The Garden I Grew Up In – Bees and Butterflies

Bees

I’m here, laying on the grass of the garden I grew up in. I’m watching the honey bees elegantly dance over and cling like hummingbirds on the clover blooms. The light of the evening sun is illuminating the subtle colours and its warmth is welcomed.
The sound of the wind flap under a flock of seagulls that fly over; the tweeting of birds; the hum of nature. The tall grass is swaying in the breeze. I can’t believe this is the garden I grew up in. I watch an ant scale the prickly edges of a well established, old cranky looking thistle. It’s not yet in bloom, but it’s going to be resplendent when it is. The garden is just a thing of beauty, it always received comments of what a beautiful garden it was, but now, in my eyes it was more stunning than ever before. It was alive, not with the delighted squeals of two young girls playing carelessly, but with an abundance of nature’s creatures.

I was here to tidy up the abandoned garden, my parents moved last year and the house sale has taken much longer than anyone could ever have imagined has meant I have taken on the role of property maintenance. I was coming every few weeks but hadn’t been for about five weeks and in that time Mother Nature moved in and put her mark over everything, she had created a pretty meadow.  My intention was to cut it all back.

I laid there watching the small insects clamber about the roots of the grass come clover come pansies. The lawn spread into the flower beds, there was no longer any real definition. A grasshopper was happily hopping along through the undergrowth and I crawled along following him with my phone trying to capture him on camera.


I couldn’t believe the noise. Part of the reason I had helped my parents move was because of the constant noise of people, traffic, music, noise created by humans. Yet here I was, completely immersed in a loud buzz, the loud buzz of nature, it really was beautiful. I walked slowly, purposefully around the perimeter – looking intently at each of the plants, the bulging buds of the wild poppies the prickly boughs of the blackberry bush, spreading along the back fence, covered in its delicate white and pink blossom, bees flitting from one bloom to the next.

I had brought secateurs, shears and the lawn mower and big black sacks with me, I wasn’t sure where to start, the task was overwhelming and was going to take a lot longer than the few hours I had set aside. I decided to start on the flower beds – uprooting the plants and grasses that simply were not meant to be there. I started to build a satisfying mound of green debris, that was never going to fit in my little mini. Walking across the ‘lawn’ to the flower beds I started to recognise the damage I was doing. I was breaking down the habitat that all this life was dependent on. I was trampling on the clover and pretty little orange red plants – which were seemingly things that the bees were thriving on. I wasn’t just watching one or two bees fly low to the floor, but the canvas beneath my feet was moving – it was full of bees, busy pollinating our world.

Having even just a small understanding of the value of our ecosystem, I stopped. A popular image shared on social media is that of a supermarket fruit and vegetable section with empty shelves with the signs displayed ‘no bees, no oranges’ etc. But our dependence on bees and the products we have as a result of them, is not restricted to the obvious fresh produce, which a lot of the consumer market may even dismiss as non important things – I mean there are a lot of people who skip through the fresh produce aisle, where as I barely ever venture into the tinned and canned food aisles. Not all fresh produce requires pollination, some self pollinate, others are assisted by bees and some are solely pollinated by bees. What ever the situation – having bees is a plus, for a lot of our non fresh produce would not exist without bees too, want to quickly rustle up a spaghetti Bolognese, so you open a jar or tin of Bolognese sauce? Well, it would be without the tomatoes or possibly the chopped peppers, so you think to grab a ready meal instead, maybe go for prawns with a Thai chilli sauce and bok choy – but without the chillies or bok choy as guess what, they need to have grown and been pollinated in order to produce the seeds to then grow more chilli or pak choy. What about some basic marmalade on toast? Well the oranges in the marmalade could only exist with guess what… pollination.
I stood there in the garden, feeling a sense of duty towards my parents and to myself to just get on and tackle the lawn, to cut it back to use my time here wisely, over the past 18 months I have spent a lot of my time helping my parents. I want to reclaim some of my life back, sorting out this garden here and now would mean that future weekends were going to be claimed back to be mine, that I would be a step ahead of the house completion, it wouldn’t be a rush, I wouldn’t have to hire in a gardener to help tackle it. But I was immobilised.
I was looking at a situation on an entirely different scale, this piece of land was approximately 30 metres by 6 metres, but yet I couldn’t understand how loggers could live with themselves, I couldn’t understand how developers can contemplate developing greenfield sites. The number of species and the size of species they must encounter, surely, surely they must find it difficult?  I was stood there watching the beginning of an ecosystem, the life forms and creatures may have been small and seemingly insignificant, but they were essential to life. I don’t just mean that we say things like “oh I remember when our garden was alive with bees and butterflies – I don’t know what has happened” or their demise means we get headlines from a bunch of environmentalists saying ‘bees are on the decline and we need critical measures to prevent doom’.  Headlines like this are shocking, but just like everything other shocking news factor – life goes on.

We (the world) need our population to really recognise, understand and value the entire end to end process, we need people to recognise, that like with absolutely every single thing we do in life – we make choices, our choices, our decisions are supporting and paving our everyday and future. We need to choose not to pave over our gardens, we need to choose plants that encourage bees, we need to choose products and support companies that do not use pesticides, especially those harmful to bees and other wildlife. We are all part of the process and without nearly of us (I struggle to see the value of mosquitos and us humans are pretty bad at destructing the ecosystem not building it) then we are really paving our way to a future where pollination will have to be yet another process of life that becomes mechanised unnecessarily and our skies will be free of many natural beauties. We will become farmed. I can see that many people will be happy not to have the annoyance or threat of bees and other insects in the sky, but what if they couldn’t get their ready meals and tinned food or fresh fruit and vegetables. Or that it was possible, but came at a premium price – I mean it costs money to develop mechanical or technical solutions, it costs money to maintain these solutions too. What would be more annoying, a few bees and insects in our skies, or premium priced and mechanically developed produce?

