28 May 2019
We’ve had one or two poppies and cornflowers out for a week or so, but suddenly this morning, here they are!
And one of the standard roses (Rhapsody in Blue) has joined them, too:
27 May 2019
We’ve started trying to meet up more often with the children from Mentmore Road Under-Fives, as we all enjoy it and they remember things better after a couple of weeks than after a month! – particularly when they’ve been sowing seeds. This year they sowed peas in post – getting the multipurpose compost into the pots was all part of the fun – and they’ve been out much more often to water them than we managed last year.
A couple of people who themselves run community gardens have asked for any advice about gardening with very young children. I wouldn’t say we’re experts! But from trial and error, we’ve found that watering is probably the very favourite activity, with digging around in earth or leaf mould a close runner-up.
For watering, we’ve learned a number of things that make it easier and more fun –using child-sized watering cans (ours were a couple of pounds each from the local Homebase) and having fewer cans than the number of children, it’s much easier to keep an eye on the children that way (water travels fast, and soaked feet / t-shirts / other children spoil the event for everyone). We only fill them half full, because that makes turns come round again faster, and there’s less water to be spilled. We’ve found that the newer children, the two- or three-year-olds are pretty good at waiting for just one or two other children to empty their cans before it’s their own turn. A couple of things that make a difference, that we’ve learned over time – 1) if the tap’s quite a way away, bring plenty of water over before the children arrive as it keeps one more adult in the mix for longer – we now take four ten-litre water containers round to the garden (because that’s what our wheelbarrow will hold comfortably) and fill them from the tap before the children arrive. Also, it’s much easier to fill tiny watering cans from one adult-sized watering can than directly from the containers.
This last week we also thought of something for the children to do while waiting for their turn. We have a lot of leaf mould that we’ve gathered over the last couple of years, and store in our work area round the back; we bring in a compost-bag of this and decant some into a trug, then have the children sieve it into another trug. We can get four children round one trug comfortably, with room for adults to help too. Then when their friends have watered bits of the garden, they go along and put leaf mould out round the plants, like tucking in the plants under a blanket. This keeps the moisture in for longer, and keeps weeds down, too.
Mind, towards the end of the session we let them just throw the leaf mould onto the flower beds, well away from the paths – most of it falls on the earth anyway, and any that doesn’t get shaken down pretty quickly. And they love it!
27 May 2019
The alkanet began to take over, and while it looks really pretty in early spring, with its fresh green leaves and brilliant blue flowers, it’s one of the favourite foods of the scarlet tiger moth, which shreds its leaves – very good from an environmental point of view, less so in terms of how it looks. The plant also suppresses many other plants, so we’ve gradually removed it to take somewhere more appropriate, to replace it with other wild flowers to keep the site looking good all year.
This spring we’ve also added more of these wild flowers, as well as a few non-native plants that work well in an area of naturalistic planting like this one, such as raspberries, to give some height and structure (and bees just love them!), purple toadflax, geranium macrorrhizum, Michaelmas daisies and bugle. All of these were propagated from plants that had become congested at the Memorial Gardens. We also donated some seedlings of Bowles’ Golden Grass from one of our gardens, via the Pocket Park by the station, another of our sister sites. In this case, it’s not so much a source of nectar and pollen for bees, as the kind of habitat some of them need for nesting, as several species nest in clumps of long grass, including that one.
And so it continues – we’re now potting up some rudbeckia for a couple of months for autumn colour; we’ll plant it out in a couple of months when it’s developed a good root system, as that means we won’t have to spend so much volunteer time watering new plants to get them established.
And the last thing we’ve been able to share is some of our leaf mould, thanks to hours of work by the Memorial Gardens team and much-appreciated contributions of sacks of leaves from Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway and many other residents and gardeners. We now have enough for any of our bee-friendly sites around Leighton Buzzard that need it – generally, we don’t improve the soil at all in wild flower areas, but at sites like this one, we need to add organic matter without adding the fertility that comes with compost or manure. We make sure the ground’s wet, then just put the leaf mould on top (not digging it in even with a trowel, as that disrupts the soil structure), and it starts holding in moisture at once and keeping weeds down by shutting out the light they need to germinate. Then worms start pulling it into the ground, and doing the hard work for us!
What has been really nice for us has been the appreciation of members of staff, who said they’d enjoyed watching what we’ve been doing, and they really like it!
23 May 2019
When the current team took over managing the Memorial Gardens, we were quite daunted by the amount of empty space in the various beds. So we set to, sowing seeds, splitting plants up and growing them on, transplanting toadflax, foxgloves and other plants from our own gardens and allotments, and generally trying to populate the beds with bee-friendly plants. And now we’re actually running out of space! And we’re able to pass some plants on to some of our sister sites.
Most recently we’ve been working on the South Beds Friends of the Earth site outside the Job Centre Plus offices in Bossard House on West Street. It’s a difficult site, north facing with much of the site never seeing the sun; but the front is in full sun for much of the afternoon in late spring and summer, so we can’t use too many plants that like deep shade.
Job Centre Plus staff members with the South Beds Friends of the Earth members in June 2017
The team working there added a lot of manure to the site in May 2017 to improve the soil’s structure and its ability to hold moisture, so they could water less often. That still seems to be working well – a number of passers-by have commented on the ‘triffid’ in the centre, a magnificent stinking hellebore plant (a horrible name for a beautiful UK native plant), which has grown huge on the manure, and flowered magnificently. Last autumn we were able to add some Welsh poppies, water avens, foxgloves and meadow cranesbill and a beautiful St John’s Wort shrub which had outgrown its home, all spare plants from the Memorial Gardens.