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

Back after a little break

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. A lot has happened since then and we are in a new home with new, smaller garden. Instead of being in suburban London, we’re living in rural Norfolk in the Breckland area. We are still lucky enough to be adjacent to a woodland, however the two woodlands couldn’t be more different from each other; the previous woodland was a large ancient woodland whilst the current woodland was recently planted (c. 1950) and is just a couple of acres surrounded by crop fields. There is a meadow adjacent to the property which looks like we may have use of later in the year, and if this comes to fruition, then we plan to acquire some sheep for wool production and grazing! Watch this space.

With this move there is a noticeable change in the wildlife which we are seeing in and near our garden here compared to London, although we have only been here since Autumn last year so we don’t have the best two seasons to go by. There are lots of birds of prey here, including a buzzard which seems to always be around somewhere and a pair of kestrels, not to mention the rooks which live in the woodland and flock each morning and evening in such a wonderfully haunting way.  I have noticed an absence of early pollinators this year however,  which I hope this is much more to do with a change in location northwards and the recent cold snap, and of course some of the species I would see previously aren’t as common here either.

As well as moving, I’ve also signed up to the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). The general idea is to record plants in three 5x5m quadrats and two linear plots within a 1km specified area, and do this twice a year for as many years as possible to record any plant and habitat changes. You don’t need to be a botanical expert and you are given lots of resources to help you with recording. My 1km plot is north-east of Norwich in the Broadland area, but is still relatively rural with approx 85% of the plot being agricultural fields. I made the initial visit last summer to identify possible plot locations and will be returning again in late spring to being the first year of recording. I have applied for a second, local plot which consists of a large proportion of woodland. I’ll update with the progress of recording here on this blog. If you’d like to get your own 1km square head over to the website here and sign up.

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Bird’s foot trefoil

I absolutely love this plant, and this blog does a great job at explaining why.

Scotland's Nature

The familiar and unpretentious bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) seems to be spread all over the Scottish landscape; it is found on grasslands, meadows, rock ledges, sand dunes, derelict sites and roadside verges. This perennial herb, member of the legume family (Fabaceae, which includes peas, vetches, broad beans and clovers) is valued in many countries as pasture, hay, and silage, although it has become an invasive species in some parts of North America and Australia.

Bird's foot trefoil and daisies Bird’s foot trefoil and daisies

But more importantly for the aspect of ecosystem services, the bird’s-foot-trefoil is a larval food plant for several butterflies and moths and a valuable nectar source for many other insects. And, like some other legumes, the bird’s-foot-trefoil produces highly nutritious pollen.

However, it is not advantageous for the plant to make its pollen available to all that want it; pollen grains, which are full of proteins, amino-acids and vitamins, require…

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A year of the pond

It’s been about a year since we restored our pond and I’d like to share with you just how well it has developed in such a short time. I expected it to attract wildlife, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly or for it to be so easy.

March 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

February 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

The first real signs of life were a couple of frogs we discovered on the patio in mid March. We were excited and expected to see frogspawn the following morning, however it was a few weeks before the first batch arrived. My daughter had made checking for frogspawn part of her morning routine before school, and on 2nd April she came running in screaming with excitement.

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

That same day we found another two frogs paired up on the patio, and the next morning before breakfast we discovered that our pond was teaming with amphibians all fighting to pass on their genes – some more successfully than others. In total I counted 30 individuals, although I am pretty sure there were more; the pond was so busy it was difficult to count them all. When all the activity had died down, the spawn eventually covered a third of the pond edge.

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

The spawn

The spawn

One problem we did have with this influx of frogs is that the crows which live in the trees at the end of the garden suddenly had easy dinners and unfortunately a few frogs didn’t quite make it. So in an attempt to keep the frogs safe, we built a makeshift scarecrow which seemed to work. One the 1st May we spotted our first tadpoles.

The scarecrow

The scarecrow

Many tadpoles

Many tadpoles

While the tadpoles matured and eventually left the pond, the vegetation which I had planted in August last year was beginning to grow and would eventually provide cover for the emerging froglets, as well as supplying nectar for foraging bees and other insects.

