Tag Archives: soil

Getting ready for winter

28 October 2016

We’ve lifted all the spent annual wild flowers in the top bed by the car park, and we’ve resown poppies, cornflowers and toadflax. These cornfield annuals often need a period of cold weather to start their germination, but the bed’s already full of seedlings, probably from last year. We resow every year to be sure we’ll have a good show of flowers from June and July, though we do then have to thin the seedlings to leave enough room for the remaining ones to grow into stronger plants. It works well in practice, but it feels a bit odd to be sowing seeds, then pulling half of them up!

Over the last couple of months we’ve moved a few plants to places where they’ll be happier or look better, we’ve planted bulbs for next spring, sown seeds of California poppies and Welsh poppies, and thinned some of the seedlings of forget-me-nots and borage; all of these provide a lot of nectar and pollen for bees, and by letting seedlings emerge now we’re ensuring they’ll be flowering earlier next year than if we’d sown them in the spring. It does mean that we can’t mulch all the beds, though, or we’ll choke seeds that are still emerging. We’d like to mulch the beds to prevent heavy rain from damaging the soil structure, to keep nutrients in the soil, and to provide places where beneficial insects can hibernate. Blackbirds seem to appreciate a layer of leaf mould, too, judging by the amount they turn onto the paths when they’re looking for worms underneath it.

We try to have the gardens looking their best for Remembrance Sunday, which isn’t quite as easy as it is in June and July! We do leave quite a few stems and seed heads for hibernating insects,  because many seed heads look good in frost, and because it stops the gardens looking too bare through the winter months; however, we try to balance these ecological requirements with keeping the gardens looking cared for and well tended, in respect of their setting. It’s a difficult balance.

Although we’ve started making our own leaf mould, it won’t be ready for another couple of years and we used all our existing stock to make peat-free potting compost; so we’re very grateful to the local residents who’ve given us enough leaf mould for our needs this year. Thank you!

Looking ahead to next year

20 August 2016

It’s about a year since we started refocusing here in the gardens, using more garden flowers to allow us to provide nectar and pollen for bees over a longer period than we could with only wild flowers, while respecting the setting of a semi-formal memorial garden. We thought it would take a couple of full seasons for the new plan to mature, so it seems a good time to look at how the gardens are doing.

When the current team started work on the beds about a year ago, we inherited some shrubs planted along the centre of the bed nearest the war memorial and down the centre of some of the other beds, and a couple of roses planted right next to the paths between the beds. We moved the roses out of the way of the paths, and we’ve gradually added lavender plants along the edges of most of the beds, to make an informal hedge and to provide structure through the winter when most of the annuals and herbaceous perennials die back. All the plants we’ve put in are establishing well and developing into a good framework for the more informal planting inside the beds.

This year the bulbs, pulmonaria and perennial wallflower provided plenty of nectar in early spring for bees as they emerged from hibernation and started nesting, while the other perennials and annuals gradually took over from them, including peas and runner beans planted by the children from the local preschool. We had a great display of poppies, cornflowers and oxeye daises in the top bed (nearest the car park). We try to have at least two of the bees’ favourite plants in flower at any time between February to November, and so far we’ve managed that. Right now the bees’ favourite flowers are the blue hyssops in the second bed down from the car park, and the yellow daisy-like coreopsis at the other end of the bed:

hyssop, coreopsis

Now we’re getting ready for the start of the gardening year in the autumn. We won’t be cutting and clearing until the spring, so that we don’t leave too many places where bare earth will be exposed to heavy rain, which damages soil structure and leaches nutrients away. We leave stems when they don’t look too messy, to provide shelter for overwintering insects, and we also add leaf mould to protect the soil from winter weather and to start getting more organic matter into it – that’s ‘organic’ meaning a necessary component of all soil, rather than meaning a particular way of gardening.

We’re also adding a few more plants and moving others around to places where they’ll grow best, and we’ll also sow seeds of annuals like the bright orange Californian poppies that looked so good earlier in the year. And our other main job is to clear the wild flower bed (nearest the car park) and re-sow poppies and cornflowers for next year; they grow best on ground that’s been cultivated, so we need to turn it over every year.