A change of name for the gardens

21 February 2020

Or rather, reverting to the original name.

The minutes of Linslade Urban District Council meeting in 1946 recorded public demand for a playing fields memorial to all the Linslade men and women who served in both world wars, not just the fallen. The same year, a Linslade Memorial Playing Fields Committee was formed. There are then several references in newspaper reports and meeting minutes of ‘Playing fields, Mentmore Road’. The name ‘Linslade Memorial Playing Field’ first appeared in a Linslade UDC report in 1952, and thereafter there are many references to the Memorial Playing Fields, Mentmore Road. A 1998 Town Council Bye-Law (still current) refers to Linslade Memorial Playing Fields and Gardens, Linslade.

From 2011 or so, things began to change – the term “Mentmore Road Park” was first used then in the Town Council minutes, with ‘Mentmore Park’ appearing for the first time in 2013. The Centenary Field designation of 2014 refers to ‘Mentmore Park and Memorial Gardens’.

For the Garden of Remembrance itself, ‘Linslade Garden of Remembrance’ has been used as the official name right through, with just a couple of exceptions as in the Centenary Field designation; though since at least the 1980s, the Garden has been known to many local residents as ‘Linslade Memorial Gardens’, which is why South Beds Friends of the Earth used that name. It’s worth noting that the British Legion’s Roll of Honour in 2019 used the original name of Garden of Remembrance.

All these changes were thoroughly researched – in more detail than I’ve given here – by Councillor Steve Owen, and presented to the Town Council’s Grounds and Environment Committee at its meeting on 2 December 2019 (Cllr Owen’s original research sheet can be accessed in his report to the Council, which can be found on the Council’s website) . On 27th January 2020, the Town Council voted almost unanimously to revert to the original names, to honour the original sentiment of Linslade Urban District Council (the council administration in the 1950’s) to commemorate and memorialise all the men and women of Linslade who served in both world wars.

So the names of the various parts of the park will now be:

  • The whole park including the memorial garden will be Linslade Memorial Playing Fields and Garden of Remembrance
  • The park excluding the Garden of Remembrance  will  be Linslade Memorial Playing Field
  • The Garden of Remembrance  excluding the park will be Linslade Garden of Remembrance
  • The pavilion only will be Linslade Memorial Pavilion

 

A long overdue catch-up

20 February 2020

This must be the longest gap we’ve ever had on this nominally-once-a-month blog, our apologies! We’ve still been working hard, but behind the scenes, without much to blog about the visible part of the gardens.

Here are a couple of photos of the gardens a few mornings ago, when the sun caught the ‘There but not there’ soldier on the bench:

And yes, there are an awful lot of brown stems around, beginning to look scruffy. We leave them through the worst of winter, for insects to shelter and hibernate in, and to protect the new shoots that come through before the worst frosts have finished. We’ll be starting to cut them down soon, and store them in a pile round the back for a couple more weeks to give insects a chance to come out of hibernation – and then they’ll be just what we need to add to the compost bins as ‘browns# along with an equal amount of ‘greens’ to start producing this year’s compost.

What we’ve mainly been doing throughout November and December is collecting leaves for the leaf mould bin. We only have one chance to do this, a few weeks during the autumn, when we gather as many bags as we can manage by raking them up in the gardens and from several residents’ gardens, and transporting them from Dingle Dell, where Alison and Michelle look after several gardens, and let us take many of the bags of leaves they collect during the autumn. We’re also very grateful to Leighton Buzzard the narrow gauge railway when they spend a morning removing leaves from the lines and platforms. This year they filled 87 bags for us! And we are very, very grateful to the Town Council, who sent their pick-up over, with two of the grounds staff to load it and help us move them from the car park to the work area behind the Bowls Club.

