We Are 10!

Amazingly, Habitat Aid is 10 years old. It started off as what now looks like a lunatic plunge into the unknown. I’d had 30+years in the City and needed another career. I was a keen but strictly amateur naturalist and gardener/smallholder. I think people thought I was having a midlife crisis (probably) or that I’d made so much money it didn’t matter (weak laughter). We downsized dramatically. To the surprise of most the business has kept food on the table and, more importantly, done some good things. Anyway, our tenth anniversary has given me an excellent opportunity to go off on one…

Native planting
Hedge and copse scheme, Cambridgeshire
I wish I’d kept tabs on what we’ve given away to charities and community projects, how many acres of wildflower meadows or orchards we’ve had a hand in, or seed packets, or numbers of ponds, or miles of hedges. Wildflower meadows are now particularly dear to my heart. Largely unprotected, almost completely destroyed, our most diverse and attractive habitat. I think the biggest meadow site we’ve seeded is over a hundred acres. Wildly exciting.

Plan Bee seedsMost aspects of what we do have been very satisfying, not least helping our network of suppliers, many of whom have been with us since we started. We have made some modest progress in changing minds, like promoting local provenance meadow seed, for example. People have been very supportive, from David Attenborough to an appreciative pupil from a Primary school in County Durham (thank you for the letter, Lucy). Thanks everyone, not least my long suffering wife!

Wildflower meadow
Meadow Creation Project, North Somerset
This keeps me going; sometimes, as you can imagine, it can be difficult. I do wish we were having a wider impact. The business is still pretty modest, and we find it difficult to be heard. Projects are complicated and can go wrong (don’t tell!). People don’t pay much for plants and seed, and can find them baffling. Selling online seems to
Our social media efforts are improving!
be more and more difficult for small companies who don’t want to use Amazon. Social media audiences follow enthusiastic and luminous personalities. Folk have odd ideas. Things get weird very quickly. TBH I’m hopeless at it. One of the reasons we set up Habitat Aid was to get across sound information on how to try and improve our natural environment. Worthy but dull on Facebook. Hopeless.

Although we know more about what’s happening in our own back garden than we did 10 years ago, it’s still remarkably little. Some of the charities we support are working hard to change that, but we’re still blundering around in – at best – the twilight. Our understanding of what we’re doing to the natural environment here remains depressingly sketchy.

The conservation lobby is often at loggerheads with other interest groups. I’m delighted to see a new activism abroad, like the recent People’s Walk for Wildlife and various online petitions. I’m uncomfortable though about the confrontational element of some of this stuff, and the over-simplification and sensationalising (is that a word?) of complicated real world issues. For example, banning neonicotinoids on its own isn’t going to “save our bees”. Don’t get me wrong. I think banning them is a very good thing and was very overdue – but bees have other problems too. We continue to find out how many. We’re also finding out how many other impacts neonics have too. In the meantime farmers are flooding their oilseed rape fields with pyrethroid based pesticides instead. Specialist evidence based conservation charities really struggle to put across complicated messages without compromising them.”Personalities” or campaigning groups often eclipse them, too.

NGOs are, however, getting better at persuading people that wildlife friendly can also be people friendly. Most are also engaging better with the real world, although there are a couple of ivory towers out there which need to be bazooka-ed. It must be a concern to them, however, that their supporters continue to be overwhelmingly white middle class folk of a certain age, from outside urban areas. It’s a symptom of “nature deficit disorder”, I guess. There’s also shifting baseline syndrome to fight among the younger generation.

Lastly there’s the commercial sector. Retailers sell lots of THINGS to try replace degraded habitat. Bee boxes, bird boxes, hedgehog boxes, bat boxes, dormice boxes, hibernacula, bird feeders, even bumblebee colonies.* This all just widens people’s disconnectedness with nature. Together with the over-simplification of key messages they are encouraged to think that nature is easily and cheaply replaceable. They’re not looking at it either. Our efforts to get people to take pleasure in the small things – a new butterfly in the garden, a new plant in the meadow – generally fall on deaf ears. I still run into far too much greenwash in the corporate sector at large. Perhaps naively I think this is often down to ignorance.

