Wildflower plugs

June 2009
June 2009

One of our illustration projects is at Sarah’s house. There was a bank left after some building work which she very sportingly decided to have native wildflowers on for us, which we planted in June. I’m particularly pleased with our wildflower plug plants, which are a good size and offer interesting selections for different locations. For a project like this they’re ideal, and talk about quick results – which is really why I’m mentioning it now. Look at it 3 months later!

Today
Today

As ever my photography doesn’t do it justice – you can see better pictures here which will expand when clicked. You can see the Knapweed, Scabious and Oxeye Daisies most clearly in the photo, but in addition to the 13 species in the original collection there are some welcome new additions that have appeared as well – Foxglove, Lungwort, Lemon Balm (which I’m allowing), Feverfew (ditto) and Comfrey (to be carefully policed). Fantastic. Sarah’s sowing the remaining bare patches with some native annuals too…who said this was difficult?

Do you own an orchard ?

The Orchard at The Old Rectory
The Orchard at The Old Rectory
After the end of the cricket season there is Apple Day and the village’s annual pilgrimage to Ern’s farm to pick the apples for the latest vintage of our Bullbeggar cider. Before this entertainment – about which more anon – I thought it was high time to put our own orchard on the map, so I’ve just sent a traditional orchard survey form back to the oddly named but estimable People’s Trust for Endangered Species. There’s been an orchard here since at least the mid 19th century (probably a lot longer) and it’s been a privilege to have been able to renovate it after years of neglect. Why not celebrate it ? If you own a traditional orchard – i.e. one with standard fruit trees and using low intensity methods – do get involved by calling them on 020 7498 4533 or emailing anita@ptes.org.

Malvern Autumn Show

Perry Pears
Perry Pears
Off to the RHS Autumn show at Malvern yesterday, which offered the usual mix of good and bad. Let’s get the bad out of the way…
if I see another Heuchera/Crocosmia/Pansy I think I’ll garrote myself. I don’t want to sound like a gardening fascist, but honestly – and the most hopeless plants for wildlife gardening, which was a notably absent theme in favour of plastic Box balls and double glazing. COME ON, RHS ! On the plus side, some gorgeous stuff from Cotswold Craftsmen by way of non-plant things. I’ve added the Orchard Centre and Hartpury Perry Park to my links, and had a nice chat to the folk from the Colwall Village Garden, which sounds like an excellent project. I also found some nice nurseries.
Hoyland Plant Centre has the National Collections of Agapanthus and Tulbaghia. Irresistible. I loved the Hardy’s Nursery stall, a plantsman’s delight I had been advised to look out for. I was particularly pleased to run into the folk at Trecanna Nursery too. I bought native Alliums, Wood Anemones, and Spring flowering Cyclamen coum from them. It would be great to have some more bulbs on our site and they’re just the sort of people I’d love to work with. More anon…

Hazlegrove Wildlife Pond

Planting
Planting
Yesterday was planting day at the pond. Ably assisted by a gaggle of year 6s we planted the margins and sowed a nice mix around the banks. I’m excited about the native plug selection we are using, which should be lovely. The wildlife has moved in already; we saw an Anax imperator, swifts, wagtails and, to William’s joy, all manner of larvae.

Scything

I’m going to pop down to my scythe supplier Simon Fairlie to pick up a new blade today, which seems like a good excuse to eulogize scything. For the size of meadow areas I have at home the scythe is an ideal tool, as against a strimmer or sit on. Its advantages are clear:
Economic: no servicing and repair charges, no petrol or oil, no strimmer cords.
Reliability: there’s little that can go wrong – apart from the scyther!
Environmentally friendly: not only the obvious – no racket and no emissions – but a scythe won’t chew up any wildlife in the sward.
Enjoyment: a sense of satisfaction in mastering a manual skill
Getting fit
I’ve enjoyed learning how to do it too, and we urge anyone who buys a scythe kit to go on a course like the one I did. As an introduction, enjoy this delightful video produced by keen scyther Richard Brown of Emorsgate Seeds.
[aembed:youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-nAl5EjgpU]
If you decide to go scything do get the right kit with the right bits and pieces. We sell the elegant Austrian type Richard is using in the video, which the experts agree is the best available, with different sized snaths (handles) depending on your height. You’ll also need advice on the length of blade to get and what you’ll need to maintain it; it’s probably best to get the sort of complete starter kit we have.

The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, University of Sussex

Observation Hive at LASI
Observation Hive at LASI
A quick plug for one of the charities we help support – the catchily named Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at Sussex University. They are adding more content to their website which will be a great resource for information on honeybees. The video is a very nice introduction for non apiarists too. I worry that we may all start to suffer from bee fatigue following this summer’s Press coverage, so I’m particularly keen to promote this important cause…

Flowery Meads

I met Jane Owen at an open day with the charismatic Andy McIndoe at Hillier’s this week. I’ve got a pretty steep learning curve to deal with but at least, as I’ve commented before, I’m finding some of the best and nicest people to help me up it. Jane was researching an article on flowering lawns so I put her in touch with Linda Laxton, the expert’s expert on native plants and founder of British Wildflower Plants, one of our suppliers.
We sell both plug and seed mixes for flowering lawns, so I ought to know more about them and post more information on the website. I do know that “flowery meads” or “enamelled lawns” were an important element of medieval gardens and I can very much see their attraction now. Playing football on them might be problemmatic but they’re low maintenance, hugely more wildlife friendly than a “traditional” lawn and add colour and interest to smaller gardens in particular. I suppose a well kept tightly mown lawn is the gardening equivalent of a field of perennial rye grass from an ecologist’s point of view…