Then throughout January and February, we’ve been gradually moving the bags of leaves over to the leaf mould bin as the level drops – we hope to have this finished during March. At the same time, we’re digging out bags of leaf mould to spread around some of the wildlife areas we look after, including the main gardens here, of course. We have to wait a little longer before covering the ground too thickly, as many plants we want to keep are just coming through as seedlings, along with all the ones that really are weeds here, i.e. they’ll stop other plants growing. Once we know which we want to keep, we’ll fill all the gaps with a few centimetres of leaf mould, to stop further weeds germinating, and most importantly, to be incorporated into the soil over the next couple of months by worms. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, to increase the amount of soil organic matter, which makes the ground more like a sponge, absorbing moisture and holding on to it for longer, so we don’t have to water so much. With the hotter and drier summers, and the same number of volunteers looking after the gardens, this is really important.

The one problem this year was that a couple of team members were injured and unable to carry bags of leaves around, let alone fling them into the (two-metre high) leaf mould bin. We managed; but if there’s anyone out there who fancies a bit of really good exercise next autumn and would like to help us then, do let us know!

 

I’ve got a carrot!

04 October 2019

One of the joys of gardening with the children from the preschool is seeing their delight in what they’ve grown. We lifted some of the carrots a couple of days ago (one adult foot on one side of the fork, one child’s foot on the other, push down and pull back – they got the hang of it very quickly). And then, dive in and retrieve the carrot and hold it up in delight – no worrying about how small they are (it’s been a very dry summer, and we need to get a lot more goodness into that earth before trying to take another crop off it). “I’ve got a carrot, Wow!”

A good reminder to celebrate what we’ve grown, rather than hankering after better crops.

Sowing the Poppies

28 September 2019

I’ve written earlier about how tricky it can be to grow wild flowers, and how we’ve been warned that poppies prefer to grow in newly-disturbed soil – we knew about the ‘disturbed’ bit, but just how often can we produce the ‘newly-disturbed’ area they like? Anyway, we had another go this year, and in line with not digging or forking the soil over (because it destroys the soil structure), we just hoed it after lifting this year’s dead poppies.

Then a couple of weeks ago, the children from the local preschool (Mentmore Road Under-Fives) came round to help us. They raked the soil level again and added leaf mould liberally, then sowed pinches of poppy seed saved from this year’s crop. Then the seed had to be in good contact with the soil – in some situations, this is done by animals trampling the seed in, so the children duly became very obedient cows, and stomped all over the area they’d sown. They thoroughly enjoyed being not only allowed to step on the bare earth, but positively encouraged to do so!

Here they are helping us get the poppies well into the earth

And ten days later, their seeds germinated; there are hundreds of tiny seedlings that you can just see if you know where to look. When the children came round again this week to lift the carrots they’ve been growing, they were able to see how well they’d sown them. And we know we’ll have poppies again in June, as usual.

Gold again for Leighton’s parks and gardens!

10 September 2019

We’ve just heard that Leighton Buzzard and Linslade has retained its Gold award from ‘Anglia In Bloom’ for the fourth year running – great news.

This is great recognition for all the work done over the past year by the In Bloom volunteers, the Town Council staff, and South Beds Friends of the Earth (who look after Linslade Memorial Gardens, and some 18 other wildlife-friendly sites round the town). And ‘Keep the Buzz in Leighton Buzzard’, the campaign run jointly by the Town Council and South Beds Friends of the Earth, was nominated in the Best Conservation Project category – that’s the community gardening equivalent of being nominated for an Oscar! We didn’t win it, but it’s not so much about winning, as about being assessed by experts and found to be doing a great job.

So thanks in particular to everyone who helps us look after Linslade Memorial Gardens – the team of local residents, members of South Beds Friends of the Earth who help in so many ways, the Town Council, who support us in everything we do here, the various organisations and businesses around town who collect leaves for us (to make leaf mould, which improves the soil), the many passers-by who stop to chat and encourage us and thank us, Mentmore Road Under-Fives, whose delight in the place is such a joy. Its great to be assessed as doing well; but mainly, it’s a privilege to be able to make these gardens a peaceful haven for people and wildlife, and, we hope, contribute to being a fitting memorial to those who gave their lives in war.

