Posted: Friday 24 February 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Last summer I walked past a hedge that was so covered in bumblebees it was moving. But I actually heard it before I saw it: buzzzzzzz...

Escallonia 'Apple blossom'

Last summer I walked past a hedge that was so covered in bumblebees it was moving. But I actually heard it before I saw it: buzzzzzzz ­– a veritable orgy of inner-city pollination.

Standing in front of this hedge, which was in someone’s front garden, I counted five species of bumblebee, plus honeybees and the odd, brave hoverfly trying to muscle in on the action. They couldn’t get enough. But what was this marvellous plant? I was sure I’d never seen it before.

I took a quick photo before the owners of the house could object, and went home to look it up. Nothing in my plant books. I searched online for ‘green hedge with pink flowers’. Again, nothing.

A week later I came across the same plant in someone else’s front garden. This one was almost sagging under the weight of all the bees. It wasn’t as well kept as the previous hedge (and neither was the garden), so I nipped off a few young shoots and took them home to pot up. The following Monday I showed the photo to my colleague Ross, who identified this wonder plant as escallonia. Its name rang through my head, redolent of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé singing ‘Barcelona’. I had found it at last!

Of course, had I looked at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s list of best plants for bees, I would have found escallonia under the heading May-June. Native to the mountainous regions of South America, it’s commonly used as a hedging plant in the south-west of the UK, especially in coastal regions. It can be prone to suffering from frost, so it’s not ideal for northern areas, but it should be ok in my Hackney garden. And it’s well known for attracting my favourite pollinators, I’d just never looked it up.

I had about five escallonia cuttings, which I took great care of over summer. Most of them rooted well and I looked forward to the day when people would stop at my hedge in awe of the number of bees on it.

Sadly, three of the cuttings succumbed over winter (due to lack of watering, I think, rather than frost), so I’m now down to just two plants. But they’re strong and healthy, and will be ready for potting on when temperatures rise. They’ll take a few years to grow, of course, and they won’t make much of a hedge, but I can’t wait for that first army of bees to land on it, making it move and shake, and buzzzzzzz.

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Talkback: Escallonia
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oldchippy 24/02/2012 at 17:52

Hi Kate we have two Escallonia growing along the fence with tubular flowers mixed in with dogwood and cotinus and a flowering cherry and pyracantha and cotoneaster all growing happy together ,they have been in about 7 years and are well over grown,time for a prune.


Lupin2 24/02/2012 at 22:54

Hi Kate, after reading your comment I must plant escallonia in my new border for the bees.

Amanda 6 26/02/2012 at 09:13

The Escallonia in our garden must be at least 25years old and had spent at over 10years inside a Snow Berry hedge that was 8ft deep!! Four years ago I took the hedge back to the fence line, and discovered my aged Escallonia. She has been recovering and although still over shadowed by the neighbours 40ft conifers is a rounded standard shrub that certainly "buzzez" in the sort of garden hero!!!

Minty4 26/02/2012 at 13:10

This sounds just the plant I've been looking for to suggest to my neighbour (she has asked me for suggestions - I'm not butting in!)to plant against her house wall at the front of the house. My family will benefit from her choice of plant more than she will as we look out at it from our kitchen and study. However, due to extensions, her house is staggered in 3 stages and the same evergreen plant aalong all the 3 parts would unify it I feel. Any other ideas?

sculinky 26/02/2012 at 21:09

We have a white and a pink escallonia in our garden and one of my favourite things to do during summer is to to watch the bees at work on them, they are great plants and even survive Scottish winters!

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