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.

A set of close-up photos from Jackie Matthews

23 September 2020

Last week I was clearing up after we’d been working in the garden, when Jackie Matthews, a local photographer, came in to photograph some of the flowers there. She specialises in close-ups of flowers and wildlife; you can find more of her photos on Instagram (@jackiematthews.photography) or her   website (jackiematthewsphotography.co.uk)

She’s sent me some of the photos she took that day – they make me see the flowers in a different way, bringing out the essence of the flower without the distraction of its surroundings. Thank you!

Click on the photo to get the high resolution version.

Here’s a very different ‘bee on a flower’ photo of the last of our lavender:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a ladybird on a teasel seedhead:

And here are a couple of our dahlias. The first one was grown from seed last year, from the ‘Bishop’s Children’ seed mix, descended from the well-known cultivar ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ – they come with dark foliage, in orange, apricot, crimson, terracotta and bright vermillion.

I’ll put more up later on. Thanks, Jackie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to sow the wild flower bed again

09 September 2020

It’s becoming a welcome routine, getting the wild flower bed ready for next year’s poppies.

There are other wild flowers in that bed too, of course, but it’s the poppies that seem to have become iconic. We did briefly moot the idea of a change as it seems to be getting harder to get a good display, but the unanimously horrified response soon put paid to that one. We were considering it as we felt the display wasn’t very good this year, when we had tried hoeing the ground as the ‘disturbing it’ part (see http://www.linsladememorialgardens.uk/2019/09/).

So we’ve had a think, and we’ve asked people who really know about these things, and the conclusion was:

1) Yes, poppies (and other cornfield annuals) do prefer disturbed ground …

2) … but it doesn’t necessarily have to be newly disturbed ground;

3) And yes, poppies do grow really well on farmland that’s been ploughed, and enriched …

4) … but they also grow wonderfully well where there have been roadworks, i.e., not fertilised ground.

So last Saturday, the team lifted all the old annuals and forked over the ground – it goes against the grain to remove so many stems and potential hibernation sites, but there are now plenty more amongst the perennial wild flowers in that bed, as well as scattered through all the other beds.

We’re trying to run the poppies deeper into the bed instead of just having a strip at the front; and we’ve also left just a few clumps of knapweed and scabious, to carry on after the cornfield annuals have finished. We’ve also moved a couple of clumps of knapweed there from the second bed, where they were shading out too many other flowers we wanted, and we tidied round the native geranium (G. sanguineum) in one corner of the bed, to help it establish and spread a bit more; and we left quite a bit of yarrow and black medick, while removing a lot of wild carrots – they look great, and their seedheads are suitably structural during winter, but when they get rained on and battered by storms in August, they can go a bit manky. And while some look great amongst the poppies, too many can dominate too much.

So here’s that bed a month or so ago:

And here it is now, unnaturally tidy, but ready for what we hope will be a great explosion of poppies, cornflowers and corn cockle next year:

Looking back over over the last few months

28 August 2020

It’s an unseasonably cold, wet August Bank Holiday weekend, nearly the start of a new gardening year, and as good a time as any to look back over the last year in the gardens. First of all, apologies for another long gap between blog posts; with work suspended during the lockdown from 23 March, and a long catch-up needed in some of South Beds FoE’s gardens around Leighton, and the team’s own gardens and allotments, there hasn’t been much time for reflection and writing.

In fact the gardens have looked after themselves remarkably well, which was our aim from when this team took over five years ago. We’ve been helped by the weather, of course, with just enough rain between long, very hot dry spells, to keep most of the plants happy. Most of them even seemed to shrug off the hot dry weeks during lockdown itself – when I went round to water at last, the only plants that were wilting a bit were the wild geums in the preschool bed, and they perked up after a couple of cans of water. This may well be a result of all the compost and, particularly, leaf mould we’ve lavished on the soil at every opportunity, in the hope that all this organic matter it would help both drainage in the winter, and moisture-holding in the summer. The roses and the bottom two beds also benefitted from a mulch of good Dalefoot wool compost, which also provides food for a couple of years. We’ll be emptying the leaf mould bin and one of the compost bins soon, and mulching the third and fourth beds well this year.

We started giving all the roses a couple of cans of water each and feeding them regularly (with seaweed), which also helped, although a couple of them really aren’t happy in the hot summers we’re getting now. Apparently the two Remembrance standard roses (the bright red ones nearest the war memorial) are particularly likely to suffer with the kind of summers we’ve had over the last three years; they’ve hardly grown at all since we put them in and they drop their leaves as soon as the temperatures hit the mid-twenties, despite copious watering and cooling down. We’re mulling over what to do; perhaps we’ll leave it another year, with a good mulch of compost over the autumn, and hopefully, no second-wave Covid-19 lockdowns., so we can keep more of an eye on them.

Another benefit of the improved soil seems to be the general ecosystem in the gardens – we’ve noticed way more insects there than they used to be, and many more different types. I’m embarrassed that there are even some I can’t identify when asked as I haven’t seen them before. Earlier this month I did see a tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum) on the hyssop plant in the preschool children’s bed – first one I’ve seen here.

Now we’re pruning the lavender edges as they finish flowering, which means it’s time to take out all the spent annuals from the wild flower bed and dig it over (poppies prefer disturbed soil). Back in our usual routine!

