Ecosystems

9 June 2019

Looking around the gardens lately, we’ve realised that we’re finally getting close to our original aim of creating an ecosystem, where all the different elements in the garden work together. Apart from growing only bee-friendly plants, we’ve also been focusing on soil health, and the rest of the benefits seem to flow from that – far fewer weeds, less need to water, and plants that establish quickly and really thrive.

Rather than turning over the soil between plants with trowels to remove weeds, which damages soil structure, and just brings yet more weed seeds to the surface, we’ve been adding mulches of compost or leaf mould on top of the soil to keep light out and stop any weed seeds from germinating. The mulches also add soil organic matter, which improves soil structure and helps to make more nutrients available to plants, and they keep moisture in by slowing down evaporation.

We worked hard to remove the more invasive weeds like self-heal, white clover and sheep’s sorrel, and now it only takes a few minutes to weed the beds by scraping any weeds out – they come out easily from areas that have been mulched. Over the last year or so we’ve added back more of the native plants that thrive in the soil and light conditions here, particularly red and white deadnettles, foxgloves and Welsh poppies, all of which are real bee magnets.

We’ve also noticed far more insects and other invertebrates around the gardens this year, and many more different types, too.

Most of this doesn’t apply to the bed nearest the car park, which we need to dig over every year as we grow cornfield annuals there, which prefer to grow in newly-disturbed soil. We do add leaf mould to that bed, to improve soil structure without adding too much fertility. We’ve also added or left a number of perennial native plants there, like black medick, red clover, deadnettles, geranium sanguineum and devil’s bit scabious; and now that bed seems to be beginning to form its own separate ecosystem, too