Fun with Kids during Lockdown – #1 Spring Flowers

We are all finding ourselves in uncertain times, and if you’re at home with the children right now, you may be looking for ideas to keep them entertained. I am going to write a series of articles covering different gardening and nature related activities you can do with your children, whether in the garden or on on your allowed walk for exercise as well as some from the comfort of your home. Going outside in nature lowers stress levels and is wonderful for mental health, which is perhaps even more important now than ever before.

This first piece takes a look at some different spring flowers to spot when you’re out. You can adapt it depending on the ages of your children, for example, for younger ones you could talk about the different colours and shapes of the flowers as well as opening up the idea of seasons as these are all spring flowers. Older children could perhaps press one or two, or draw them for an art project, even labelling the parts of each different flower.

As part of her home education my eldest Lily has put together a handy spotter sheet with some of these flowers (and more) which you can print off and take with you on your walks You can find this at the bottom of the page. If you use it we’d love to see your photos – tag us on Instagram or Facebook at @larissasgarden, or @LarissaCoop on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Forget-me-nots

#1 – Forget me not

These delicate blue flowers are found all over right now, from gardens to meadows.


Cuckoo flower – Cardamine pratensis

#2 Cuckoo flower (or Lady’s smock)

This flower can be found in damper areas and is the larval food plant for the orange tip butterfly (which also likes garlic mustard Allaria petiolata).


Violets

#3 Violets

There are a few different species of violets in the UK including dog violets Viola canina and sweet violets Viola oderata. Look closely at woodland floors and hedge banks to find this purple beauties.


Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

#4 Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the large leaves do. Similar in appearance to dandelions, these flowers have a distinct scaly stem. In traditional medicines, coltsfoot is used to treat chronic coughing.


Cowslip – Primula veris

# 5 Cowslip

Cowslips like to grow in sunny spots and are often found in meadows. These bright yellow flowers are loved by springtime pollinators.


Gorse – Ulex europeaus

# 6 Gorse

These bright yellow flowers are found on the prickly gorse bushes which are abundant on healthlands and areas with acidic soils. If you smell the flowers they have a slight coconut scent to them. Bees love them too!

Bluebells – Hyacynthoides non-scripta

# 7 Bluebells

A common plant in ancient woodlands at springtime, often carpeting the forest floor. Due to hybridisation with garden varieties our native bluebells are in decline. Are the bluebells you’ve seen native ones? Use this handy guide to find out.


Primroses – Primula vulgaris

# 8 Primrose

These flowers can be found in woodlands and hedge banks or where these habitats once existed. They are loved by early springtime pollinators such as this male hairy-footed-flower bee.


Red campion – Silene diocia

# 10 Silene diocia

Red campions are able to thrive in shady areas such as woodlands, but can be found almost anywhere. They are prolific seeders and are sometimes overlooked because they are common, but I think they are one of our best wildflowers, and pollinators agree too!


Wild garlic – Alium ursinum

# 10 Wild garlic

These members of the onion family are seen on woodland floors. They spread well so often carpet the patch they grow in. Loved by pollinators, wild garlic is also favoured by foragers. All parts of the plant are edible, however if you are foraging, it is illegal to uproot a wildflower, so take only the leaves. It’s a good rule of thumb to only take what you will use and to ensure you leave much more behind that you take.Wild garlic can be used in cooking for flavour, or makes a delicious pesto!


Feel free to download & share! Made by Lily

PDF version below

Spring Flowers Poster

Please ensure that you adhere to the guidelines on social distancing if you are venturing out for daily exercise. If this information changes, please follow the updated guidelines.

Hawthorn

I love hawthorn or Crataegus monogyna. (Of course there is also midland hawthorn Crataegus laevigata). A member of the rose family, hawthorn is equally prickly, but it’s a wonderful all rounder and a must for any wildlife garden, hedgerow or woodland creating project – and what’s even better is it’s easy to grow.

When I was younger when my Dad would take me for walks through our local woodlands, he would call it ‘bread and cheese’ and we would pick off and eat the young shoots. They don’t particularly taste of anything, let alone bread and cheese, but have also been called ‘poor man’s bread and butter’. Over at Plant-Lore.com the different accounts back up the old thoughts that hawthorn is often believed to be unlucky, especially if you bring it into the house but to even cut one down. It is also believed to be associated with fairies.