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort - Senecio aquaticus and water figwort - scrophularia auriculata

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort – Senecio aquaticus and water figwort – scrophularia auriculata

Pendulous sedge - Carex pendula and teasel - Dipsacus fullonum

Pendulous sedge – Carex pendula and teasel – Dipsacus fullonum

I’ve been asked before what plants work well to plant around the edge of ponds, and I always respond with native species such as those below. I think we have such a beautiful range of native wetland species that there is no need for any others – but this is of course my preference, and I am sure there are many other marginal plants out there. One thing to remember though is that some aquatic plants which are introduced can become invasive if they escape into the wild such as parrot’s feather Myriophyllum aquaticum which is now banned in the UK as well as four others. If you do grow non-native aquatic plants, do not dump them into any wild waterways.

Marsh ragwort - senecio aquaticus

Marsh ragwort – senecio aquaticus

Greater bird's foot trefoil - lotus pedunculatus

Greater bird’s foot trefoil – lotus pedunculatus

Ragged robin - Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged robin – Silene flos-cuculi

Soft rush - Juncus effusus (99% sure on the DI of this but didn't get Stace until the flowers were over)

Soft rush – Juncus effusus (99% sure on the ID of this but didn’t get Stace until the flowers were over)

One problem I have had with the pond is the thick blanket of duckweed. A little duckweed is fine, and is probably a good thing, but unfortunately the nutrient levels were increased in our pond after my daughter ‘fed’ the tadpoles about 50 slugs and snails! I noticed that the tadpoles were coming up for air a lot more than they should one day so I began clearing the duckweed using a large holed tennis racket, carefully picking out any creatures such as rat-tailed larvae and water louse. I had to do this every other week or so, as and when the duckweed regrew. I also added in some oxygenating hornwort to help the tadpoles.

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

One day when clearing out the duckweed I made a discovery which made my day. I had caught a newt! A very large, male smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. Part of me had hoped he was a great crested newt, but I was still happy to have found another new resident of the pond.

Male smooth newt - Lissotriton vulgaris

Male smooth newt – Lissotriton vulgaris

Having a pond in the garden is great for curious kids. My daughter loves pond dipping with me and we have discovered large dragonfly and damselfly larvae, rotifers, may fly larvae, small diving beetles, water louse, blood worms, pond skaters and most recently, a newt eft which shows that the frogs aren’t the only ones breeding in the pond. It is worth noting that when removing duckweed, to also check for newt eggs too.

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

A newt eft

A newt eft

The pond is also visited by different Odonata – the family to which dragonflies and damselflies belong. Last year just shortly after the pond was restored we saw dragonflies laying their eggs in the water. This year, we have seen a few different species of Odonata including the large red damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula and the southern hawker Aeshna cyanea dragonfly.

Large red damselflies copulating

Large red damselflies copulating

Southern hawker

Southern hawker

I am sure that this is just a fraction of the wildlife which has benefitted from our pond. The foxes come and drink from it each night and the bats feast on the emerging midges above the water. The pond provides nourishment, a home, and a place to breed for creatures large and small and I look forward to seeing what the next surprise will be.

If you have a pond in your garden, I’d love to hear what wildlife it has attracted. Comment below or get in touch through twitter or facebook.

Gathering inspiration

The summer holidays have been here for a few weeks already and it’s been quite busy. So busy the garden has become slightly overgrown and neglected. When I went on maternity leave I had envisioned lots of free time to lay in the sun and read books, potter in the garden become a lady of leisure. I was very wrong, and with the eldest off school as well, the garden has definitely taken a backseat.

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The Garden before the summer holidays – relatively tidy!

At the beginning of the holidays the kids and I spent a week away in Norfolk visiting friends and family leaving my partner in charge of the garden. While we were away it gave me a chance to pinch a few ideas and get some inspiration from other people’s gardens. My Dad has recently become quite keen on attracting wildlife to his garden and had added a few insect hotels since our last visit, one of which was being used by a leaf-cutter bee.

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A couple of holes have been blocked off with vegetation – suggesting a leaf cutter bee has been busy.

I was also quite impressed with my Dad’s use of pots in their small garden. Without the pots, there wouldn’t be nearly as much colour. A great idea for a rented garden, especially as the plants are easy to take with you if you need to move. He even had a pot with wildflowers which the bees were enjoying. I picked up a box of all white wildflower seeds at hampton court which I am saving for next year. I was going to sow them into the flower border out the front to create a white garden, but I think I might sow them in a pot. This also might protect them from the slugs too.