I’ve become increasingly suspicious of government, although encouraged by the Blue Planet effect. This means that – for the first time ever – the environment will win votes. Best of all, it might win votes among the under 25s. This realisation just might drive a good environmental deal post Brexit, although as this will mean short term cost and higher food prices the jury is still firmly out. At the least, we should get improved biosecurity and wave goodbye to the Common Agricultural Policy.

Rainbow over Alfred's TowerThis is apparently my 362nd blog. There does now seem to be a wider understanding that something is needed to reverse what Chris Packham calls an “ecological apocalypse” here. There are more active efforts being made to that end, like rewilding. Much hasn’t changed over the previous 361 blogs, though. We still worry about animals like hedgehogs much more than we do about the drivers behind their decline. These are common to many, many other species. Biodiversity loss is still the Cinderella of the Green movement, which is much more concerned about energy and sustainability. We still spend peanuts on it, least of all on the poor souls slaving away in this area – or in horticulture generally, come to that.

I’m still convinced that the way to improve biodiversity here is by recreating and rejoining (as best we can) destroyed and splintered natural habitats. This not only means huge changes to the way we use and value land here, but also getting people to see the benefits of habitat creation. It can be beautiful and wildly exciting (sorry! – Ed.).

*Plants and seed sellers often pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. “Wildflower seed” in particular could be anything from anywhere and often fails. Retailers seem to sometimes actively encourage people’s confusion; between actual and other sorts of “meadows”, and the provenance of plants, for example.

Wildflower Meadows: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

We sell a fair amount of seed for wildflower meadows. You might say wildflower meadows are a bit of an obsession, in fact. We do everything we can to make sure they’re going to work for our clients. We know where the seed has come from, we do random germination tests, we know how old it is and how it has been stored. We post guides and videos about how to make wildflower meadows. Things still seem to go wrong though… here are the three biggest bloopers folk commit.

1. What Is Your Seed and What Will It Do?

Do you know what you want to create and will the seed mix you buy give you that? Do you know what a “traditional” hay meadow will look like? Is that what you want? IF yes then remember… good things come to those who wait. Wait until you’ve done your prep. Wait until the right window to sow. Most importantly, wait for your meadow flowers to develop. They are    s      l      o      w growing perennials, which won’t flower in year one. Many might not in year two. Take pleasure in watching it develop. This hints at the next question…

2. Would You Sow Carrot Seed Onto Your Lawn?
No no and thrice no! And wildflower seed is often equally small and much more slow growing. Don’t chuck it on an existing pasture or lawn. If soil fertility is anything but LOW and there are any aggressive grasses about (which there almost certainly will be), your wildflower seed will end up being a waste of £££. There are exceptions to this*, but this is true of well over 90% of the sites we deal with. Clear a little space to seed wildflowers and the grasses will take it over. Create a little strip to seed wildflowers and the grasses will take it over. Scarify some of the grass off to seed wildflowers and the grasses will take over. You get the picture.

3. Be Brutal
There are some plants you don’t want in your meadow. Thistles have great biodiversity value but get everywhere. Dock looks like Sorrel, but is much less retiring. Nettles are great food plants for caterpillars but a curse in wildflower meadows. No thanks; all these need to go, and BEFORE they have any chance of setting seed. Don’t leave those thistles flowering because they’re a great food source for bees. Have them out, unless you want a thistle plantation.
Cut the grass before September. Please, please don’t wait until the last Knapweed has finished flowering. The grass will collapse before then and be virtually uncuttable. If you don’t cut it promptly and over the winter I guarantee you will soon be looking at a field full of grass, not a wildflower in sight. And that would be a great shame.

If all this is too worrying and you are to horticulture what I am to blacksmithing, just get us to do the whole thing for you.

Wildflower meadow
What’s all the fuss about?

*I can hear you thinking you might be one. If you think you might, get in touch. I’d be interested to hear from you and we can cook up a strategy for your site.

 

Newsletter: November 2014

Barring the Yellow Rattle the seeding is all done for another year and we’re lining up all our hedge plant orders, to start delivery from next week.