Recent leaf burst. Jan 2020.

One thing for sure, hawthorn is a brilliant plant for wildlife. It will benefit pollinators with it’s pollen rich flowers which traditionally bloom in May (although don’t be surprised if you see them earlier now), whilst in autumn the berries – or haws – are an essential food source for birds and small mammals. When in a hedgerow hawthorn provides a nesting site for birds, and winter shelter for invertebrates, and in a woodland hawthorn brings structural diversity to the canopy, being a lower-growing shrub.

Bees love hawthorn

You can take cuttings from hawthorn too. I have found the best method is to take green cuttings in spring, cutting just below a leaf node. I use rooting powder to give it a helping hand and then pop into well draining soil and water. I then add a stick taller than the cutting, cover with a plastic sandwich bag and leave in a tray which can be watered when needed. When I have done this the success rate isn’t perfect but around 70%. This method has also worked for other hedging species.

Despite the folklore tales, hawthorn benefits from a prune and can survive coppicing too, extending the life of the individual plants. If your hedge gets a bit leggy, or too big, cutting down to the base will encourage lots of new shoots, resulting in a bushier thicker shrub. Hawthorn can even be laid to create a wonderful stock-proof fence.

Whether you want to encourage birds to your garden, create a wildlife friendly boundary or add structure to a woodland planting scheme – hawthorn is the plant for you!

Hedgerows

Hedgerows

No matter the size of your greenspace there is likely room for a native hedgerow. British hedgerows have been in decline since the 1700s and continue to suffer losses through neglect, poor cutting, spraying, overstocking and even removal. Yet our hedgerows are important for many species of British wildlife.

Hawthorne Crataegus monogyna

130 BAP (biodiversity action plan) species are associated with hedges, as are over 1500 insects including many important pollinators. Bats use hedgerows for commuting and foraging, stag beetle larvae can live in the dead wood, dormice spend most of their time following spring emergence in the bushy branches and great crested newts take refuge at the base.

If you don’t have a hedgerow, or the one you have is a bit gappy, there’s still time to get planting as the planting season runs from Oct-March. There are many options on which species you can plant, and the Woodland Trust offers packages of hedging whips of local provenance (and so reducing the biosecurity risk of importing plants) including free packages for schools and community projects. Hazel (Corylus avellana), hawthorn Cratagus monogyna), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), oak (Quercus robur), sweet chestnut (Castanaea sativa), field maple (Acer campestre), elder (Sambucus nigra), holly (Ilex aquifolia), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) all make great hedging shrubs. I like to add in dogrose (Rosa canina), guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), and spindle (Eunonymous europaeus) for colour.

Spindle Eunonymous europaeus

It’s recommended to plant hedgerows in two rows with plants approximately 30cm apart (or 6 per metre) with the plants zig-zagging to keep the gaps smaller. By doing this you will create a nice dense hedgerow which could later be laid making it an ideal stock-proof boundary, and if managed well, will probably outlive you!

Once you have your hedgerow it is important to care for it. Hedgerows benefit from being cut, by doing so you encourage new growth and extend the life of the plants and the size of the hedge will determine the way you do this. I love hand pruning smaller hedgerows finding it therapeutic, especially on a bright winter’s day when the birds have started singing again. If your hedges are meters long or are field boundaries, you can still hand prune the hedge however this may not always be practical.

Instead you could use a flail which is the most common method for longer hedgerows, although they may damage stems greater than 2.5cm, weakening the hedgerow. Using a tractor mounted circular saw can avoid this. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to consider the shape you’re cutting to – the ideal is an A-shape of around 2m high and 1.5m wide at the base. You can top this if you wish, but not doing so allows some tree species to grow tall.

Red campion Silene diocia

Cutting should be carried out on a rotation of approximately 2-3 years (though cutting season has finished now to allow birds to nest). Many invertebrate species such as the skippers overwinter in hedgerows as eggs, cocoons or in dead stems and cutting on rotation allows these species to survive.

