Bees and Butterflies: Time is of the Essence

I spent yesterday planting saplings, bulbs and propagating fruit trees to plant next year or the year after. I got my hands very dirty in the compost too, digging out the bin and transferring the good stuff into pots for the fruit trees. I don’t spend many days like this. Like most people who work in a technology driven world, I mostly sit in front of computers logged on to what feels like another world. It means that time outside is special; a gift to be savoured, a dose of sunshine, showers, wind, and wildness, a time to connect intimately with the elements and all the creatures I share the garden with. I treat it like a meditation, a chance to deeply immerse myself in the details of plants and insects, the shape of clouds, the colours of leaf and sky. It is here that I find renewal, expanses of space, the power of the natural world and my cup of happiness. I drink my fill and experience the gratitude of being alive for another day.
Most of my garden is wild, a collection of fruit and nut trees, berries, perennial edibles, hedgerow trees and climbing vines, and spring and summer wildflowers. Only the raised vegetable beds express geometry and order. This edible wilderness is a deliberate design with no hard edges, consciously designed to create the maximum beneficial relationships between plants, wildlife, sun and slope and to produces a glut of tasty yields. The insects come to take the nectar from the flowers, eat other insects that may become pests if allowed to become too numerous. The reptiles eat the slugs and snails, and bats attracted by the ponds feed on insects like codling moths… It means that all of the garden is entirely organic.Creating Little Patches of Paradise
When we first took on what was a barren field 20 years ago, it was ploughed down to the chalk subsoil and drenched in chemicals. Very little would grow in the garden. Birds and insects were rarities, slugs were in abundance and plantain and couch rampant. Now nature, with our encouragement, has taken over and wildflowers and herbs self-seed in the meadow. Not so common lizards and slowworms have made their homes in the woodpiles and woodpecker, goldfinch, partridge, heron, buzzard and sparrowhawk are regular visitors. I feel utterly celebratory that I share my daily life with these wild creatures. I do not believe that we should take the smallest of creatures for granted. As biodiversity plummets globally, we need to create little patches of paradise wherever we can, however small.

Next to my orderly raised bed vegetable garden, I am currently making another conservation area, a habitat to produce early nectar for insects, and a home for reptiles, bees and butterflies. Planted here are red hot pokers, more spring bulbs, bugle, daisies, comfrey and valerian. I’ll add as many flowering plants (like verbena and echinacea) as I can over the years and I will not neatly cut them back in winter so that finches can feed on seed heads and toads can nestle beneath the foliage.Early Indicators
Last year I noticed that though I had many kinds of bees and butterflies (including the beautiful iridescent blues of chalk downland species and fritillaries), honeybees that used to be so commonplace were noticeably absent. I have been following the stories of colony collapse disorder, attributed in part to the overuse of pesticides which disable the worker bees navigation systems, the spread of varroa mites and the industrial way in which we farm honey. Feeding them refined sugar and removing the honey and propolis reduces the bees’ immunity. Bees are an early indicator of systems collapse. We ignore them at our peril. This is the other side of blissful garden consciousness – the piercing awareness of the destruction we humans wreak in our collective ignorance. I hope we can realise in time the havoc we cause.

On a blissful day when I feel completely alive to the beauty of the world and the preciousness of life, I am also aware of its fragility and this pains me. I wish my small efforts for change were more effective but this conflict between light and shade is one of the lesson of consciousness. Ultimately, we have to accept that we humans are a collective. We live and die by each other’s actions. We cannot sail away in arks and escape into glorious isolation. Our predicament is defined by group consciousness. We are living in an interconnected universe and therefore we must be patient whilst our brothers and sisters awaken to the global crisis that is unravelling. What might be predictable for some is frightening change for others. I do earnestly hope, however, that the changing tides begin to surge before the bees are gone. Time now is of the essence.Much love, Maddy

Maddy Harland is the editor of Permaculture magazine – inspiration for sustainable living. For more information please see permaculture.co.uk or call 01730 823311. For a free back issue call or email info@permaculture.co.uk
To see the Harlands’ garden on the BBC go to http://www.youtube.com/user/PermacultureMedia
Maddy will be the keynote speaker at the GreenSpirit Annual Gathering 2011, 7th – 9th October 2011. For more details see http://www.greenspirit.org.uk/ag2011 or call 0208 552 2096.