The weather is finally turning autumnal, but I think the extended warm spell has done for my honeybees, who despite my best efforts look to have succumbed to a bunch of freebooting wasps. Oh well – time will tell.

Climate change was very much on the agenda at the Invertebrate Conservation Conference a couple of weeks ago. Distributions of butterflies and moths should persuade anyone that it’s getting warmer here and that habitat loss continues to wreak terrible damage to our invertebrate populations – and thence everything else.

Looking on the bright side though, there are some really good initiatives gathering momentum, characterized by co-ordination between various interested parties – keep an eye on B-Lines, for example, a Buglife led project which is now taking aim at London. Even HMG seems to have caught pollinator fever – in a modest way.

The business continues to truck along. 2014 will be another record year for us thanks to our business to business sales. We’re helping create a lot of valuable new habitat! We are redesigning our website to kickstart moribund retail sales, about which more anon. It should relaunch early next year.

iris-foetissimaLLearning to Garden

I’ve finally got around to doing the RHS Level 2 course, which has reminded me how little I know about almost everything. Last week I embarrassed myself by not recognizing Iris foetidissima. Now I know it I’ve added it to my cracking native plants for gardens list. One of many!

Ponds

Finally – FINALLY – the pond is starting to fill. We’ve even had some Chasers laying eggs in it, and the odd frog. I’ve popped some oxygenators in ahead of the winter; Starwort, Milfoil and Hornwort. The test will now be to see how clean the water is that will be running off into it; water quality is the key issue for ponds like this.

A Meadow in Winter

We had a visitor a couple of weeks ago who didn’t believe we had any meadow areas here. I can sympathize; in winter they look like closely mown lawns ( with a lot of “weeds” in! ). A lot of folk make the mistake of not keeping their meadows either grazed or cut close enough over the winter. It won’t harm the rosettes of the wildflowers and will encourage diversity.

Meadow Update

In autumn 2009 we seeded a meadow in the corner of one of Archie’s potato fields at Sparkford, next to the A303. The idea was to test some of the mixes I was being offered by suppliers, and to show people:
A) How easy it can be
B) How meadows evolve
C) How beautiful they are
To see how it has developed click on one of the photos to find a gallery, or just search for “Archie” to find related posts.

 
I pop down there with the dogs every couple of weeks to hoik out the odd thistle, and took my camera with me yesterday. It’s really beginning to take off – and not just visually. The thing I really love about establishing meadow areas is to see how they change and to watch their associated fauna arrive. It’s great playing God. I didn’t see anything rare or bizarre yesterday, but things are stirring; talking about just lepidoptera, I bumped into Small Tortoiseshells and Marbled Whites (“found in flowery grassland” – hurrah!), Meadow Browns and Six-spot Burnets. So next time you’ve zoomed past Sparkford roundabout eastbound keep a look out for it, on your left hand side, and ask yourself whether you couldn’t do something similar.

How to Make a Wildflower Meadow: Part One

Introduction
There is a mystique about wildflower meadow creation that suggests it is difficult and time consuming. Not necessarily so. A wildflower meadow – even a small area – not only puts a large tick in aesthetic and ecological boxes, it will also REDUCE some of your most wearisome labour. Make one because you want to and not because you think it’s the right thing to do. This translates into its management too; one gardener’s weed is another’s favourite wildflower. Gentle reader, if you are a gardener or landowner looking to turn a relatively small area of land into a wildflower meadow you can cut straight to the chase with this introductory video:

What is a Wildflower Meadow?
What is a wildflower meadow? It’s not this, lovely though it looks. These are grasses and “cornfield annuals”. You can buy mixes of native annual wildflowers, which produce a gorgeous display in mid-summer and provide welcome nectar and pollen to pollinators. That’s all though folks. If you use non-natives, or do multiple sowings, you can extend the flowering period, but it’s not only quite a different look to a meadow – no grasses, for a start – but also fails to deliver a nice rewarding ecosystem (sweeping overstatement, I know). Furthermore, annuals demand a completely different regime; I grow them in borders and follow the tips in this video from one of our suppliers, Emorsgate Seeds: Managing Cornfield Annuals

Traditional meadows come in different types, but all have (relatively retiring) native grasses and perennial (sun loving) wildflowers. This is what makes them ecological hotspots. Butterflies, for example, love the nectar from annual wildflowers but need perennials and grasses as foodplants for their larvae.