Other ways you can help wildlife include leaving dead wood in situ, maintaining hedge banks and ditches, and enhancing the ground flora. Emorsgate have some wonderful hedgerow seed mixes for wildflowers and grasses suited to semi-shade and the you can buy quantities appropriate for your hedge, whether just a couple of meters or entire field margins! I’ve used them many times with great success.

Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica

Originally written for The Harrowing Times (Norfolk smallholders training group).

Bee Hotels and Seed Bombs – are they worth it?

Occupied shop-bought bee hotel. You can see the tubes which have been filled with leaves by a leaf-cutter bee.

A few years ago you would have found me at various events at work, helping visitors make bee hotels from wooden boxes and bamboo canes and praising their benefits to solitary bees, or mixing seeds with clay and compost to encourage people to ‘bomb’ their gardens with wildflowers for pollinators. And whilst I did so, I wondered if they really were the answer to saving our invertebrates. There was no doubt that the bee hotels did work, as we had seen many occupied with the holes of the bamboo canes sealed up with mud or leaves. However, there wasn’t any research on whether they were a good idea, at least not that I could find, and the trend grew – there’s now a whole array of insect hotels and seed bombs in most garden centers as well as being found online.

Home-made bee hotel from a mixture of reeds, bamboo canes and a wooden box.

This month, Karin Alton and Francis Ratnieks published a review of these products in the journal Bee World, and considered whether they were beneficial or just another trend. Below I look at some of their findings but you can find the full paper here if you’d like to read further.

BEE HOTELS

Solitary bees, unlike the familiar honeybees, don’t live in social groups. They often nest in either holes in the ground, crevices in the mortar of brick walls or hollow plant stems. The concept of bee hotels is to replicate these niches and provide a habitat to raise their young. However, often these bee hotels aren’t made to their required specifications; many are produced abroad and so the hole sizes aren’t suitable for our native bees, some don’t have a back and act as a wind tunnel, and the length of the tubes aren’t always appropriate. Research has shown that for the species Osmia bicornis when the tube lengths are less than 130mm there is a sex ratio shift towards male bees, and that 150mm tubes are the optimal length.

Mining bee, Andrena sp.

Another issue is that bees wouldn’t naturally congregate in the same densities that can be found in bee hotels – especially the larger ones. Solitary bees can be predated on by parasitic wasps which you may sometimes see scanning the side of your house searching for a masonry bee nest. Bee hotels offer easy pickings for these wasps as once they have found one nest they can go on to predate on the ones near by too – potentially having quite a detrimental impact on the local population of the bees using the bee hotels.

Ruby-tailed wasp, Chrysis sp. is a cuckoo wasp which lays it’s eggs in the nests of mason bees. The young emerge and consume the hosts eggs and young.

Bee bricks which are marketed as being a permanent solution to be added to buildings and developments were also considered in the report and the general consensus was that whilst they aren’t great for bees, they make great (expensive) spider habitats!

An elaborate bee hotel at the Hampton Court Flower Show 2015.

SEED BALLS

So what about seed balls? These can be bought online and aren’t particularly cheap – you can get many more seeds for your money buy buying seed packets. However, the fancy tin and novel idea of throwing the seed balls around definitely has an appeal. But do they work? My daughter was bought some one year, and we found they didn’t’ germinate at all, and the reviews online used in the report suggest the same.

Rusty Berlew, described as a ‘master beekeper’ explains how the sites where the balls are thrown often aren’t suitable for the seeds. When I looked at the ‘Bee Mix’ it lists some of the species which include ‘Birdsfoot Trefoil, Foxglove, Red Clover, Viper’s Bugloss and Wild Marjoram’ – but I know from experience germinating these species from seed in a greenhouse, that viper’s bugloss requires very different conditions to foxgloves, marjoram and clover and birdsfoot trefoil. Foxgloves are woodland plants whereas the others are more suited to meadows and open grassland. So whilst yes, they are all good plants for bees, they all require quite different conditions to thrive.

Bees love foxgloves
Viper’s bugloss on Hove beach. Quite a different habitat to that of a foxglove.

In all, the report really highlights that there is much more research needed to show if any of these products are beneficial to wildlife, or certainly to measure the negative impact they may potentially have on populations.