Harvest Time

08 September 2019

Back in April, the children from our local preschool had a great time planting out some tomato plants, and they’ve enjoyed watering them on subsequent visits. It’s been hard keeping the plants watered over the long, dry summer holidays, but we’ve had enough tomatoes for all the children, including a few for the older children who often come round to see the gardens even though they’ve moved on to school and are no longer involved regularly.

Here are a couple of photos of some of the children harvesting their crop:

It’s really good to see how pleased they are – as gardeners, we just see a poor crop because of the drought, and we make a note to add much more compost and leaf mould this year to try and retain more moisture. But they’re just delighted with the very sweet, tiny tomatoes they’ve grown.

Looking ahead, it’s nearly time to sow the poppies in the bed nearest the car park, and this year we have some very special helpers – watch this space!

 

Wild flowers 3 – unsung heroes

11 July 2019

Four of my favourite go-to wild flowers for attracting bees and other insects. They’re not showy but they work their socks off for us. Here are four that we (almost) rely on:

1) Black medick

The least showy of them all – we have lots of this plant in the gardens, but I’d bet that many of you have never noticed it (I didn’t, till I started using it here). Looks like clover, but with tiny yellow flowers that bees and other pollinators love. We started using it as an understory in the wild flower bed, then started leaving it when it self-seeded around other beds. It’s easy to pull up and not invasive, and it’s a useful place marker to fill a gap while we work out what we want to do with a particular area.

2) Red deadnettle

Another very unshowy plant. It’s an annual, but self-seeds and is easy to recognise as a seedling if it grows anywhere we don’t want it – two very desirable traits in wild flowers! Again, tiny flowers, but bees love them. And it can flower at any time of year, so when we have an unseasonably warm day in January or December, and bees come out looking for nectar, it’s there for them.

 

3) White deadnettle

A much larger deadnettle, and this one is a perennial. I think it’s a very attractive plant, with its bright green foliage and small spires of white flowers that, again, are real bee magnets. Eventually the flower spikes get old, and turn yellow, so you just cut them down, and the plant starts growing nice fresh foliage again. Really useful if you time it just right for those times when everything seems to pause between seasons.

 

4) Welsh poppy

And probably the king of them all, the yellow Welsh poppy. Bees not only love it, they try desperately to get into the flowers as they close up in the early evening, no matter how many other bee-friendly flowers are out nearby. It’s this one they want. There’s a great flush of flowers in the spring, petering out about now in July, then another smaller flush of flower about September, with odd plants in flower on and off from April to October.

So we’ve transplanted seedlings from my garden over the back; we’ve scattered seeds here several times a year, in the autumn (in case they need a cold spell to start them germinating) and in the spring (in case that’s best for them) and in summer (in desperation). We’ve nurtured the seedlings, we’ve watched them, we’ve willed them to live. We’ve looked enviously at road verges full of Welsh poppies.

This is our sole survivor:

At least it might set seed this year.

 

 

Growing wild flowers – 2

10 July 2019

As I mentioned in the last post, we’re experimenting with growing a few perennial UK native plants, to take over from the poppies and cornflowers as they fade.

At the moment, the small scabious and knapweed are taking over at the same height as the poppies and cornflowers

Small scabious in another bed

Knapweed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

while nearer the ground we have geranium sanguineum  and yarrow keeping the show going:

Geranium sanguineum (small pink flower) and yarrow (taller white one)

In a previous post I mentioned that poppies in particular grow best in newly-disturbed soil, which is why we’ve emptied that end bed in the autumn in previous years and forked it over. However, there have been a number of really great displays of poppies just growing in grass this year, as on Soulbury Road grassy bank, so we’re going to try something different this year – we’ll add a few more clumps of perennial wild flowers through more of that end bed, hoe between them to disturb the soil a little, and sow the poppy and cornflower seeds there. That should distribute the flowers more evenly while still keeping the display going through the whole bed.