Is My Site Suitable For A Wildflower Meadow?
How much sun does your putative meadow get? As much as possible; it is of course possible to grow wildflowers in shade, but a wildflower meadow you won’t get. Is the area you’re thinking of used for anything else? Many folk (mea culpa) establish a nice looking meadow area in a new orchard, only for it to be shaded out in 10 years time. In any case, fruit trees like rich soil, meadows don’t.

This last point is much debated and the single biggest issue people have. Sometimes soil is just too rich in nutrients for a wildflower meadow to establish. You’ll end up with a jungle of nettle, dock, aggressive grasses and your favourite other local weeds. You’ll read a lot about meadows’ need for low fertility soils. Wildflowers need less fertility than grass and things like nettles. Feed scabious fertiliser and you won’t get much reaction. Feed nettles and grass and they will go bonkers. If you have lots of nettle in particular, that’s a good sign your site is not destined to work.

In any event, you should definitely work to reduce soil fertility over time by at least removing cuttings. Some more determined enthusiasts go further; you can invert the soil, for example, so that you’re seeding onto subsoil and the topsoil is buried.

How Do I Start?
You have a choice of 3 routes (all of which those lovely people at Habitat Aid can help you with), and will need to take different first steps according to which you choose. The table below attempts to summarize the differences between wildflower turf, seed mixes and plugs. Of course, all 3 are not mutually exclusive. We often recommend starting with say half the area you are thinking of working on.

We’ve only recently figured out how to make successful wildflower turf, but it’s a problem which seems to have been cracked by our supplier. Its great virtue is that it is instant, and can create an almost immediate effect. Although you can include annual wildflowers in a seed mix, we often have customers complain that there is nothing happening in their meadow for ages while the perennial flowers establish themselves. Wildflower turf can be pretty diverse, but not as diverse or interesting as the better seed mixes, and of course it’s one size fits all; unless you have over 400 square metres to cover, in which case we can produce turf on a bespoke basis, there is one – albeit rather good – mix for everyone. You not only lose local diversity, but you couldn’t easily tweak the mix for a particular purpose either. You might want to encourage a particular species of butterfly by introducing its food plant, for example. I think it’s a cracking solution for some, however. Don’t be too put off by the cost; if necessary you can use a chess board planting system, alternating between existing sward or seeded squares and wildflower turf. This video is well worth a look: Wildflower Turf. Fab.

Seed mixes are much cheaper and can be tweaked as to soil type, situation and customer requirement. Ecologists like “direct harvest” mixes, taken from donor sites, as you can find very diverse mixes with high floristic content and at least relatively local provenance. The mix in the picture is from the Blackdown Hills, for example. You can get pretty much instant colour by adding a “nurse” of cornfield annuals – which is what you can see in the first photo. If you don’t buy your seed through us please please make sure you are buying from another specialist supplier.

It’s relatively tricky to establish a seed mix in an existing sward, which puts a lot of people off. One way or the other you really need to start with a clean sheet, which means either mechanical to kill existing weeds or, better, stripping the topsoil off completely*. You can try to cheat, by using the useful grassland flower Yellow Rattle (see below) – we’ve done it successfully, but it takes at least two seasons and can be a bit tricky.  Much easier to use plug plants, which can be inserted so long as you keep the grass away from them while they establish.

Seed Plugs Turf
Cost Low Medium High
Diversity High Low Medium
Speed Medium Medium Instant
Local (can be) High Low Low
Use in grass Slow Yes No
Customization High Medium No
Preparation High Medium Medium

 

What Next?
Many people sow/plant/unroll in spring. If you do, be prepared to water – particularly as our springs have been so dry recently – and make sure the soil has been properly prepared. At that time of year it’s difficult to know how many weeds might be lurking on your site. There’s also an issue with “vernalization”; many species, most renownedly Yellow Rattle, need a prolonged period of cold before they germinate. If you sow them in spring you won’t see anything until the following year. Spend the summer preparing the site and planning and DON’T shoot from the hip. Work towards D Day in October, when you want to be looking at bare soil.