In the meantime, if you want to help wildlife, you’d be better off buying a bag of seeds suited to your garden, leaving dead plants and leaves over winter and providing log piles – and they’re all much better for your pocket too!

Lawns for Wildlife

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There is an increasing trend towards households having artificial lawns installed. This is a growing business as more and more people are having their lawns replaced, opting for a low maintenance alternative to the traditional lawn. However, whilst artificial lawns may seem like a good short-term solution, there are growing concerns on how this will affect our garden wildlife, as well as the environmental sustainability of such an industry.

Around 87% houses have gardens, which cover approximately 2% of all land. That’s a large area which is becoming more and more important for our wildlife as land use changes continue to prioritise everything but nature. Our gardens are some of the last refuges for many of our animals, including declining yet important pollinator species and our soil-dwelling fauna such as earthworms. In a study earlier this year, 42% of our farmland fields were shown to be deficient or even absent of earthworms, highlighting just how important our gardens are for such creatures.

Cinnabar moth larvae

Species such as this cinnabar moth larvae rely on plants which can be found in grasslands.

In the age of the climate crisis and threat of a 6th mass extinction, with many of our native flora and fauna in decline, it is imperative that our actions are helping not hindering this process. But, does that have to mean getting out the lawn mower and slogging away at the end of a long day at work? Not at all. In fact, a traditional lawn isn’t the ideal option either. There are some fantastic alternatives if a lawn isn’t something you are able to or want to maintain (which is totally fine too, because we’re not all blessed with the time or ability to do so).

Law mowing is such a drag. definitely my least favourite job. Letting the grass grow is great for wildlife but also appeals to my lazy side too!

So, what can you do instead?

Grow a meadow

Embrace the long grass and wildflowers. This option is much less work too, only needing to be cut twice a year; early spring and late summer.Cease mowing and over time your lawn will welcome other plants such as buttercups and dandelions which are incredibly beneficial to nectar-loving pollinators. If you want to add more colour, consider adding some wildflower seeds. I’d recommend native flowers as they also offer other benefits other than just nectar to our wildlife such as being food plants for caterpillars but it’s your garden so if you’d prefer a different mix, go for it. (but never sow non-native ‘wildflower’ seed mixes in the countryside).

lawn

This small lawn was left to grow to see what appeared; lots of dandelions, forget-me-nots, chickweed and even some tulips all appeared.

Low-growing plants

Plants like clover, creeping thyme and chamomile are wonderful as they are low-growing and easy to maintain, making an ideal alternative to grass, whilst also benefiting pollinators.

Meadow (6)

Clovers, medicks and birds-foot-trefoil make great plants to add to your lawn.

Grow a Moss Lawn

Perfect if your lawn is already prone to moss or is on a more acidic soil. Moss requires semi-shaded damp conditions to thrive – and it feels great under the toes!

Lawn

This lawn was mostly moss due to the damp and semi-shaded conditions of the garden.

 

Go lawn-less

Remove your lawn all together and opt for a more varied planting scheme with meandering pathways, richly planted beds and a decked area for seating. Lawn-less gardens can be both wildlife-friendly and low-maintenance. Using raised beds is an ideal way to create a garden if you’re less able to get to the ground to weed or prune whilst still creating an enjoyable space, as well as giving the option to incorporate some herb or vegetable growing.

Veg Patch

Adding a veg patch increases the diversity of your garden whilst also giving you tasty produce too!

 

These are just a few alternatives to lawns which are also wildlife friendly. Have you replaced your lawn?

 

Ringlets

Butterflies like these ringlets require long native grasses to breed.

15 Ways to garden in the climate crisis

There’s been a lot of coverage of the climate crisis over the past few months, and it’s fantastic that awareness is growing. But how can you do your bit in the garden? Here’s 15 ways you can garden more sustainably to help our planet!

How many of these do you do already?

 

Be Smart With Seeds

you can save resources and money by keeping the seeds from your flowers such as the cowslip pictured, as well as fruits and vegetables to use the following year. Be sure to dry them out before storing and then keep in a breathable container. If you end up with a surplus of seeds, look for your local seed swap event and see what you can exchange them for.

