Author Archives: Pippa Sandford

“How many people look after this garden?”

7 November, 2021

We’ve been getting the Garden of Remembrance ready for Armistice Day on Thursday, and for the season generally; a number of people come down during the week or so before Remembrance Day to pay their respects quietly, and we try to make it look tidy and cared for. And usually about this time of year, I see from the Archive section in the sidebar, that I blog about how we try to strike a balance between making the gardens super-tidy and respectful, and still being a garden for wildlife, with the need to provide habitats for hibernating insects as well as nectar and pollen for pollinators. But I see I write much the same thing every year, so let’s have a change.

Yesterday, while I was working on the bottom two beds, someone came up and asked ‘What’s going on here, then?’, and asked a number of questions about the garden and how it’s looked after. One of the questions was, ‘How many people look after it?’. The answer yesterday was ‘five’, because that’s how many people are in the team that help out regularly (it used to be six – Jenny, we miss you! Hope you’re enjoying looking after community gardens in Scarborough). But over the last day or so, I’ve realised that’s such an understimate.

There are so many people who make this garden what it is! and by extension, who help with the other wildlife-friendly sites that South Beds Friends of the Earth look after under its ‘Keep the Buzz in Leighton Buzzard’ partnership with the Town Council.

This week alone, we’ve had four people delivering bags of leaves for the leaf mould bin; three have given me old flowerpots, so I can lift spare foxgloves, scabious, knapweed, pulmonaria and lots of other plants, and spread them round our various sites, as appropriate; three neighbours have given me cardboard, which we tear up and add to compost as ‘Browns’ to balance all the ‘Greens’ we put in from stems and weeds and things from the garden; I’ve planted out plants donated by neighbours, and grown on at home to check that they’re thriving and healthy; when we need to weed-wand the paths, a crowd from South Beds Friends of the Earth come down and help, over a cup of tea or coffee. For a couple of years we had a local student work with us for the volunteering section of his Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh’s awards (and we miss you, Miles!)

The Town Council’s groundsmen have almost filled our leaf mould bin (a 4×4 metre cube) again with leaves from the playing fields and the lawns in the Garden of Remembrance, and they’ve helped us at other times. The Town Councillors let us do this in the first place, we’re still grateful to them!

And then of course, the children from the preschool in the pavillion have a great time spreading some of the leaf mould all over their bed (and all over us, and the paths, and anywhere they can fling it). And they sow peas and carrots, and their enthusiasm reminds us how amazing it is to grow something from seed, and then eat it.

Passers-by give us encouragement; sometimes they offer us seeds, or plants. When someone uprooted the large opium poppy in the middle bed a couple of years ago, a passer-by stopped to offer me some seeds from hers, and then set off immediately to fetch them.

So how could I count all the people who make this garden what it is? It’s the whole community.

Getting ready for Remembrance Day

16 October 2021

Apologies for our shameful neglect of this blog – the start of the gardening year is always really busy, and we could use a few more days in the week.

Here in the Garden of Remembrance we’re beginning to look ahead to next year, by clearing many of the annual flowers from the wild flower bed nearest to the car park, and sowing more poppies from seed we gathered last month. And in the shorter term, we’re beginning our usual preparations for Remembrance Day and the days before and after it – tidying the lavender borders (done), trimming the edges of the paths (they’ll need doing again before November), and clearing weeds from the paths all round the gardens – that took four of us a couple of mornings this time, but it’s looking much better now.

And the Town Council has cleaned the memorial itself, it’s looking so good now: And there’s still some colour in the gardens, particularly with the brilliant red leaves on the spindle shrub, and the last of the dahlias and Michaelmas daisies in the other beds:



21 September 2021

When I joined the team looking after these gardens a few years ago, I was surprised to see that several dahlias have been planted in the bed nearest the war memorial – I didn’t realise that bees liked them. Well. I had a lot to learn; bees just can’t get enough of them. Not the very fancy pom-pom dahlias, or the exhibition ones with amazing shaped petals, but the plain ones that have simple open flowers and, it turns out, a seemingly endless supply of nectar.

