds of buttery yellow flowers held just above deeply crinkled bottle green leaves. The flowers look delicate, but they withstand snow and frost, ready to soak up every drop of sunlight. They grow naturally in deciduous woodland, taking full advantage of the open canopy before the trees burst into leaf.

Primrose Primula vulgaris
Primrose - Primula vulgaris

Being native, and single flowered, they produce lots easily accessible nectar and pollen. Growing guides suggest that they are best in damp shade, but mine are in dry partial shade/full sun and they thrive and naturalise beautifully there.

Iris Reticulata

I was once told (by someone who alleged himself to be a horticulturalist) that Iris Reticulata were impossible to get to flower after the first year and that I would have to replace the bulbs. I'm glad I didn't believe him in the slightest, as I now have lovely naturalised clumps that come up and flower year on year.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Iris reticulata is a very dainty form, reaching around 15cm high, and flowering in early spring. The leaves are narrow and almost as tall as the flowers. Don't expect Iris reticulata to be big and blousey like a bearded iris, you have to keep your eyes peeled amongst the leaf litter to spot these little beauties. The flowers aren't very long lasting, but across the clump, bulbs will flower at slightly different times, which extends the show considerably. Bees love them!

So there you have it, my top five early spring flowering plants. I hope you love them as much as I do, or maybe you have your own favourites, let me know in the comments xx