Cowslip seed head

If you collect seeds from primulas, it is a good idea to scarify them before sowing to speed up the germination process.

Ditch the Peat

Whilst peat is great for growing plants, it comes with a high environmental cost. Peat is extracted from peat bogs, destroying the unique biodiversity of this habitat. Peat bogs are also an excellent carbon store – turning decomposing plants into peat thanks to the wet, anoxic condition of the bogs. When peat is harvested, green house gasses are released into the atmosphere, and once spread onto gardens, further carbon dioxide is released. Ditch the peat for the many equally great alternatives such as the Dalefoot compost pictured, or even better, make your own compost!

Compost

Dalefoot compost is a fantastic peat-alternative, especially their wool compost.

 

Re-Wild your Lawn

Let’s face it, lawns are pretty boring. Biologically they aren’t very diverse and often require artificial nutrients and weed killers to keep them looking lush and green. Converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow not only saves you the time used for mowing but benefits the bees (and other invertebrates) too!

Dandelion and orange tip butterfly

Dandelions are an important nectar supply for early spring pollinators such as this male orange tip butterfly.

 

Garden for Pollinators

Our insects are suffering a catastrophic decline and we need them to survive. You can do your bit by planting nectar rich flowers covering as much of the flowering season as possible (primroses are great early supplies of nectar, whilst Ivy is a fantastic late supply!). Non-native plants can be great for nectar if they are simple open flowers, but the advantage of native plants is that they often support insects throughout their life cycle by providing food for different stages as well as a suitable habitat. You can also install log piles to offer shelter for other invertebrates such as beetles, and leave your garden untidy over winter as fallen leaves and dead stems are the perfect place for insects to hide out during the cold months.

Comma

Gardening for pollinators is more than planting nectar – the larvae of commas feast on nettles before emerging as adult butterflies.

 

Install a Pond

All good wildlife gardens should have a pond. Animals needs water and a pond can provide a watering hole for birds, mammals and invertebrates that visit your garden. They are also essential for breeding amphibians who will soon find your pond (don’t transfer spawn from one pond to another to prevent spreading diseases and invasive organisms). What’s more, many flying invertebrates start of life in the pond and emerge as an adult providing  a food source for bats!

Frogspawn

Monitoring when frogs spawn can tell us a lot about our changing climate. If you want to help scientists then report your spawn sightings using iRecord which you can find online or through an app for your phone.

 

 

Go Plastic-Free

If you’ve gardened for some time, chances are you have a stack of plastic pots somewhere. Where you can, re-use these as much as possible. But when buying new, or looking for containers for seed growing, seek out plastic-free alternatives. You can make your own pots from newspaper, re-use egg boxes and toilet roll tubes for growing on seeds and they best bit is you can plant them straight out in the tubes – which is excellent for root veg!

Pots

You can use almost anything as a pot, just be sure to drill some holes for drainage!

 

Garden Organically

Insects have declined more than 75% in the last 3 decades which is just astonishing. A big part to blame for this is the continued use of pesticides. Whilst you can’t control what happens outside your garden (but buying organic veg does help!) you can control what you use at home. Organic gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many natural ways to deter pests if needed, although creating lots of different habitats means you are likely to attract the predators needed to control problematic species and the garden will look after itself. Another thing to consider is only growing plants which aren’t susceptible to problems such as Lilies.

Bee on chives

Pesticides don’t just target pests – other species such as bees can suffer too.

 

Garden for Birds

Feeding birds using a bird feeder though winter can help them survive when food is hard to find, but you can also make your garden bird friendly by adding plants which also provide food such as a native hedging plants; hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, guelder rose, trees such as Rowan and fruit trees and Ivy which provides food late in the season. Hedges, trees and climbers all give birds somewhere to nest and roost in, and by growing plants for insects you’ll be providing food for insectivorous birds too!

Blackthorn

Birds love the sloes from blackthorns – if you’re lucky they’ll leave you some to make a batch of sloe gin in time for xmas.

 

Shop Sustainably

Where do you buy your garden supplies from? Are they making positive changes to combat climate change? Do they use peat, or pesticides? Are their plants grown locally or imported (and risking bio-security issues)? By choosing where you shop you encourage businesses to do better.