Most of the dahlias in the bed nearest the memorial are yellow, like this one: we’ve left them in the ground over winter, covered them with leaf mould, and they’ve survived fine, and even spread perhaps a little too much.







There was also a pale pink one, which we lifted and moved as the yellow ones were crowding it out. That’s now in one of the middle beds.

Since those early days, we’ve increased the number of plants, by lifting the tubers and dividing them after the first frost. We just might have been too successful, as this pink one is extremely vigorous – just one plant has turned into five this year, and it’s hard finding room for them all! But they’re great at this time of year – a joy to see as the year turns into autumn, and providing plenty of nectar for bees that need to stock up before the winter.

The copper-leaved plants with red or orange flowers, were all grown from seed last year and this; the variety is called ‘Bishop’s Children’ (they’ve been bred from the well-known dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’). You don’t know how they’ll turn out until they grow and flower, they’re all different, but one packet of seeds has produced many stunning plants.


One that hasn’t been so successful was a particularly beautiful one that’s attracted a lot of comment for its unusual colour – It’s called ‘Blue Bayou’, and is supposed to be the best of all for attracting bees. Well, that’s certainly true of the two that have survived and flowered, out of the five we planted (here and in our own gardens, where there was space to increase the stock). But what the catalogue didn’t tell you, was that the plant is also completely irresistible to slugs and snails. Here’s the other plant that’s here in the gardens, struggling to survive, let alone flower. A third one has vanished completely, and the last one has produced one bud, which apparently is a really tasty treat – I found a huge slug devouring it one evening.

The second Blue Bayou, after constant night-time snacking by slugs and snails















It isn’t really worth killing birds and hedgehogs by putting down slug pellets, so we’ll focus on all the other dahlias that can survive such attacks next year.. We’ll probably lift the Blue Bayou ones and grow them on in pots next year so they’re larger and stronger when they go out into the border, but I think that for these gardens, the Bishop’s Children and the vigorous, un-named yellow and pink dahlias, will be just fine next year.

Bumble bee rescue

08 September 2021

Yet another photo of a bee on a flower … but this time, there’s a bit more of a story to it.

While we were working in the gardens, a woman brought us a small plate containing a very tired-looking bumblebee she’d picked up from the grass by the car park, where it was in danger of being squished by all the people around there.

We decanted it carefully onto a nearby upward-facing dahlia, in the hope that it wouldn’t fall off, and would be close to nectar. Wow – immediate action – it stood up at once and started going round the disc florets, quickly lapping up all the nectar. Then it made its way over to the edge of the flower and fell off; at which point it struggled a few steps, then lay down on its side (never seen that before). We thought it might have just had a good last meal …

We left it for a while – I was working close by, so could keep an eye on it. Ten minutes or so later I noticed it had disappeared, and found it scrambling over nearby plants to reach the red deadnettle, which it started feeding from. Perhaps the dahlia was a bit of an energy drink for it, to enable it to go back to foraging for its preferred diet again?

And it’s nice to have further validation for our decision to leave all the red deadnettle we can – it’s an inconspicuous little flower that’s often seen as a weed, but bees seem to love it.

Let’s hope that bee recovers enough to be able to feed herself up ready for hibernation, and then to start another colony of bees round here next spring.

Welcome to the weed patch!

19 July 2021

And apologies for our neglect of the blog. We haven’t been idle, there’s been a lot of maintenance, and compost and leaf-mould tending (they’re the engine of these gardens). And some gardening with the preschool – I love their enthusiasm and delight in things we might otherwise take for granted.

We’ve also lost a very valuable friend and member of the team – Jenny’s moved up to Scarborough. Thanks for all your help over the years, Jenny. We’ll miss you a lot.

The poppies have been and gone:

But even without the poppies, the  wild flower bed is developing nicely – although right now it justifies the comment by the landlord of a local hostelry a few years back, that it was a weed patch. That bed always looks its worst right now – from about the middle of July to the middle of August. We’re leaving seeds to mature, so we can keep the succession going; and most flowers are past their best, to say the least.