Meadow cranesbill

We also have a couple of meadow cranesbill plants at the Bowls Club end of that bed, and some tall wild carrots, some of whose flower heads are just beginning their characteristic turning inside out, to form urn-shaped seed heads that will last well into winter.

But we will still keep a poppies-only strip at the front – we have to have poppies here in front of the war memorial, and where better than a great display just as you come in from the car park?

Growing wild flowers

08 July 2019

There’s been some discussion in various local Facebook groups recently about the wild flowers that have been planted on road verges, particularly prompted by Rotherham’s planting eight miles of pictorial meadows (i.e. flowers that aren’t necessarily native to the UK, but which fit in American native species like phacelia, gillia and Californian poppies. One discussion (I can’t find the thread again – Facebook discussions can be very transitory!) asked Central Beds council why they didn’t do it, to which they replied, amongst other things, that they did help us (South Beds Friends of the Earth, the Greensand Trust, and Leighton-Linslade Town Council) to create 19 bee-friendly areas around the town. It’s nice to have the appreciation! but of course these areas are only part of the story, and probably aren’t what most people have in mind when they think of the large areas of planting along roadside verges.

In SBFOE’s bee-friendly sites we’re trying to provide food and nesting sites for bees and other pollinators, rather than producing a colourful display – we do try to do both, of course, but the focus is different. We need a framework of permanent planting, with patches of the bright cornfield annuals that many people think of as ‘wild flowers’. And this is where it starts getting complicated. Those cornfield annuals only flower for a few weeks a year, and if we want them to set seed so there will be flowers next year, we have to leave the dying stands for a couple of months after that. That can look very untidy and people can feel it looks untended, as if we haven’t bothered to weed it.

And those roadside verges and similar beds can take a lot maintenance, even if they do save on mowing costs. In many places, the grasses and oxeye daisies begin to overwhelm all the other, weaker, annuals like poppies and cornflowers, so that by the third year or so you just have long grass with white daisies in – like the verges and banks around new roads after a couple of years. And docks and thistles creep in and often take over – they’re very valuable in terms of wild life, but perhaps not what many people want to see.

You can extend the idea of ‘wild flowers’ from ‘UK native flowers’ to ‘something that looks natural, like a wild flower’, or ‘native to other countries in the northern hemisphere’, like the phacelia, gilias and Californian poppies that make many ‘cultivated meadows’ look so good.

And here’s a photo of one of our sites – the grassy bank along Soulbury Road. Photo courtesy of Brian Snowdon.

Photo courtesy of Brian Snowdon

“Why don’t you just pop in a few bedding plants for a bit of colour?”

08 July 2019

 Someone said this last week, during a discussion about how we try and have at least two bee-friendly plants in flower all the year round, and how tricky this can be, not just in December and January, but also in June when many of the early summer flowers are dying off before the July-to-September ones come into bloom.

People quite often suggest that we use more bedding plants, which makes me wonder why our instinct is not to do just that. I think there are several reasons – sustainability (volunteer time and the need to water much more often, as well as more use of plastic pots and everything else needed to grow the plants), the difficulty of finding bedding plants grown in peat-free compost and the fact that we’ve not been successful in growing our own. And of course, commercially-grown plants have frequently been treated with hormones to make them flower earlier and longer, and/or insecticides, so that they are perfect at the point-of-sale. Neonicotinoid pesticides aren’t being used nearly as much as they were a couple of years ago, but we’d still prefer not to use plants treated with any pesticides.

The main reason is probably that very few of the bedding plants we could buy are attractive to bees (so in the end it doesn’t matter much that they’ve probably been treated with insecticides, as the bees won’t be collecting nectar or pollen from them). We’ve restricted ourselves in the Memorial Gardens to only growing plants that are particularly attractive to bees, so that excludes the use of most bedding plants in the bee-friendly areas that South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth look after.

On the other hand, the Town Council are very good at growing bedding plants, and we’re fortunate to have two of their beds next to our own, next to the war memorial itself, and full of beautiful and colourful plants. So we have the best of both worlds here!