BWFP

Local nurseries by their nature of being smaller will have a much lower environmental impact than bigger companies, and they are usually much friendlier too. I love visiting British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk!

 

Buy Local and Connect with Neighbors

Buy local where you can. Often local nurseries take more care growing the plants, and you can usually find some interesting varieties too. Buying local also reduces transportation impacts. Local selling pages are a fantastic place to offload excess plants or gardening equipment as well as picking up a few bargains yourself!

Walnut Tree Nursery

Walnut Tree Nursery in Norfolk is a great place to find some unusual varieties of more common plants.

 

Grow Your Own Food

If you can, try growing you own food. You don’t need a massive garden to do this as there are lots of patio varieties of different fruits and veg which can be grown on balconies too. If you don’t have much space, you could always consider an allotment. Not only does growing your own organic food reduce your environmental impact, it’s delicious too!

Grow you Own

I’ve started using straw as a substrate in our veg patch as so far so good! This year I’m adding compost from the chickens too.

 

Compost

Food waste has a massive impact on the environment and not all councils collect it so some still heads straight to landfill. You can prevent this by composting your own food waste and there are lots of options to do this. You can have a basic plastic bin which works well over time, an open compost bin like the one pictured (though more suited to garden waste than food) or even a wormery! There are new hot compost bins which are ideal for small gardens as they require less space and make compost much quicker than a traditional bin. Using your own compost reduces the need to buy in compost from elsewhere too.

Compost bin

This bin was made from 4 pallets, the one at the front cut into sections which can be slid into the front as needed. Perfect for garden waste or areas where you don’t have rats.

 

Get Your Own Chickens

Animal agriculture comes with a high environmental impact. If you eat eggs, having a couple of hens is a great way to produce eggs for your family and they are much nicer than mass produced eggs too. One of the issues with current farming methods is that the rainforests are being cut down for soy plantations for animal feeds – so if you do have your own hens, make sure that the feed is soy-free!

Chickens

There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg from a spoilt and happy chicken!

 

Garden for your Local Climate

Hose bans will become more frequent as water supplies dry up. It is predicted that some areas of the UK will suffer regular water shortages within the next 25 years so the idea of watering your garden will be a thing of the past. To avoid excessive water use, plant species which are adapted to our climate, or even more drought tolerant ones, and avoid planting in the dry seasons so there’s no need to regularly water.

Sedums

Sedums require little watering and can be great for ground cover or for green roofs – as well as being a good nectar supply for pollinators.

 

Green Your Roofs

Green roofs can come in many forms from a small sedum roof on your wheelie-bin cupboard to a whole garden on top of a city building. They can help reduce energy costs by absorbing heat and acts as insulation for buildings as well as cleaning the air around us. When roofs are greened in cities, they help mitigate the urban heat island effect which may be more important than ever in the next few years. They also provide a habitat to our wildlife, including birds and pollinators and like this one seen at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015, they look stunning too!

Green Roof

There are no limits to green roofs, except the load bearing of the structure! To find out more head to livingroofs.org

 

Thanks for reading! If you loved this content, then head over to Facebook and Instagram and follow for more.

x Larissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Species Recovery Trust

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation headed up by Dominic Price, the Trust’s director, working to the primary aim to ‘remove 50 species from the edge of extinction in the UK by the year 2050’. The team at the Species Recovery Trust does this alongside volunteers by combining scientific knowledge and effective conservation practices. The species targeted are a mix of both plants and animals and include some of the rarest in the UK. These include invertebrates such as Cicindela campestris – Green Tiger Beetle, Erotides cosnardi – Cosnard’s Net-winged Beetle and Hagenella clathrata – Window-winged Caddis Fly as well as these plants: Carex depauperata – Starved Wood-sedge, Gentianella campestris – Field Gentian and Lycopodiella inundata– Marsh Clubmoss. Head over to their website to find out more about the important work they are carrying out.

As well as being super-awesome species protectors, the Trust also offers a range of ecological training courses aimed at people wanting to develop their skills in  identification and ecological practices. I have been lucky to have attended a few courses with Dominic including the winter tree identification and grasses identification courses held within the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden, and can highly recommend these to anyone who is able to sign up to one (some of the courses are already fully booked).

