What we do with all the plastic sacks we use for leaves

27 January 2022

A couple of times lately, someone’s asked what we do with all the plastic sacks we collect leaves in, particularly as we’re South Beds Friends of the Earth and yet we’re apparently using large amounts of single-use plastic.

At various points in the leaf-collecting process we have around two hundred bags of leaves waiting to go into the bin to make leaf mould; that’s a lot of plastic. Do the bags just get thrown away after we’ve used them?

Well, no, not exactly – this was my garden yesterday, with twenty or so bags pegged to poles stuck in the lawn so that they could dry out enough to go into the loft to be stored for next year (if we don’t dry them before storage, they’re pretty rank after 10 months in the loft).

Some of them – perhaps ten per cent each year? – will have torn, or have too many holes in to be useful, but most of them can be reused and reused. The yellow one in the photo is one of the last survivors of the bags I used when I first put an ad on Freecycle (as it then was) offering to rake up leaves, to make leaf mould for my allotment. That was more than ten years ago now; they’ve lasted well.

The ones that really can’t be used again will go to ‘soft’ plastic recycling, which has got much easier in the last few years, as many supermarkets have collecting boxes for it (Tesco’s our nearest; I think some of the others have them, too).

So we think that on balance, it’s worth the amount of plastic we do have to recycle, to have enough leaf mould to make a real difference at the various gardens we look after; we’ve really raised the amount of organic matter in the soil, we’re able to water less and less every year, and the plants are thriving. And the worms love it!

Poppies for the gardens, from Linslade School

09 November, 2021

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to have students from various schools around Leighton Buzzard and Linslade making poppies for us to put in the gardens around Remembrance Day – they echo the real poppies that flower for a couple of weeks in midsummer, and help us to focus on the reason the Garden of Remembrance is here at all.

Despite wear and tear, we still have a few of the poppies made each year, and this year we’ve been able to add to them with these ones made by some of the students at Linslade School – thank you very much!

“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:

 

Dahlias

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: list of local suppliers

30 March 2021

Here’s a list of local suppliers of peat-free compost, with prices checked today, 30 March 2021, size, and price per litre (for comparison).

We’ll keep it updated – if you know of anyone else supplying peat-free compost, please let us know at info@linsladememorialgardens.uk

Shop

Brand

Price

Volume

Price per litre

Comment

Homebase

NH all veg compost

6.95

50 L

14p/L

3 for £16 (0.11p/L)

NH all plant compost mix

5.00

20 L

25p L

Own brand (Westland)

5.25

50 L

11p/L

same price as their non-peat-free compost

Aldi

1.90

25 L

10p/L

Wilko

NH multipurpose

4.00

20 L

20p/L

Website says currently out of stock

Wilko multipurpose p-f

2.50

25 L

10p/L

ordinary multipurpose is 0.07/L

Selections

Ambassador

4.75

40 L

12p/L

10% discount for 3 – £4.28, 10.5p/L

Waitorse

Miracle-Gro

4.46

20 L

22.3p/L

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 https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/gardening-in-a-changing-world/peat-use-in-gardens/peat-alternatives.

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. We’re compiling a list of local suppliers, which we’ll post on this blog first; if you know of anyone we’ve left out, please get in touch (info@linsladememorialgardens.uk).

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 (http://southbedsfoe.co.uk), 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!