Unmown section of lawn
Unmown section of lawn
If you don’t want to go the whole hog then mow tightly around small islands and only let them grow a little to make them look neat, which I saw at Jenny Steel’s garden (left). Leaving these sections unmown for a couple of weeks or so gives at least the clover and, here, Selfheal as well (a good bumblebee plant) a chance to flower. Perhaps I could sell this solution to the footballers.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to Jane’s article on the lawns and, in the meantime, back to Linda for some notes to help folk on the website.

Pigs

I’ve had a love affair with Large Black Pigs over the last few years. I’m not a full time swineherd, but we buy our pigs in as weaners every year and fatten them up. Once common, they are a Rare Breed now, but excellent for beginners like us as they’re very phlegmatic and easy to keep. We let ours wander around the orchard with the odd length of one strand electric fence coralling them in (in sharp contrast with the entertaining but hooligan Tamworths my friend Spon keeps down the road). I am also appalled at the conditions in which pigs are often kept commercially and our Large Blacks make fantastic eating, so we no longer buy sausages, pork, pancetta or ham.

Large Black Pig, Winter 2008/9
Large Black Pig, Winter 2008/9
They fulfill a useful function for the meadow too, by opening up the sward with their rooting. The breed is not known for being particularly aggressive at excavating, but they do the business. I’ve just sorted out delivery of our next three weaners in October, which is perfect. I have dragged around the green hay from an existing patch of meadow to where the pigs will be, hoping that the seeds from it will do well on the bare earth they will leave. We should have a new annual rich meadow area as a result – albeit one that will need some rolling!

Ponds

Hazlegrove wildlife pond
Hazlegrove wildlife pond
I’ve just started work on our next illustration project, a wildife pond at our youngest’s school. This should be a cracker; it is a good sized site and there are amphibia and reptiles around the grounds already. What a great thing to have at a school; they plan to have al fresco science lessons around the pond, which has a viewing area and will have cut paths for the children to wander. The heavy moving work and lining have been done already, so now I’m preparing for the planting. Needless to say, all native plugs and seed mixes, which should look gorgeous by next summer. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation offer lots of practical advice if you’re thinking of doing the same for your school, which you should be; ponds suppport some of our most threatened and most interesting animals, which children love – even though some think they won’t!

Local seed for meadows

I’ve borrowed an acre or so of land to turn into a wildflower meadow in the corner of one of Archie’s potato fields next to Sparkford, on the A303. Although I’ve been working on some areas at home over the last couple of years I thought it was time to do something much more public to promote the idea and – hopefully – show how it can be done. And we do need to do something. Although we are waking up to the problem, the catastrophic loss of ancient meadows – an estimated 98% since 1945 – has had an inestimable impact. Unimproved grassland is one of the most important of our native habitats, and its disappearance seems to be a major factor in recent declines and extinctions of a number of species. We can’t replace ancient meadows overnight, but we can make a difference by creating new ones and – wow! – they’re beautiful. I’ll be banging on a good deal about meadows, but for the time being you can find out more about Archie’s site and other projects on our website.
Today I wanted to write about the need for using the right seed mixes for them. I’ve been slightly taken aback by people’s ideas about what constitutes a “traditional” meadow. Folk are planting initially beautiful annual flowers rather than perennial mixes WITH grasses, and managing them poorly so they disappear. There are now some gorgeous North American annual mixes available too which are understandably popular, but not what’s required. Many packet “native” seed mixes also seem to include non-native plants, which is unhelpful. Not only that, but work by Scotia Seeds suggests that some commercially available mixes have germination rates as low as… zero.
I’m trying to follow some guidelines in our work and in what we’re promoting on the website:
Use only native seed. Native animals need native plants, and no-one needs invasive foreign species or hybrids.
Use only high quality seed. A low germination rate means all your work will be wasted.
Plant as diverse a mix as possible. The more species of flora you have, the more beautiful the meadow will look and the more species of fauna you will support.
Plan and manage the sward properly. Work out what kind of conditions you have and find an appropriate mix, which will then need an annual regime.

Orchid in Archie's meadow mix
Orchid in Archie's meadow mix

Lastly, try to use local seed. It seems to me that it will not only do better and include possibly rare species, but also be more relevant to local fauna. We are trying to encourage unimproved meadow owners to produce seed (do you know anyone who might be interested ?), but it is a difficult, commercially hazardous and highly specialized business. There is currently only a handful of commercial suppliers who produce the really good quality and regionally appropriate mixes we sell ourselves. We will be using some seed from a local meadow in our new project, which I’m very excited about and which we’ll be selling on the website. This mix includes the Corky-fruited Water-dropwort (!), which I gather is typical of this area, and in a couple of years time we will be sowing some lovely orchids, including the one pictured, I’m told a hybrid Common Spotted / Marsh orchid.