One of the other fantastic resources offered by The Species Recovery Trust are their two field guides. Both are excellent guides to have with you when out on a survey. You can preview a sample of the grass ID book here. The grass ID book comes out with me on every field trip and is a wonderful compliment to the somewhat more picture-less (and heavier!) Stace. The descriptions are very clear and concise without using too much complicated terminology so it’s also perfect for beginners as well as seasoned botanists too. You can purchase both books in their shop.

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My own copy of the Grass Identification book. It’s ace!

I’d like to thank Dominic for a kind donation of Wildflower Seeds which will be available as freebies at the Royal Norfolk Show next week. To come and get yours, head over to the new horticultural area to  find the pollinator garden and come and say hello!

Finally, here’s a link to a quick video showing you how to identify some British grasses, give it a go! It’s not as daunting as you might think!

 

x Larissa

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation. If you’d like to support them with their work, I’m sure any donations would be greatly appreciated. You can find out more on how to support them over on their website here.

British Wild Flower Plants

I have worked with British Wild Flower Plants for a few years now, both in a professional context and also to get plants for my own garden. BWFP is a family run business started by Linda Laxton 27 years ago. Linda’s outstanding knowledge of wildflowers has lead to the success of BWFP who have supplied plants to some of the UK’s biggest RHS plant shows, as well as large scale projects such as the 2012 Olympics and to organisations such as Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden.

Set in a large site in Burlingham, Norfolk – just off the A47, BWFP grows a wide variety of wildflowers and grasses which are available through their website as either plug plants (reasonably sized ones too!) and half litre 9cm pots. You can order online and the plants will be delivered, or you can visit the site (by arrangement only) if you’d like to collect. All the plants are grown without the use of chemical pesticides which is absolutely wonderful given many of the plants are destined to habitats created for pollinators and other wildlife. BWFP also offer an advice service so if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, or need help with a conservation or ecological mitigation project then help is at hand.

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Just a couple of days ago, I took a trip out to Burlingham and met with Matt, Linda’s son-in-law, who kindly showed me around and helped me select some plants for the Norfolk Show. I did feel a little like a child in a sweet-shop – buying plants, especially native ones is definitely one of my favourite things! I already have quite a collection of pollinator-friendly non-native plants for the show, but I couldn’t create a real pollinator garden without lots of native wildflowers. I truly believe that the best way to provide for our wildlife is to give them as much diversity as possible, and whilst many of our garden plants are a wonderful nectar supply, our native plants compliment this nicely by offering a food source to more specialist species, or for different life cycle stages such as caterpillars.

Below are a few photos of the plants I came home with. If you’d like to see more along with find out how these can be added to a garden, come along to the Royal Norfolk Show next week on the 27th and 28th June and come to the brand new horticulture area!

x Larissa

Meadowmat – Wildflower turf

Not long to go now until the Norfolk Show, and this time I’ll be writing all about Meadowmat wildflower turf. Meadowmat have kindly donated some Wildflower turf to the pollinator plot which you’ll be able to find in the brand new horticulture area.
I collected the turf a couple of weeks ago from their site in Feltwell. It was a beautifully sunny day and the journey took me to a part of Norfolk I’m not very familiar with. Meeting their staff members, they knew exactly what I had ordered and kindly loaded the car with the turf – each piece being a 1 meter square – and all the turf folded in half just about fit in the boot of the car.

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The bees are enjoying the meadowmat

The turf was unloaded at home and placed in a secluded semi-shaded area which doesn’t seem to have done it any harm yet. In the long term this would probably affect the diversity of the turf, with it being more suited to an open sunny spot. In general, it has needed very little looking after – just regular watering as we don’t seem to have had one really rainy day since I collected it, just the odd drizzle. How little it has needed looking after really goes to show just how easy it can be to create a wildflower meadow, especially if you wanted to do so quickly and without the risk of sowing seeds and hoping they all germinate.

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The plant composition seems fairly diverse. Plenty of meadow grasses, yorkshire fog, crested dog’s tail and some beautiful fescues too, and most importantly the absence of any bully grasses such as false oat grass, couch grass and perennial rye which can take over in small meadow areas (especially if nutrients increase).