If you want to convert existing grass into meadow without going through this stage it will take longer than you think. You can either use plug plants or Yellow Rattle, or both. For plug plants make sure the grass is cut tight and killed or removed around each plug so that it won’t be outcompeted by it. Reckon on 5 per square metre, and if the grass is particularly lush use Rattle as well. Yellow Rattle is an attractive annual wildflower which parasitises grass, reducing its vigour and thus giving other wildflowers more of a chance. It needs to be sown in Autumn, and you need to cut any existing grass very short as well as scarify it to see around 50% earth before raking the seed in. The idea is that after a year you can cut tight and scarify again, but this time sow your other wildflowers.

Continued here…

*please don’t use weedkillers if you can possibly avoid them.

The Sociable Garden in Autumn

Nature’s Grand Hotel has its Season, like the others. As the guests one by one pack, pay, and depart, and the seats at the table d’hote shrink pitifully at each succeeding meal; as suites of rooms are closed, carpets taken up, and waiters sent away; those boarders who are staying on, en pension, until the next year’s full reopening, cannot help being somewhat affected by all these flittings and farewells, this eager discussion of plans, routes, and fresh quarters, this daily shrinkage in the stream of comradeship. One gets unsettled, depressed, and inclined to be querulous.

Rat muses, Wind in the Willows, Chapter 9

Poor Ratty — he obviously wasn’t a gardener. Autumn is my favourite season, partly because I’m keen on my cider and perry, jams and jellies. It’s partly also because it’s the time to plant and sow in the garden, and not just for our own benefit.

This is the perfect moment to sow native wildflower and grass mixes. The seed of some of our native plants needs to chill over the winter before germinating, so an autumn sowing is preferable to spring, particularly as springs seem to have been so dry recently.

Barn Owl (Photo: Drum Images)
Why start a meadow? Most of our unimproved grassland — over 97% — has disappeared. That’s a tragedy — not just for us, but also for the myriad animal species associated with them. Unimproved grassland is one of our richest native habitats, as well as one of the most beautiful. Meadows don’t just work as giant nectar bars in the summer, but support a complicated ecosystem all year round. I know folk who have beautiful meadows that are made up of largely non-native species. They are nectar-rich, possibly, but useless for any of the animal species dependent on particular plants. No Kidney Vetch, no Small Blue. No Annual Meadow Grass, no Wall. These butterflies will not colonize areas where their larvae have no food plants, and the food plants of British butterflies are British plants. Nectar is not the complete answer. Establish and manage the right plants properly in your garden and your insect and bird populations thrive. We’ve got a tussocky area for voles too, and, hey presto — Barn Owls.

Bombus terrestris (Photo: Drum Images)
‘The right plants’ also means local plants. It’s difficult to find really locally appropriate mixes commercially, but you might be lucky. If not, you will be able to find a generic mix for your garden soil type or requirement, but do make sure it is from a reputable supplier and signatory of the Flora Locale code of practice. Local species will obligingly appear over time as well, of course.

You won’t be able to create a 500-year-old hay meadow overnight, but even a small “micromeadow” in your back garden will make a difference. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s relatively easy to start and maintain a meadow area. If you prepare properly and establish an annual regime you’ll be surprised how simple it is. As ever, “wildlife gardening” doesn’t mean “go wild”. Brambles, nettles, thistles and dock are as much a nuisance in a meadow as they are in a formal garden area. My in-laws, very good gardeners, had a “wildlife” area in their garden that looked more like a biohazard. We had a council of war and decided what they thought was a wildflower and what was a weed. It now gives them as much pleasure for its flora as for the fauna it has attracted.

I ought to talk about native berrying plants as well — the emphasis on native again. You can make a really good alternative to the woodland edge in your garden by planting a mixed hedge. Wildlife corridor, good nest sites, hedgerows in decline — you know the story, I’m sure. It’s the perfect time of year to plant these chaps too. Bare root plants have a much better chance of establishing themselves in your garden and, again, the dry springs we’ve had recently mean that autumn is the better planting season.