Mid-May update

16 May 2020

One of the team took these photos last week – the gardens are really waking up now, once the irises are out, summer’s here!

Blue and pink bee magnets! Aquilegia in the foreground, with perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles’ mauve’) behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a bee on the perennial wallflower (I think it’s a common carder bee, can anyone confirm that?)

Irises – Siberian iris in the second bed up from the cross, and bearded iris a couple of beds further up:

I think these irises were gifted by In Bloom after one of their plant stalls – thank you! The bees love them, and they smell heavenly.

We’re sorry the gardens look at bit overgrown at the moment, we’re gradually working through the beds, but separately, and with no work parties; only two of us are available for the moment. We’re not trying to have scorched earth between plants, but a number of plants do need more light and space around them, and we’re on it again now.

We’re also gradually working through the paths to keep weeds under control there too.

And a very big thank you to all the (socially distanced) passers by who say they like being round here, or that they like the gardens the way they are – it’s lovely to hear that!

One of our sister sites

07 May 2020

Here are a couple of photos of one of our sister sites, the patch of ground outside Bossard House, on West Street. It’s a difficult site, as it gets very little sun – the first photo shows the small part which is in full sun for an hour or two, but most of it is in shade all the time.

The site had been very neglected, but over the last few years since South Beds Friends of the Earth took it over we’ve tried to add a few bee-magnet shrubs – raspberries at the back, and St John’s Wort in the centre – and tried to establish various geraniums, deadnettles, foxgloves and teasels, with some success. They’re not all UK native wild flowers, but the site needs a little more structure than many of our bee-friendly sites do, it needs to look slightly tended.

With two years of drought and very high temperatures, and no water on site, it’s been a bit of a struggle to get this framework of shrubs and key plants to establish, but they seem to have made it at last.

This profusion of bee-friendly plants includes a St John’s Wort, in the centre of the site (on the left of this photo) , with bugle growing underneath and in front of it; a clump of garlic mustard to the right of it, with a small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) plant just in front of it. Towards the back there are foxgloves on the left, then raspberries, aquilegias and teasels, purple and white alliums dotted around them. Towards the front there are water avens, Welsh poppies, and  geranium macrorrhizum just coming into flower, with cut-leaf geranium or herb Robert pushing through. And this year there’s a clump of spectacular common teasels by the entrance path.

They’re all a bit on top of each other at this time of year, especially after the rain we had last weekend, but they usually sort themselves out and they all have enough room and sunlight, so we are usually quite relaxed about not weeding things out until late May; we always have it much tidier for when the In Bloom judges come through the town in mid-July.

We let the garlic mustard grow as it attracts a lot of orange-tip butterflies, which lay their eggs on it, and it’s easy to remove when they’ve finished with it a few weeks later. Similarly, we were happy enough to leave the four or five large teasel plants next to the entrance – they’ve quite spectacular and attract a lot of different insects, and goldfinches fly in and pinch the seeds as soon as they ripen. We’ve always been quite relaxed about the dandelion and ragwort plants that pop up, as they provide nectar and pollen for many pollinators, and they’re quick and easy to remove too if they’re growing in the wrong place. We’re not trying to clear large areas of bare soil in order to plant more demanding flowers, as long as the place looks reasonably tidy.

But we didn’t allow for Covid-19, lockdown, or social distancing. It isn’t possible to tend this site without risking being less than two metres from passers-by on the pavement or either of the entrance paths, so we won’t be doing anything more than removing a couple of weeds when out on permitted daily exercise, provided there’s no-one likely to come within anything like two metres. We won’t be working there, or watering. There’ll be time enough to tidy the site up when things are more normal, and in the meantime, it’ll be interesting to monitor it when passing and see what happens when we leave it alone.

A list of nurseries selling peat-free plants and compost

30 April 2020

A number of people have asked us where you can buy peat-free compost, and recently, we’ve also been asked where you can buy plants that have been grown in peat-free compost. I’ve been meaning to collect all the information together and publish it, but the list still wasn’t complete; then today, Nic Wilson, a great gardening writer and editor of Gardener’s World Magazine amongst others, announced on Twitter that she’d just published one on her great website, Dogwooddays. It’s at https://dogwooddays.net/2020/04/30/updated-peat-free-nurseries-list/

None of the nurseries are local to us, but many sell plants online; most of the plants here in the Garden of Remembrance were either propagated by members of the team, always in peat-free compost, or bought from some of these nurseries. Nic’s post links to their websites, and most of them include up to date information on how Covid-10 is impacting deliveries – you can still buy plants mail order from most of them, it’s just that delivery might take a little longer.

There’s also a link below the list to the Candide website, which has an excellent article by Nic Wilson on why peat-free compost is so important, at https://candidegardening.com/GB/stories/ea083986-c223-44f9-a50f-1ff2813cdf09.

Buying good peat-free compost locally may be a little harder as Potash Nursery is now closed; for the last few years they’ve stocked Melcourt’s Sylvagrow, which has produced really good results -some of the cheaper or own-brand ones can be tricky to use – but that applies to ordinary peat-based multipurpose composts, too. (I do look forward to the time when ‘ordinary’ means ‘peat-free’ when applied to compost).

Both Dalefoot and Sylvagrow are really excellent, and we’re beginning to think about buying a whole pallet of one of them later in the year, if enough people would want to buy a few bags. Watch this space, and let us know if you’d be interested!