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FASHIONABLE WILD, COMMON CARDER BEE, PROPAGATION MAGIC
POT'S GROWING ON? 05/05/2023
Common carder bee, Bombus pascuorum, feeding on the sweetly scented broom, Cytisus x praecox ‘All Gold’ in our herb garden in front of the house. It is one of few ginger bumble bees making it easy to identify. It nests in colonies in cavities and mossy lawns. For more information, see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Wildlife Trusts pages. Broom plays a core roll in all areas of our farm.
A misty dewy view this morning across our main meadow as it begins to grow. Grasses, plantain and the majestic meadow buttercup racing skyward.
Why are wild gardens so fashionable right now? I don’t believe this is a fad, in fact, I know this is a one directional landslide to reclaim the gardens we all deserve. But why now?
Three things have happened. Science has made it clear what catastrophic harm we’re causing to the climate and wildlife, ending in mass extinctions of entire ecosystems. An increasing number of people live in cities and have smaller gardens distanced from wilderness, making us crave a reconnection with nature we’re a part of. Social media and good phone cameras have introduced sharing, identification and quality photography to everyone, allowing us to capture images of insects and plants to show us details we couldn’t always see with the naked eye. Sharing these photos has further educated millions of people about life on earth in ways most didn’t appreciate, until now.
A garden that contributes to saving climate and wildlife, with sh!t loads of exciting things to see and share? That’s why wild gardens are so hot right now, the wild way is Playstation 5 to Capability Brown’s NES. But perhaps it is even bigger than that, are we seeing a move away from the current definition of a garden completely?
Below our main ornamental wildlife garden is our wilder garden which employs a totally different mindset. Planting areas aren’t dug out, pots of plants aren’t planted, instead it is a study of everything that already grows around us.
I tried dividing our wood aster, Eurybia divaricata, and the roots fell apart, I planted them anyway. Hey presto, a few weeks later I have eight healthy plants this year when I thought I’d just have one extra. As with all plants I grow myself, I use peat free compost and don’t use pesticides or synthetic fertilisers. The root systems are vigorous and healthy.
Narcissus ‘Thalia’ are still going strong this week, I’m so glad we have a good number this year because they’ll further increase by next spring doubling or even tripling the investment in bulbs.
However, lines have been drawn! ‘Thalia’s spread is temporarily halted by the area of ground elder (on the left in the above photo) that I’ve started seriously digging out. Digging over an ornamental border like this goes against what I want to do with the wild way of gardening, the rest of this space is minimal dig with as little ground disturbance as possible. However, removing the roots is the only organic method of dealing with aggressively spreading plants like ground elder. You have to dig all of the roots out repeatedly until you are sure it has gone. Having dug the perimeter, I will now wait for the yellow daffodils on the left to die back. Then dig up their bulbs to dry out, making sure there is no ground elder, before moving them to the lower wilder garden (aka Daffodilarium / Narcissarium). In the area with the ground elder, I will spread the perennials from the rest of the garden widening the planting and plant a new crab apple tree.
Why not live with the ground elder? You may rightly be thinking and in some situations this is fine. Ground elder is an introduced plant to gardens, usually in the roots of plants from garden centres. It does have wildlife value, and as many people like to tell me the fresh shoots are edible, and I do love to add the flowers to cut flower arrangements. It’s a beautiful plant.
However, in rich damp soil like ours it is a beast, smothering all plants lower than 40-50cm high. Eventually creating a carpeting monoculture reducing plant diversity, then insect diversity, then impacting on bird diversity. Our patch of ground elder is in one place, about 7m x 5m next to one hedge, a magnolia shrub was ground zero and potentially it came in on this. It’s a big space and digging the ground elder out around the privet hedge roots may be an impossible task. But I am not ready to let it take over our entire garden, which is what will happen if I do nothing. Instead, I want to contain it and preferably remove it over a few years. Allowing for greater biodiversity of plants and wildlife in the longrun.
If I fail, I can fall back on plan b, planting stuff to outcompete it.
A healthy large patch of jewel coloured Hylotelephium, the plantist formerly known as Sedum, grown from seeds collected on my old London allotment. In turn from a plant that appeared from a seed itself one year. Fantastic resilient plant loved by pollinators.
I’ve shared some photos in recent newsletters about hard pruning our privet hedge, this does look brutal and ugly at first. I wanted to share the above photo to put minds at rest, privet doesn’t mind hard pruning when dormant in winter and will recover with lots of new shoots, shown in the above photo around the cut. By lowering some of our hedges I’ve made them easier to maintain, freeing my time to focus on more important tasks on our farm. In a matter of weeks they will be covered in green leaves again.
If you’ve been reading my site for a number of years you may remember the ruby coloured Astrantia in our old garden. It’s one of the few plants I brought with us and still my favourite Astrantia, though I don’t know the true cultivar. I didn’t realise at first that it came with a stowaway, a seedling of Linaria purpurea, purple toadflax (see Wild about Weeds) I’d introduced to that garden from a wild street plant. The pair are very welcome and seem happy sharing the same spot, the resulting ruby and purple splodge I know is a fun colour combo.
Speaking of colour combos, I just love our multi coloured salads, which I planted outside this week after starting them off in peat free compost in the polytunnel. These are all varieties you can pick outer leaves from over a few months (discussed in Chapter 6 ‘Grow to nourish’ in A Greener Life).
This week Chris helped me plant out our three Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’, or I should say, helped me construct some protection from deer. I’m not worried about deer in the garden, in fact I want them, but if I want shrubs of any height, I will have to guard them in the first few years. Once their stems are over deer head height, I’ll remove the guards. If the deer eventually eat any lower shoots that will actually be very helpful of them.
Ecologists Joshua Styles and Dr Mark Spencer offered a fun little tip for me the other day in regards to cuckoo flowers, Cardamine pratensis, a lovely spring wildflower in the brassica family. By pinching off some of their leaves, it’s very easy to to propagate leaf cuttings from them as long as they are kept damp. You can do this, as I have, slightly covered by some damp compost, as well as in water or in a plastic bag with a little bit of water. In a couple of weeks you’ll see mini shooting leaves and squiggly roots, shown if you squint at the above photo.
The above picture is of a rooted cutting of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Violetta’, one of my favourite big asters, with dark purple flowers from September. If you look very closely, you will see that I have nipped off the top main shoot with my thumb. I did this three days ago which removed plant growth regulators (similar to hormones in animals) suppressing the side shoots which have very quickly all started growing - you can see there are loads of them. I wanted to do this to encourage more leafy growth to make the plant stronger, a side effect will be more flowers in late-summer from all of these stems.
I’ve started a new series of photo-led articles on northern gardens called the Northern Flower House over on my main website. The latest report is on the wildlife garden Stillingfleet Lodge near York.
Until next week gardening pals.
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