Pied Flycatcher (Photo: Drum Images)
Here too there’s a happy coincidence; what’s good for the birds is in many instances good for us. John Wright has written the latest of several good books on hedgerow cooking, and we mostly follow fellow River Cottager “Pam the Jam” Corbin. At this time of year we’re always knee deep in jams and jellies, chutneys and cheeses and, of course, the dreaded sloe gin. We’ve recently processed an industrial 15 kg of sloes, so popular is the final product with our friends as a Christmas present. A woman came up to me in Waitrose as I loaded several tonnes of sugar into my trolley and asked me conspiratorially if I knew about an impending shortage.

High Brown Fritillary (Photo: Drum Images)
Anyway, which are my favourite native plants for human and avian consumption? We have roses in any hedgerow we plant, and not just for their hips (jelly and tea). Simple, single-flowered species are good for nectar too. Blackthorn is, as you’ve probably gathered, a particular favourite, and its spiny habit means it’s a good nesting place too. Hawthorn is quicker-growing and less spiky but much more common, and I don’t much go for Hawthorn Berry wine. Crab Apples are a decorative choice as a small tree (as are Cherry Plums) and their fruit, with its high pectin levels, is very helpful in the kitchen. If you’ve a little more space there is Bird Cherry and Wild Cherry; I’ve recently planted a Mazzard — an ancient variety of Wild Cherry that can be eaten off the tree by humans. Rowan will make a jelly, but is more popular among Chaffinches than humans.

Fieldfare (Photo: Drum Images)
Elder flowers and berries are, of course, a culinary delight, but the trees need to be sited carefully as they tend to take over. On my hedge-laying course I was told to cut them out of the hedge line, as you do brambles; they are helpful in their place, although a friend’s notion of a butterfly-friendly “bramblarium” seems a bit excessive unless you’ve got space and relaxed aesthetics.

The berries of the Sea-buckthorn were a Neolithic staple but, unless you’re Ray Mears, to my mind they’re more useful for Fieldfares and other thrushes than humans. I don’t think I would personally cook with Juniper berries either, which are an arbortifacient, although I’m very keen to see more Juniper trees planted. They’re in sharp decline at the moment, and provide a good garden habitat for a range of insect and bird species. Take care not to plant them close to pear trees, however, as they harbour pear rust. I’m not sure there are any culinary uses for Guelder Rose berries or Alder Buckthorn berries, but they are attractive and useful berrying shrubs. Dayglo Spindleberry and Purging Buckthorn berries are — guess what — strong purgatives, and Wild Privet berries are poisonous to us but attractive to birds, especially apparently thrushes, and as a semi-evergreen provides helpful cover.

Although these are typically hedgerow species you don’t have to grow them as a hedge if you don’t have room for one. Try planting natives in a formal garden area, preferably in a small group, avoiding any suckering species like Blackthorn if you haven’t got much space. You can keep them tidy by clipping them if you like (at the right times of year). And when you plant, sow a suitable mix of wildflowers around them too.

…Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun.

Wind in the Willows, Chapter 9

I wrote this article originally for Bird Guides’ webzine.

Newsletter No.7: 1st September 2010

Cold Wind Blowing
It’s my favourite time of year. We took a bumper honey crop at the beginning of August and, despite the wasps, the bees look in good shape. We’ve finished scything the meadow, which was lovely this year, and seeding a couple of new areas. The kitchen staff (surely some mistake – Ed.) are now wrestling with current and impending gluts of courgettes, apples, plums, pumpkins (!), and, more excitingly, usable numbers of quinces, figs, medlars and pears. We’re cleaning the apple press and might even have enough Perry Pears to think about our first vintage. Huge furry new bumblebee queens have started to buzz the sedum and the bats and swallows are zipping about in celebration of a fecund year in the garage. The new pond we made for our course in April has been extraordinary – the latest excitement there has been the arrival of Anax Imperator.

