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).

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

Royal Norfolk Show – Walnut Tree Garden Nursery

Over the next four weeks I’ll be posting about the Pollinator area at the Royal Norfolk Show 2018, which I am honoured to be creating (see my previous post for more information). This includes a series of featured posts about some of the very generous local businesses which have donated to the area.

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The first in this series is Walnut Tree Garden Nursery. When I visited earlier in the year after Jim had offered to donate some plants, I initially wondered if the sat nav was taking me down the right road. A small country road winds it’s way to the nursery and if you make this journey don’t worry, you are going the right way.

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The first thing I noticed was the sound of birds. This is obviously an area which is well cared for, loved by wildlife and miles away from your concreted commercial garden centres. I really liked it and began dreaming of owning my own place like this one day.

I had a little wander before Jim met me and showed me around the polytunnels as we chose a selection of pollinator friendly plants. I was in awe of Jim’s knowledge of each plant; the taxonomy, etymology and the origins along with the various benefits to wildlife. My expertise is in native British plants so it was interesting to see some different varieties of some genera I was familiar with, and some which were totally new!

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I cam away with a wonderful selection of plants which I have been growing up in the garden at home ready for you to enjoy at the show. To find out what they are you’ll have to make sure you visit!

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I can’t recommend Walnut Tree Garden Nursery enough and look forward to going back. Even if you don’t live locally, it is well worth the visit to add some truly wonderful and specialist plants to you garden which you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Take a look at their website to see a little of what’s on offer – and if you’re not local, you can order online!

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Come back soon for the next blog post on Meadowmat!

x Larissa x

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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Is Nemasys harmful to bumble bees?

Recent study finds consumer biological control lethal to bumble bee Bombus terrestris in laboratory tests

For many years, gardeners and horticulturists have been using biological control products as a means to eradicate garden pests such as weevils, carrot root fly, thrips and slugs. Many gardeners, including myself, have used these products as a more natural pest control over ‘nastier’ chemical alternatives, but a recent study has shown that these seemingly harmless nematodes could pose a threat to the invertebrates gardeners do like to see and actively encourage – such as bees.

Scientists at Liverpool John Moores University, found that entomopathogenic nematodes in two Nemasys products; ‘Grow Your Own’ and ‘Vine Weevil Killer’ were lethal to the bumble bee Bombus terrestris in controlled laboratory experiments. Results showed high mortality in bees exposed to soil containing nematodes from each of the products. These products are both currently widely available and largely unregulated.

Entomopathogenic nematodes are a parasite, causing death in their hosts through an association with bacteria. Juvinile nematodes are infected with bacteria in the soil then seek and enters it’s host, such as a weevil or moth larvae. The bacteria causes septicemia and kills the host, providing a food source for the nematodes before they proliferate, sending more infected parasites out to find their next victim.

This study has highlighted the potential threat that these methods of biological control could have on our wild bee species, especially those such as Bombus terrestris in which the queen often overwinters under the soil. Worryingly, due to the delay between infection and mortality, if the nematodes are able to proliferate in the dead bees, there is a risk the whole colony could become infected.

Further field research is definitely needed into the safety of available biological control products on non-target species, and the effect that such products have on species outside of the laboratory.

The full article can be found here  in the open access journal PeerJ. Thank you to Steve Head from the Wildlife Gardening Forum for sharing this in the latest newsletter.

-Larissa

Header photo taken in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden.

Ten things I have learnt about growing veg this year

Here’s a quick list of some of the things I have learnt so far from my first year of growing vegetables. Some might be useful to you if you’re starting out too.

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

1. Grow more of the vegetables we actually eat

This one seems obvious, and I knew this before we started but it still didn’t stop me dedicating a whole corner of a raised bed to broad beans which no one really eats. They failed and that space has gone unused aside from the nasturtiums which have taken over a little. Which brings me onto my second point…

2. Don’t grown nasturtiums ithe vegetable patch

I had read that nasturtiums are a great companion plant and so I popped a few very small plants in amongst the vegetables. I think this was a mistake, because they have taken over in some places, which I was not expecting! The bees love them, and they are a tasty addition to salads (leaves and flowers) but I think next year it would be better to grow them just outside of the raised beds to allow more space for the vegetables.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly – note the nasturtiums in the back

3. Onions don’t grow in shade

I had a bit of space alongside a hedge which I dug over and planted the leftover onion sets in. I sort of knew they wouldn’t work, but didn’t have anywhere else to plant them and thought it might be worth a try. It really wasn’t as although they did sprout, they never got any bigger than the onion set originally was when it was planted. Then, they got eaten by the slugs. Next year, I’ll leave this area alone. Maybe I’ll plant some red campion Silene diocia which likes growing in shady areas.

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

4. Chose the compost carefully – or feed more

Because we were just starting up we needed to buy in a fair amount of compost to fill the raised beds and pots. We did try to find topsoil on freecycle but had no success. Trying to keep the cost down, we used compost from our local garden centre which was an organic general purpose compost, £12 for four 75 litre bags. This was the cheapest option but definitely came at a price. After a while, anything growing in a pot turned yellow, and the vegetable patch began to do the same. I could only assume that the nutrients we being used up, because once I fed everything with a home-made mix of nettle and comfrey fertiliser, the plants all perked up and got their lovely green colour back.

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

5. Try some of the container varieties

We had a lot of space around the garden which I don’t want to dig up, but could have been utilised with more container plants. Next year I think I will try some of the smaller varieties of courgette plants as well as growing my dwarf runners in pots rather than the veg patch. They didn’t do very well because they were soon shaded out by the bigger beans.

One of only two courgettes.