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Wildflowers grow in the pot below an ornamental tree

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A nice arrangement of pots can bring splashes of colour or year-round foliage and structure

We also went to visit my partner’s mother who has a beautiful cottage garden, as well as a vegetable patch. The flower beds are gorgeous and look like they belong in a Gardener’s World feature. I also love that there are surprises around every corner; a hedgehog house, and old wheelbarrow filled with plants, raspberries and blueberries hidden in the hedgerow and magnificent tomato plants in the greenhouse! The tit boxes were used this year and so were the bat boxes – but by tits too! Looking at the veg patch also made me realise a mistake I had made with my own at home – I hadn’t grown enough peas!

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

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The Vegetable patch – peas protected by netting earlier in the year. By the time we visited they were doing really well.

 

When we got home I was please to find the garden not only alive – but thriving. Having had quite a few days of rain the vegetables had exploded and everything was doing really well. Lots of different plants had also flowered including the purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria (one of my all-time favourites) and teasel Dipsacus fullonum, both growing by the pond.

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The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

Bees love teasel

Bees love teasel

As August has progressed, much of the time in the garden has spent harvesting the crops, but more on this later.

One final note – while we were away my partner spotted what we are pretty sure was a silver-washed fritillary in our garden. A first record for us and one I have yet to see myself.

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5 Easy Ways to Help Pollinators in your Garden

For Pollinator Awareness Week here’s a quick guide on ten ways you can help pollinators in your garden whether you rent it or not.

1 – Plant as many different pollinator-friendly flowers as you can

Variety is key. The more different flowers you plant, the more likely you will attract a range of different pollinators. For example, studies have shown that bees have gone to marjoram flowers, whilst butterflies preferred Bowles mauve. When you are out take note what plants are buzzing with bees, hoverflies and butterflies and remember that there are many more plants out there than buddleia to attract these beauties!

Bees love alium flowers too

Bees love alium flowers too

2 – Aim to have flowers from early spring to late summer/early autumn

By having flowers in your garden throughout the season you will be providing food for the early pollinators as well as the ones still taking advantage of the milder autumn days. Primroses Primula vulgaris are a great plant for spring pollinators whilst ivy Hedera helix is an excellent late-flowering plant.

Native primroses are edible too!

Native primroses are edible too!

3 -Leave the lawnmower in the shed

By leaving the grass to grow long (or even just a little patch) will help to attract butterflies such as meadow browns, speckled woods and ringlets who use grasses such as cocksfoot Dactylus glomerata as a larval food-plant. Grass also provides a home for many other invertebrates too as well as creatures such as frogs, toads and slow worms. I keep finding many teeny froglets in our long grass.

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Our patch of long grass at the back with a mown path (and campfire!)

4 – Plant a mix of native and non-native plants

Many of our pollinators have adapted to use our native plants either as a nectar source or as a larval food. Plants such as the ragwort Senecio jacobaea attract specialist species such as the cinnabar moth, whilst there are many native plants used by our butterflies to lay their eggs on and feed the caterpillars. A couple of good lists of these plants can be found here and here.

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Suspicious eggs (probably large white butterfly) found on the kale growing in our veg patch. Turns out I am the only one in the family who likes kale, so I’m happy to share it with the butterflies!

Caught in the act!

Caught in the act!

I just looked out of my bedroom window to see this gatekeeper on the ragwort. Luckily it stuck around for me to take a photo!

I just looked out of my bedroom window to see this gatekeeper on the ragwort. Luckily it stuck around for me to take a photo!

5 – Make a bee hotel

Bee hotels have become very popular and can be found in lots of stores and supermarkets which is great. However, they are also very easy to make too. It is really as easy as drilling some holes in wood or filling an empty bottle with bamboo. The key thing to remember is to make sure that the holes or bamboo are at least 10cm long. There are lots of great tutorials online such as this one or this one.

Made by my daughter from common reed and a plastic bottle

Made by my daughter from common reed and a plastic bottle

Another bee hotel made by my daughter, no visitors in this one yet.

Another bee hotel made by my daughter, no visitors in this one yet.

Add any of your own tips in the comments below!

Choosing Garden Plants for Pollinators; Natives or Non-natives?

This week (13th – 19th July) it is ‘Pollinator Awareness Week‘ and a perfect time to discuss the different plants that we can, as gardeners, provide for pollinators in our own little patches of green space. I’d like to to so by looking into some of the different native and non-native plants in my own garden which are often alive with the buzz of busy bees.

Why do we need to help pollinators? Pollination of our crops is an essential ecosystem service that we just can not do without and pollinators do this job for us for free. The term ‘pollinator’ covers a wide range of invertebrates including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, hoverflies and wasps. There are thought to be over 1500 different species of pollinators in the UK.