Basking in the late summer sun I should feel content, and looking forward to what I hope will be a busy month as folk start buying seed and ordering bare-root trees. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in front of my computer recently, but instead I feel rather morose. The economic and environmental news over the last few weeks has, let’s face it, been pretty grim, and there’s worse to come.

On the other hand, my resolve is also strengthened. Charities have to find new ways to fund themselves. Small businesses and consultants have to find new ways to market, and the internet should be the perfect medium for them. It should also work well to promote localism generally. This is all very much what Habitat Aid is about.

Most people have been incredibly supportive, but there’s a certain residue of suspicion about what we’re doing, which is understandable. My background was in the City (not a good start), and I have no expertise in many of the areas I’m looking at now, I do know people who have. The idea of a business which isn’t driven by financial profit is still a new idea for a lot of folk; I’m often asked questions like “is your blog commercial?”, or at the other end of the spectrum “who is funding you?” I still feel like we are a tiny boat (coracle?) in a pretty vast and stormy sea, but we are making headway I think. Since we started trading in May last year we have had nearly 100,000 page views, which to me sounds like a lot from a standing start.

Meadows Website

We’re launching a microsite about meadows at www.micromeadow.co.uk. To quote the blurb:

The site is intended to encourage folk to establish smaller scale meadows and to provide access to good quality plants and seeds, as well as to reliable information and advice.

Got it? Have a look and let us know what you think.

Lavender

We’re delighted to announce we are working with Downderry Nursery to sell a range of lavenders from the spring. Downderry are regular Gold Medal winners and owner Simon Charlesworth is a committed conservationist. I met him originally at an open day organized by the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at Sussex University, with whom he is working to trial the best bee friendly varieties.

Adverts

We have started to carry adverts on our main site and blog. Not the usual nonsense, but we are being guided by the excellent Digital Spring. Like us, they occupy an interesting spot in the demi-monde between charities and commerce. They have put together a portfolio of ethically vetted conservation related advertisers – binoculars, birding holidays, etc. – whose ads appear on our sites. We make money, they make money – and donate some to a related charity.

Somerset Pride
We’ve signed up to become an associate corporate member of our local Wildlife Trust. It’s a great scheme, and another example of a partnership between charities and corporates where everyone wins.

Fruit Tree Management Courses
This winter we are hosting two one day courses on managing fruit trees, tutored by respected specialist nurseryman Kevin Croucher, owner of Thornhayes Nursery.

About Us
Habitat Aid aims to persuade and enable folk to at least partly recreate or help replace key habitats like meadows, wetlands, orchards and woodland. The company also helps a small number of charities.

We are partly an online retailer selling mostly trees, plants and seeds sourced from really good quality specialized suppliers who often have a limited or no e-commerce operation themselves. Half our profits from sales go to selected partner charities, which are linked to specific products; this doesn’t just help charities financially, but also helps get their key messages across.

We also act as a kind of honest broker. We are building a network of consultants in areas like “wildlife garden” and estate design, meadow creation, and wetland and pond projects. We recommend and introduce these folk to end clients and landscape professionals, to give advice or to design and project manage. We then supply the plants for these schemes.

Lastly, we are developing products directly with our partner charities. We are working with the ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme and BBKA Enterprises to supply native seed mixes for bees, for example.

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Mowing, Meadows, Dogs and Hogs