One of only two courgettes

6. Watch out for slugs around harvest time

Earlier in the year around the time we were sowing seeds we used nemaslug to help control our mollusc population and it worked – we have lots of fully-grown vegetables. However I have noticed a growth in the number of slugs and snails recently and We’ve lost beetroot, french beans and potatoes. I think that a secondary dose of nemaslug is required to stop this because hand-picking doesn’t seem to be working enough.

This leopard slug was saved the slug-knife because he's quite handsome - for a slug

This leopard slug was saved from the slug-knife because he’s quite handsome – for a slug

7. Nobody likes kale – except the butterflies

A continuation from the first point really, but serves to reiterate that it is important to only grow what your family will eat. It’s tempting to try out different varieties, new vegetables or to create that perfect mix for rotation. But resist the temptation to grow things unless you are sure everyone likes them otherwise, come harvesting you’ll kick yourself that you could be eating delicious squash, but instead you have half eaten kale.

Mmmm... Kale

Mmmm… Kale

8. Sowing carrots thickly is a good idea

I sowed the carrot seeds quite thickly thinking half probably wont germinate and if they do I’ll just thin them later. Then I read that thinning carrots can attract carrot root fly because they can smell the carroty goodness from miles away and I wondered if it was a good idea after all. We protected the carrots with a fine mesh net all around, about 2′ high so hopefully we were safe – and I am glad I did it this way because we’ve been enjoying carrots for over a month now and there are loads left. Okay, the first ones were just baby carrots, but tasty nonetheless. By picking out the larger carrots, the smaller ones are allowed to continue growing. Much better than thinning and chucking a load on the compost heap.

Some of the first 'baby' carrots

Some of the first ‘baby’ carrots

9. You can never have too many tomato plants

This is quite simple really. We love tomatoes and there can never be enough. Both our children love tomatoes so I am not worried about having a glut, but if we do, we’ll be making tomato sauce and freezing down our own ‘tinned’ tomatoes for use in sauces throughout the year. I’ve grown four varieties this year; money maker, plum, sweet million and black cherry.

Just a few of the many tomato plants

Just a few of the many tomato plants

10. But tomato plants will take over if grown in a veg patch

I had a little space left in the top veg patch and a few plum tomato plants which needed a home. It made sense and I popped them in the ground. They have since taken over and smothered the beet, chard and butternut squash.  If I had an allotment, I’d probably dedicate a whole patch for tomatoes, but when we only have two small raised beds, the tomatoes can stay in pots.

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch - just in front of the runner beans

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch – just in front of the runner beans

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.

Building a veg patch

Last year was the first year I had grown more than a few runner beans and couple of tomato plants. To say it didn’t quite go as I had planned is one way of putting it – another would be ‘complete disaster’. Read on and I’ll explain why.

Last year we decided to dedicate a good portion of the garden to growing our own organic food. We allocated an area to the southern side of the garden below the gigantic christmas tree. Although it was sloped, the only flat area of the garden  – which is also sunnier – had already been set aside for the kids to play on.

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We started out by marking the beds with string and then we (I say we, but it was mostly my partner) dug two vegetable patches but it wasn’t easy. The ground was solid, dry and full of stones. Then there were the roots belonging to that giant tree. Lots of little roots. Eventually we got through them enough to get some plants in the ground, just.

I had started off a lot of veg seedlings in a mini greenhouse on the patio. I had carrots, swede, beans, lettuce, courgettes and more. The greenhouse was full because as usual I had sown too much. I really need to have more faith in the seeds to germinate – partly why at one point this year I had 70 tomato plants! I planted everything out and so it began. We were growing our own food and it was really exciting.

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we also built a little fence!

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That was until the slugs came! We weren’t prepared for that many slugs and reluctantly we resorted to (wildlife-friendly) pellets as the attack was so ferocious but we really wanted to eat our food. It worked for a while and our vegetables were beginning to grow.

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Lettuces above and beans and squash below

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Then we ran out of pellets and no matter where I looked I couldn’t find any locally (we didn’t have a car at the time so our options were limited). Resorting to ordering some online, we anxiously waited for them to arrive, picking slugs by hand in the meantime. In the two days it took for the postman to drop them off, all of the vegetables above were eaten. Only one chard plant was left and I was devastated. So for 2014, the only produce we managed to harvest were the tomatoes and chillies growing on the patio.

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2015

Because of the mollusc onslaught the previous year, we decided to take a few more steps to protect our crops. After spending a few months during winter reading about it we planned our counter-attack. Firstly, we decided to grow in raised beds. Wanting to try to keep the cost low we built the beds from old pallets. Pallet wood is good enough for raised beds but won’t last forever. Given we don’t plan on being here forever as we are renting, it was perfect. Other alternatives are old scaffolding boards (I did try freecycle but with no luck!). During this process I collected a lot of pins so feel free to take a look!

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The first of two of our beds

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To fill the beds we used local compost; 4 x 75l bags of organic compost for £12! This worked out to be the cheapest option, although I was hoping to see a post for topsoil on freecycle which would have reduced the cost dramatically. Each bed took around 5-6 bags.IMG_1475 copy

Once the bed was full of compost, we used nemaslug on them as well as around the garden. Nemaslug is a box of millions of nematode worms which parasitise on slugs and snails keeping the population under control. Slugs will bury underground during the day and it is then that the worms will get to work. It’s not as effective on snails which do not bury underground but it can infect water snails so keep it away from the pond.

I also used beer traps – recycled margarine tubs half filled with cheap beer and a hole cut in the side (make sure the hole is big enough for snail shells). The molluscs are attracted to the beer and will climb in and drink themselves into an intoxicated death. I had a lot of success with the slugs collecting up to 10 per trap a night. So, from being able to collect 125 slugs in one night, we now find around 10 so much better, and guess what? Our vegetables are growing like mad this year (but more on this later).

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