The most well known and frequently discussed group are the bees of course. There has been a lot of research over the last few years into the notable decline of bee populations with theories ranging from habitat loss, climate change and the use of neonicotinoids – a group of insecticides thought to effect bees – however, other pollinator groups are also suffering from similar environmental and anthropogenic stressors, so by adding a range of plants to suit different pollinators is in my opinion, a really good start in helping these important creatures.

Lungwort flowers early and the bees loved it this year!

Lungwort flowers early and the bees loved it this year

It has long been debated whether you need to plant native plants and have a wild and ‘weedy’ garden for wildlife or whether you can still attract wildlife with garden exotics.

Studies have found some non-natives to be useless to pollinators because the flowers are either nectar poor, too fussy for the insects to reach the pollen or the flowers are too long for the bees to get their tongues in. The RHS found in their ‘Plants for Bugs’ study that this isn’t the case for all non-natives and that some were as good as, or even better than the native plants chosen. It was at a Wildlife Gardening Forum conference a couple of years back that I heard all about this research and was swayed from being a dedicated ‘native only’ advocate to considering alternative garden plants.

The two plants that really stood out at the time were the native hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum and the non-native garden plant Bowles mauve everlasting wallflower Erisimum linifolium. Both of these plants are excellent for pollinators and for me are definitely on the list of essentials for the garden. My Bowles mauve are awash with insects and also fill a space in my rockery/herb garden on my patio, providing a constant splash of colour throughout spring and summer.

Bowles mauve flowers in tall spikes which can last for the whole season

Bowles mauve flowers in tall spikes which can last for the whole season

Hemp agrimony is a native wetland plant, which is suited to damp areas such as fens or pond margins. It will however also grow in dry areas making it ideal for garden flower borders too if you don’t have a pond. I tried growing hemp agrimony by sowing seeds around my pond last year but had no success which is surprising as this plant can be invasive so be prepared to manage it if you have more luck than me. This year I planted hemp agrimony plugs around the pond but these seemed to be smothered by the other plants and I haven’t had any flower. As a last attempt, I put the final few plugs I had into a basket planter and placed at the edge of my pond. So far they haven’t died and hopefully will flower next year.

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Hemp agrimony

Another non-native plant which I think is an essential is red valerian Centranthus ruber. An introduced species now naturalised in the UK, it is great for pollinators, easy to grow and looks beautiful too.

Red valerian about to flower

Red valerian about to flower

In spring our steps are awash with bellflowers, and these attract so many bees that you can hear them buzzing all day, and they are very pretty. If you have any walls with holes in then these are perfect to fill the gaps.

I love these little flowers

I love these little flowers

My partner introduced me to cosmos; a plant he grew with a lot of success in Canada. Although we have tried for the past few years to grow them, we have never achieved the large bushes he did before. However, we have managed a few smaller plants and this year have decided to grow them in pots as the slugs just can’t seem to resist them. Neither can the bees, and if you keep deadheading them they will continue to produce flowers. When the are finished, allow a few to go to seed and collect them for next year.

This bee went from flower to flower.

This bee went from flower to flower.

When it comes to native plants, my favourites are red clover Trifolium pratense, greater birds-foot trefoil Lotus pedunculatus  and foxgloves digitalis pupurea. These are all great for pollinators and look fantastic too. For me, another important group of plants are native grasses. I leave a patch at the back of the garden to grow long for the grass-loving butterflies and by doing so, we have seen gatekeepers, meadow browns and ringlets this year. Finally, if you can provide ivy Hedra helix then the bees will be grateful of the late pollen supply, whilst the birds will be happy with the late supply of berries!

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Foxglove flowers are perfectly designed for pollinators

This is only a few of the plants we have to attract pollinators but some of my personal favourites. The RHS has done a much better job at coming up with a list of plants here. The key things to consider are to provide lots of nectar and pollen-rich plants which together, flower throughout the season offering this food supply as long as possible. Whether the plants are native or not is really up to you the gardener, as after all – it is your space too!

If you are unsure of whether the plants you are buying are good for pollinators – look for the RHS Perfect for Pollinators logo.

Ragwort – dispelling the myths

Ragwort – Senecio jacobaea is a contentious topic I’ve noticed recently. When ever a photo is posted for identification on different Facebook groups I am following, the comments show a big divide of opinion and the same myths are often used in arguing for its eradication.