Annual cornflowers Even for the relatively undoggy, an irresistible photo from one of our customers – thanks Richard! All the life going in a meadow means they are a magnet for sensitive noses, and it’s a job to keep our two ferreting about for hours too. It’s not just the insects and birds who appear (see Our Meadow in July); Richard's garden I even met a hedgehog marching about last night – only the second time I’ve seen one here in ten years – which got me nearly as excited as the dogs. Richard sowed both the cornfield annuals you can see here and also our clay soil meadow mix, and is creating a really nice natural area in his garden, with mown paths a la Little Dixter winding between the trees. Looking at some of his other photos the Rattle in the mix seems to have taken, which will be the key going forward. As for us, we’ve been busy again at Archie’s meadow. Mowing it a week or so ago and strewn the hay about Archie has rather brilliantly baled it, saving us a load of work. This bale must be worth a few quid – there’s still a lot of seed in it, albeit mostly annuals – or he could use it to seed a new area. We scythed the last strip of meadow, which took no time at all, and it’s all looking very well set for a meadow approaching its first anniversary. We’ve learnt several useful lessons over the last 12 months, not the least being the virtue of patience while waiting for the perennials to get established. I don’t think we’ll cut it through the autumn, so we will get another flush of annuals next year as there’s still plenty of bare ground for them to get established on. I’ll keep an eye on it over the next few months to see which emerging perennials I can spot, and do the odd bit of weeding. In the meantime all we’ll do is spray off a very thistly section of the field margin to keep them seeding. In contrast we’ll cut the meadow here (now in its third year) in a little while – rather later to let some of the later flowering species like Knapweed and Bedstraw go to seed. When we do I’ll use my scythe rather than anything mechanical to avoid doing any damage to the fauna, including my new hedgehog friend.

Archie’s Meadow Part VI

More on Archie’s meadow – the two acres of demo we started work on next to the A303 last year. I went down there after Archie cut it earlier this week to spread some of the hay about and weed some of the margins. It has been divided into two sections, one of which, our special meadow mix, has been spectacular as we sowed it withPerennials a “nurse” of annual wildflowers. The other section looks much less ostentatious, but is now going nicely too. It is a mix of perennial wildflowers, Yellow Rattle and grasses from Julian at local supplier Goren Farm. Although Archie has cut most of the area we’ve left a strip of this mix for a few weeks longer. In addition to some interesting grasses and the Rattle, even this duffer botanist could see lots of plantains, Hawkbit, Fleabane, Red Clover, Sorrel, Yarrow, and Buttercup. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more species I haven’t spotted. Very encouraging, very easy – and to think I was worried about it a couple of months ago… We’ll clear the hay off the rest after a few days so that any seed in it will have chance to drop to the ground.

Related Posts:

Meadow Magic
Archie’s Meadow Goes Bananas
Archie’s Meadow Update
Archie’s Gravelpit Meadow
Local Seed For Meadows

Newsletter No.6: 6th July 2010

I was complaining about the cold (!) in May’s newsletter – I remember getting the coldest I have ever been on a cricket pitch that week – but it has carried on just as dry. I’ve been worried about the customers who bought plants or seeds from us over the last 9 months, so wrote to them asking how things were going. It seems the only worries generally have been with later spring sowings. In all likelihood these will be fine. We’re suggesting folk have a look at how things are doing in September, after a bit of rain.
That’s certainly been true at our demo meadow at Sparkford. We sowed two mixes there last autumn. A really nice mix sourced locally, just perennials and grasses, looks to be struggling at first glance but I think will be fine. The other side of the meadow, where we used a nurse of cornfield annuals (I know, it’s cheating), has looked amazing:

Archie's Meadow
We’ve been busy on the meadow front, also hosting a couple of courses for gardeners and landscape professionals, tutored by Sue Everett and Andrew George. Attendance was good, and I’m looking forward to next year’s already. I’ve been blogging furiously about meadows as well, which has kept me on my toes and, I think, shunted some traffic onto the website as well as perhaps offering folk an interesting resource.
My efforts on marketing elsewhere have been mixed. I still can’t make head nor tail of Twitter and I don’t think I’m using Facebook very effectively – I am currently running a “targeted” advert, which has had 2,702 impressions as I write but no clicks! At least that means it’s free… I’m pleased with our recent corporate videos though (including more meadow stuff!) and press coverage continues to be helpful.
In terms of product development, we have now listed the Mazzards we will be selling from this autumn, and I am pleased to have extended our range of native bulbs, courtesy of the excellent Shipton Bulbs in Wales. Right now I’m working on improving our lavenders and trying to SEO the herbaceous side of the site a bit better. We are involved in another nice seed project, this time with the British Beekeeper’s Association’s “Adopt a Hive” scheme. The seed promotion we supplied for Flowerworld’s bouquets for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is now in Morrisons, which is nice.
That apart it seems to be a pretty quiet time of year. I’m off to Hampton Court for a bit of inspiration.