I was in the garden I grew up in, but it barely resembled the immaculate show garden it once was, where flowers were planted equidistant apart, everything had a place, nothing except the rose bushes had height, the lush green lawn was manicured and ready for a game of bowls.

I simply couldn’t do it. Yes, I was here to use my time wisely and my inner wise self said very comfortingly, that I should leave it. Leave it all for a few weeks, let the pollination occur, allow nature to do its thing. I laid down and watched a lady bird clamber up the stem of a fluffy dandelion, I was very happy with my decision.

Butterflies

Today I am sat in my garden, approximately 5 metres away are three butterflies dancing about in the sunlight. This is first year I can recall having this many butterflies, they have always been something I would love to see more of, for their colours are majestic and their dance gleeful and full of grace. I always recall my time in New Zealand where the garden of the house I was staying at was a sanctuary of butterflies, it was a real treat for me to be convalescing in such a peaceful environment. Here I am now, watching these very simple,white butterflies knowing how lucky I am to have them in my life, for them to have chosen to grace my garden with their presence. Yet their appearance here is no coincidence, it is not because I am lucky by any means, it simply comes back to choices and specifically the choices I made earlier this year.

I wanted to grow more fruit and vegetables. I have a small garden, just 10 metres by four metres, with only 2 and a half metres by 70 centimetres a dedicated veggie plot! I use the decking area to have potted tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and strawberries, yet this year I decided to try and grow broccoli, beetroot, parsnips and beans. Oh and courgette! Yes, all this in my tiny little veggie plot. When 64 broccoli seeds germinated into plants I had no idea just how much space I might need, but I knew I didn’t have enough space, so when the slugs and caterpillars got munching, I left them to it. There was, after all, going to be casualties and with my approach to organic gardening being very much about just leaving things to work themselves out, I couldn’t interfere too much. Plus, selfishly there is an element of time – I do not have time to maintain a garden full of organic traps and concoctions to drive away the ‘pests’. These pests are nature’s creations and they all have a role to play, no matter how small it appears to us.

Imagine a stage play, there are main characters, who get much airtime, prop and set designers, script writers, costume makers and cleaners. Without everyone doing their role, there wouldn’t be a production. But we humans, we seem to have a requirement to measure the value of roles by their level of visibility. Many would say that the the leading actor or actress is essential to the success of a show. Yes of course they are important – but I’d like to consider that everyone is. Imagine if on opening night, the person in charge of pulling up the curtain was not there – that the entire show still took place, but with those famous red curtains firmly shut. There would suddenly be an appreciation to the importance of the role of the curtain puller.
I try to apply this logic to every day life – most things, certainly in nature have a valuable role, no matter how un-noticed or undervalued that role may be. It really helps give meaning to the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’. This is my explanation for allowing some little critters chomp merrily away at my young broccoli shoots and why I don’t think the parsnips ever made a show above ground.

My decision to grow vegetables, the time and effort committed to digging over the earth, mixing in some of my home developed compost and leaving those little critters to eat my young broccoli, has meant that today I can sit here and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the butterflies in my garden – my own little slice of paradise.

It has struck me that because we have become a nation, a world of industrial scale farming that we are no longer close to environments in which we can be exposed to these natural beauties. That once, there was a time when many people grew much of their own fruit and veg or it was grown very locally. I realised that living in a city I am less likely than many other citizens of the UK to have the opportunity to be encapsulated in the beauty of nature. But that I do recognise the value. As I sat watching the butterflies dance above the ever tall stems of broccoli (I am wondering when I might see something that resembles a broccoli) I realise that even then, with industrial scale farming, that much of the countryside is not going to be an abundance of natural beauty, that there would not be skies full of graceful, dancing butterflies or buzz of bees. For the industrial farming world to meet the demand (whether legislative or consumer driven) for cheap and uniform appearance produce, they apply fertilisers and pesticides. These in turn, of course are there to prevent bugs from chomping at the produce – we all known the famous tale of the very hungry caterpillar, we know that butterflies come from caterpillars and well, caterpillars eat lovely dark green leafy plants. Which in turn are treated with pesticides.

It really does come back to understanding our ecosystem – that nature had a very good process in place in which pretty much everything has a valuable role (again I refer to questioning the value add of mosquitos, I’m going to throw in slugs too). But can you now see how us, the humans – one of nature’s greatest creations, through our every day choices, is undoing an awful lot of the beautiful work that has been created before us?

I’ve got to this realisation from sitting in the garden I grew up in and my own little slice of paradise. It has been eating away at me, I’ve needed to write this, I want others to see what I can see, feel what I can feel. We can all make choices that are more conscious of the knock on effects of those decisions. We can make a difference.
I’m so grateful that I spent time in the garden I grew up in. I suppose that only happened because the house sale hadn’t completed. Everything really does happen for a reason.

*All photographs are my own and can be found, together with others, on Instagram @lozcopeland

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