For those of you who are unaware of this native plant from the asteraceae family , ragwort is often known for its toxicity to horses and cattle. Some people believe that its toxicity is to be feared and that just by touching it the plant can cause liver failure and so must be removed at all costs – and there has been plenty of media hype to continue this prejudice. However, whilst it is potentially harmful to horses, it also has plenty of benefits to wildlife.

I want to write this because when we moved in last year and the garden was overgrown, there were quite a few ragwort plants in flower around the garden and my first instinct was to go around and pull it all up. I’m glad I didn’t and that I looked into it a little bit, because I later discovered a plant with a few caterpillars of the day-flying cinnabar moth Tyria jacobaeae happily munching away at the leaves. These beautifully distinct larvae with their stripy bodies rely on ragwort as a food plant and without it these critters can not complete their life cycle. Because of the control of ragwort a decline in the numbers of cinnabar moths has been noticed.

Ragwort is also an excellent nectar source for pollinators; bees, butterflies and hoverflies in particular. We had gatekeepers Pyronia tithonus visiting our plants last year which was a new butterfly for me and very exciting. Ragwort is thought to be essential to at least 30 invertebrates, so it really is in my opinion much more of a friend than a foe. This year, I have also planted marsh ragwort Senecio aquaticus around my pond because of how great it is for invertebrates.

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Ragwort control is only really necessary if it occurs in or around a field which is producing hay. This is because ragwort is harmful to horses and they are unable to detect the dried ragwort in hay and the toxicity of the plant remains. Ingestion of dried ragwort can lead to liver failure which is understandably a very good reason to avoid it – although how dangerous it really is is debated given the difficulty in identifying ragwort poisoning as a cause of death. It is also perhaps a good idea to remove it from any grazing paddocks ‘just in case’ even though horses tend to avoid it when it is fresh. We remove it at work when the sheep graze just as a precaution, although I’ve noticed a few plants after they have arrived and the sheep have seemed to avoid them too. It is also worth noting that there is no legislation requiring the removal of ragwort as is often believed. If ragwort is causing a problem then there are powers for an order for removal to be made through the Weeds act 1959, but an order has to be made for this to be enforced.

Ragwort will not harm humans unless perhaps you eat a lot of it. I’ve pulled it up with my bare hands many times with no adverse effects. There is of course the chance that you may be more sensitive to it and for every ten people who are okay with it, there will be one who developed a rash I’m sure.

If you would like to find out more about the truth of ragwort then there is lots of information about it on the internet such as here, here and here. In the meantime, if you find any growing in your garden let it grow and keep an eye out for the cinnabar moth!

“Tyria jacobaeae-04 (xndr)” by Svdmolen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Hampton Court Flower Show 2015

I woke up on Thursday with that giddy ‘going on holiday’ feeling in my stomach. But I wasn’t heading off on a jet plane, instead I was driving down the road to Hampton Court Flower Show with my partner’s mother. We arrived without any traffic hassles which was a surprise and after negotiating the pushchair over the pedestrian footbridge and following the meandering crowd (mostly comprised of people of the ‘older’ generation) we arrived at the show. One thing that caught my eye on the way in were the magnificent sculpted trees which made me feel I had walked in to a Lewis Caroll novel.

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The show, celebrating it’s 25th year was relatively busy and bustling with people pulling cartloads of plants and drinking pimms. Managing the heat, the crowds and a somewhat restless and curious baby was a bit of a challenge. However we still made it around and brought a few treats home with us!

All the gardens were absolutely stunning, with the exception of Simon Webster’s garden ‘Ready…Aim…Flower!’ which to me just didn’t quite move past the sheer oddness of it. I noticed that many of the gardens had incorporated elements of wildflowers which I really liked to see. I love the wildflower look, it’s slightly scruffy, mixed with delicate floral displays and can be tailored to suit almost any situation, whilst still attracting an array of pollinators.

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I particularly liked the colour scheme exhibited in the Macmillan Legacy Garden which won a gold award. The muted oranges and peaches of the flowers to me looked liked the plants had a vintage Instagram filter over them and worked really well. This inspired me to buy some flowers this colour from the show for my own garden at home.

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Bu my favourite garden of all was the Community Street Garden With it’s mixture of attractive borders, creative vegetable planting, green roofs and homes for wildlife. It worked very well as an example of sustainable urban gardening.

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Here are a few more highlights of the show.