There are also plenty of flowers within the mix. Some have finished flowering already, and the poppies are almost over, but the cornflowers are still in full bloom. There’s also bird’s-foot trefoil (a larval food plant for the blue butterflies), wild carrot, plantains, red and white campions, and plenty more.

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There are many ways to install a wildflower meadow in your garden and using Meadowmat is a great way to get an instant impact. There are different plant mixes available too including a mix for birds and bees, a cottage garden mix and even a mix suitable to a shaded area. Alternatively, if you are low on space, you can get turf designed for green roofs. Whatever your desired end result there’s a turf for you! If you’d like to find out more, do come and say hello at the Norfolk Show and have a look at the meadow yourself. I’ll be around both days to answer any questions you might have.

keep an eye out for the next two blogs coming up; one on British Wild Flower Plants (the perfect place to buy plug plants to add to your meadowmat!) and the Species Recovery Trust.

x Larissa

Easton College Nature Reserve

Yesterday I spent the day doing one of the things that makes me happiest; wandering around looking at and recording plants. This time I was at the Easton and Otley College open day at the Easton Campus, just outside of Norwich. The college boasts a 245 acre farm and within this farmland there is a real gem (which even some of the college tutors haven’t visited) – the Water Meadows, situated along the river Yare. This is where I was, alongside other naturalists, ex-students and tutors Jerry, Anna and Nick.

Arriving at the Water Meadows, Nick gave some of us a tour around the site so we were aware of the boundaries and where we could wander and record. We headed towards the river and then west towards a fallen (non-native) Poplar tree. On the way we looked under the reptile refuge and saw three wonderful grass snakes. Just a little further on, the meadow was abundant with southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa including one monster specimen! There were also a few early marsh orchids Dactylorhiza incarnata too but these were almost over, but I have never seen such a density.

 

 

The Water Meadows run adjacent to the river and seem to be largely comprised of four areas, separated by ditches of open water. Some patches were clearly more diverse than others. The meadows are used for grazing highland cattle by the college and some areas have been enhanced with nitrates for the grazing, although this was a while ago now and the flora does seem to be recovering well.

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The next four hours were spent surveying the plants within the meadows. In total I recorded 79 flowering plant species and I am confident this is nowhere near a complete list, with many more species yet to be found. What I did notice is that for an area which has been largely neglected, and at times, mistreated with nitrate enhancement, the diversity of plants is certainly comparable to any other nature reserve. In fact, the list reminded me of a similar survey carried out on an FSC training course in Slapton Ley – a National Nature Reserve on the South Coast. Notable plant species included masses of common valerian Valeriana officinalis  and meadow rue Thalictrum flavum and of course the plant which probably has the best scientific name ever – brooklime Veronica becabunga. Say it, go on – ‘bec-a-bun-ga’. Beautiful! 


I tried to record other non-plant species that I could as I went around, which included four butterfly species: small white, meadow brown, red admiral and a skipper which skipped away before we could ID it. There were also common carder bees Bombus pascorum and white tailed bumble bees Bombus lucorum, red-headed cardinal beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis and garden chafers Phyllopertha horticola, a rove beetle, likely Bolitobius sp. and numerous hoverflies which flew before I could photograph them. There were also numerous odonata including a few Norfolk Hawkers Aeshna isoceles and masses of banded demoiselles Calopteryx splendens by the river. These are just the invertebrates which I spotted and I am far from being an expert. I am sure the real experts managed to record many more.

One of the downsides of studying ecology based subjects is that the academic year runs from Sept- June with the latter months usually reserved for exams or putting together final projects. However, the key time of the year to learn about plants is during the flowering season – which for an area like the water meadows, the best months will be June- August. (Because of this, I have never seen the meadows looking so wonderful having only ever visited in Winter!).

The water meadows could be utilised far not only around the whole year, but also during the summer. The college could offer short courses in natural history or identification, or use the meadows as a location for school children to discover pond life or invertebrates. Even as a location for Forest Schools. There are so many possibilities and just so much potential.

Though the most important is to firstly recognise what a wonderful resource it is, and quite rightly it deserves the upgraded title of Easton College Nature Reserve.

x Larissa