But this is a really important stage in having the poppy display every year, and having other plants carry it on. Over the next month or so, we’ll be gathering seed, and removing a lot of the old stalks and dead plants (we may well make a pile of them in the middle of the bed, where it doesn’t look too untidy, but will be there for hibernating insects and other creatures to hide in).

Then we need to take out one or two of the plants that are great, but taking over too much (huge sprawling scabious, anyone? It’s full of insects at the moment, but as it dies down we’ll lift it and take it to one of the larger wildlife areas that South Beds Friends of the Earth look after).



We also need to take out some of the wild carrots – they’re the white plants that look a bit like cow parsley; they have lovely decorative seed heads, but you can have too many of them if they’re stopping other flowers in the mix from growing. We’ll also clear some of the grass that might otherwise take over, then clear a lot of small patches of ground where we (or the preschool children) can sow the poppy seed in September – it grows best when it’s not fighting for space with other plants.

There’s a good understory developing – this is the bottom layer, many small, insignificant plants that really attract the wildlife (I’m really looking forward to the day one of the preschool children is there when a frog hops into or out of it). We have many more beetles and other insects, and quite a few frogs – there’s a whole ecosystem developing in that bed. We need to edit it, so that the bed doesn’t become an untidy mess; but we need to do it carefully, so that the increasing numbers of insects and mammals can thrive there.

And we keep remembering – if we chose to leave it to grow, it’s not a weed, it’s a wild flower.

Peat-free compost: update

24 March 2021

We’ve posted before (here, here and here) about the importance of using peat-free compost for sowing, potting-on, containers and hanging baskets, and gradually it’s becoming more mainstream, and less expensive in comparison with multipurpose compose that contains peat.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has recently announced that it intends to be 100% peat-free by 2025 – its current position is “RHS Gardens are currently 98% peat-free with the exception of some rare and exotic plants. We also stopped selling peat-based bagged compost in 2019, and from 2025 plants sold in our retail outlets and on display at our Shows will be peat-free.” This is a major step forward for the industry’s leading association. There’s a lot more information on their website, for example a description of some of the issues involved is at

But what about actually buying peat-free compost in Leighton Buzzard? Up till now, it’s been difficult; I think the only supplier was Homebase, who’ve stocked New Horizon compost for some years. Update in March 2022: We posted a list of local suppliers last year; there weren’t many. This year, we’ve taken that list down as many more retailers are now stocking peat-free compost as a matter of course.

In a week or two, when we think we have a reasonably complete list, it’ll be posted on the South Beds Friends of the Earth website (, on its own page for easy reference.

The first winter aconites are through

27 January 2021

It always feels like a milestone’s been passed once they’ve made their way through the soil! These showed yellow a couple of weeks ago, then very gradually got a little bigger; and then, suddenly, they were through, nearly to the stage where they’ll open fully once we have some sunshine. They just carried on through the snow and ice of the last few days, and now it looks as though there’s no stopping them, spring’s definitely on the way

The first snowdrops are just coming through under a couple of the shrubs in the middle beds, too, it won’t be long now.

We’ve been relieved to see that the gardens have so far survived all the lockdowns and Covid restrictions, which meant we’ve had very few work parties – just a group of us very well distanced pruning the lavender back in the summer, and a couple of us weeding at opposite ends of the garden earlier on.

We’d always intended the gardens to establish well enough to carry on with very little work, but we were still really pleased this year to see that happen; one or other of us has checked on the gardens a couple of times a week whenever that was allowed, just to keep an eye on how they were doing.

We were delighted to find that even in the drought, all the leaf mould and compost we’ve mulched with has meant the soil holds moisture really well, and we we didn’t have to water anything except the roses.

Ah, the roses – the one thing that’s not done well here, which is a real shame. They’re all still alive, but getting smaller and thinner every year, which isn’t a good sign; a number of passers-by have suggested reasons, ranging from not enough sun, which is very likely for the standard roses by the Bowls Club, with not getting enough nutrients – this year I’ve been round and fed them all every week, but it doesn’t seem to have helped; it’s quite possible, of course, that something in the soil is preventing the nutrients getting through to them, despite all the compost and leaf mould we’ve lavished on them.

