Bee bread, benches and a crows nest in the April garden



There is no escaping it. Wherever you look, there is pulsating growth: trees, plants, birds, insects, all swept up in an orgy of renewal. From my vantage point overlooking the Leechwell Garden, the predominant feeling is green, although there were days in the middle of the month when the sun picked out the white blaze of blossom on nearby trees. Trilling wrens and chiding blackbirds provided the soundtrack, saluting the warmer weather.

It’s a favourite time of year for me, I like the feeling of everything starting afresh and alive. Shakespeare gets it right for me in Sonnet 98
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

Others, however, see April as a time of hopes and aspirations that can never be fulfilled. TS Eliot began his poem The Waste Land: “April is the cruellest month” and, in Spring Edna St Vincent Millay wrote “To what purpose, April, do you return again?”

I don’t share their pessimism; I know autumn will come and these new leaves will wither and fall, but I also know that there will be another season of growth next year.

Down in the Garden, there has been much to see. Three new rustic benches have been installed making it even better for people to visit and spend time here. On the pergola, the clematis continue to entertain.

Clematis Francis Rivis

The tear-like buds of the Francis Rivis that I admired last month have now opened showing delicate mauve outer petals and white inner petals.



Clematis Montana

Another clematis, a Montana, has been covered with round pinkish buds resembling small grapes.



Golden Marjoram

In the herb garden, a burgeoning patch of golden marjoram comes alight when the sun shines.



Sweet Cicely

A clump of sweet cicely shows frothy white flowers above the fern-like, green foliage; the leaves of this plant are edible and have a mild aniseed-like flavour with sugary overtones.




Several spikes of borage seem to have appeared from nowhere as if called to stand to attention. Bees love borage; the plant is sometimes called Bee Bread so they will be eagerly awaiting the full opening of the flowers.




Wild Garlic

The far side of the Garden has a much wilder feel. A small bank of wild garlic (Ramsons) shows starry flowers beginning to appear above the fleshy leaves. Wild garlic is very abundant in the Devon countryside and the spring-smell of a woodland path lined with the plant is unmistakable. The leaves now find favour with celebrity chefs as a gentle garlic substitute.



Hidcote-blue Comfrey

In a hidden corner, I found some beautiful comfrey, another bee favourite. Its buds are a deep red and, once opened, there are clusters of bell-like flowers; that part of the flower nearest the plant is pale blue with the remainder being white. This unusual variety is Hidcote-blue comfrey.



Garlic Mustard

Near the comfrey was an upstanding plant with copious green, heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. This is garlic mustard or Jack-by-the-Hedge; when bruised or chopped, its leaves emit a mild garlic smell.


The bees are out and about and I have seen a common carder and a hairy footed flower bee on the white lungwort.

Common carder bee on white lungwort


On April 20th I noticed a bird glide gracefully down between the trees to land on the grass. It was quite large, predominantly dark but with pale patches on its wings and my first reaction was that it was a buzzard. It stalked about the Garden, occasionally stopping to eat and with its long tale and dark plumage it reminded me of the proprietor of a posh French restaurant eyeing up his staff and clientele while keeping his hands clasped firmly behind his back. The more I looked the more I realised this was no buzzard and most likely it was a very large crow with a few pale feathers. The bird kept returning to the Garden and I found this puzzling until one day I saw it land on a nearby tree. On the tree was another crow sitting on a nest made of twigs balanced between two branches. Both birds are occasionally on the nest together; there will be a new crow-family before too long.

This is the fifth of my monthly reflections on the Leechwell Garden in Totnes. To see what I wrote in earlier months, follow the links at the end of this post or put “leechwell” in the search window.

Thanks to Hazel Strange for improving the photos I took on April 19, 26 and 27.

7 thoughts on “Bee bread, benches and a crows nest in the April garden”

  1. Lovely visit with you to the garden. I did not know borage was sometimes bees’ bread, it certainly is a good name as they love it. Have you ever tried putting a little sweet cicely into stewed rhubarb? It helps you use less sugar as it drops the acidity but you only need a little as you don’t want to lose all the acidity. Amelia


    1. Thanks for your comment, Amelia. I haven’t tried sweet cicely in rhubarb but it sounds like a good recipe. I like the idea of using a natural sweetener. We did once try sweet cicely in a salad and it sticks to the roof of your mouth so this hasn’t been repeated! Philip


  2. “Bee bread” is also the name of the fermented pollen mixture which honeybees feed to their brood.

    Do honeybees ever work garlic mustard? Here in Michigan that plant is a nasty invasive which we do our Sisyphean best to eradicate. We would feel conflicted if it were a good nectar source.


    1. Yes it’s a bit confusing that “bee bread” is used for used in two senses. I havent been able to find out exactly how borage came to have the name apart from knowing that bees like it.

      I dont know a lot about garlic mustard but I have seen that it is pollinated by some solitary bees. I will keep watching to see if I can get an idea about what pollinates it in the UK.

      I have read that it is invasive in the US and can overwhelm native plants so I understand well why you want to eradicate it. It’s all the fault of those pesky settlers who brought it across the sea. Here it is a native plant that is found quite widely. We have the same invasive problem here with himalyan balsam.


      1. We have not heard of himalyan balsam before but googling tells us that it is in Michigan although not (yet?) on the list of invasives. We see that it is related to our native jewelweeds so perhaps we have some plant pest/predator helping keep it in check?


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