We’re ever optimistic – perhaps they’ve just needed a couple more years to establish, and might just flower wonderfully this year!

Looking back to last summer

18 January 2021

Around this time we often look back at the previous year in the gardens; but on a cold, grey, wet January day, waiting for Storm Cristoph to come and saturate the ground again, I thought I’d just post a few reminders from early autumn last year, to remind us that better times are (hopefully) just around the corner.

These were taken by Jackie Matthews, a local photographer; I posted a few last September, and said I’d post some more ‘soon’. Sorry! This is hardly soon … but better late than never, I hope.

Doesn’t this look green and lush! We’d just pruned the lavender edging back, and the first dahlias were coming out.

Here’s the bed that Mentmore Road Under-Fives usually help us look after – we weren’t able to garden together at all this year, let’s hope they can come and grow some more flowers, peas and carrots this year:









I’ll put up more photos of the flowers themselves later on, to brighten the end of January. And hopefully, there’ll be a few of the first winter aconites – they’ve been coming out in my (more sheltered) garden over the back. but no sign of them here yet.

The gardens in November

08 November 2020

It’s been a very busy few weeks, making sure the gardens are tidy for Remembrance Day, putting in bulbs for spring and various plants that we’ve grown on from cuttings, and checking that there’s enough cover for hibernating insects and our pest patrols (frogs and toads) – while making sure we’ve removed patches of invasive weeds like self-heal and clover, which would spread all over the place by spring if we don’t them down this side of the winter.

And we’ve also had a great response to our appeal for bags of leaves for the leaf mould bin, so we’ve been collecting them from various residents and businesses around the town – thank you all very much!

And of course all of this has had to be done in strict compliance with social distancing, and now, lockdown rules.

As always, the main task has been to tidy the gardens and get them ready for the Remembrance Sunday service. We do leave quite a few stalks and leaves for insects to hibernate in, and to protect the soil against winter weather, but we collect up all the leaves that have blown onto the lavender edging plants so that the edges of the flower beds are neat. It was very heartening to have a former soldier comment approvingly on the way we’ve been gardening here – I always worry that it might look untidy, but he was pleased we weren’t being too tidy – “It would be a shame to destroy all the wildlife habitat you’ve built up, just for a few days’ extra tidiness.” We do try and keep a good balance between respect for the setting, and respect for the environment more generally.

Then we put out leaf mould to protect the soil over winter, and also because it looks good, particularly in the front bed nearest the war memorial. A few years ago we put in some heucheras with coppery leaves and some with almost lime green leaves – they look great through the winter when there aren’t many colourful flowers, and putting leaf mould round them really makes the colours sing out.

A few years ago, pupils from two local lower schools made poppies for us – Heathwood made felt ones, and St George’s (now Rushmere Academy) made plastic ones. We put them out in the gardens during the first week in November, and collect them back up again after Remembrance Day itself, or after the Remembrance Sunday service if that’s later. They’re suffering from a bit of wear and tear, but this wasn’t the year to ask schools to make us some more, when they’ve only just been able to open again and catch up with all the activity they’ve had to miss. Next year, perhaps!

And even in winter, we don’t forget the bees – there are usually at least two bee-friendly plants in flower at any time, and that includes winter, as solitary bees and bumble bees will fly on any warm day, and need nectar to keep them going. By far the most popular pitstop for them is the perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’, which just flowers its socks off for a year or two, then dies suddenly. So we take cuttings every year, to keep a supply of new plants going, and we’ve just planted a few of them out in various beds, so they can spend the winter getting their roots down, ready to start flowering in about March and take over from the older plants that are still going strong. And the other flowers that will bloom through winter are the two deadnettles, red (Lamium purpureum) and white (Lamium alba), which self-sow around the gardens. We leave then wherever we can – if we decide we want the space where they’re growing, they’re very easy to remove, they’re not rapid invaders. And bees just love them!

Remembrance Sunday 2020

08 November 2020

Linslade Garden of Remembrance today, after the service.

The poppies were made over the last few years by two of Leighton’s lower schools, Heathwood and St George’s (now Rushmere Academy), and members of South Beds Friends of the Earth.