One Man’s Trash; Nine Wild Plants; and Weather.

“Dewi‘ the cuckoo should have stayed in Cameroon. After getting a mention in my last blog for making it back to the UK ahead of the 5 tagged birds from East Anglia on April 16th, Dewi wasn’t heard again until yesterday (May 2nd) when he gave a wonderful sustained session of cuckoo calling, quite close in the valley. The first of the East Anglian birds only returned on May 1st. So why the absence of cuckoo and swallows? The weather, of course. Predictably, no sooner had the government organised a drought summit, then followed the wettest UK April for 100 years. Up here it’s been a pretty average monthly rainfall (134 mm), but the striking thing recently has been the cold temperatures and lack of sunlight. So, the garden is struggling to move on.

This has passed as a bright interlude of late. 28/04/12

Less than a tenth of normal light levels on a bright day at this time of the year, so it’s hardly surprising temperatures are low, and plants aren’t growing! 30/04/12

But late evening sun has occasionally lit up the landscape 29/04/12

A theme has developed for this post from reading what may turn out to be my last copy of Resurgence magazine. I’ve subscribed for several years, and having cancelled a standing order subscription months ago received a final edition about week ago. As predictably as the heavens opening after the drought summit, a series of less interesting editions (from a personal perspective) has been followed by a brilliant one. At its best it covers topics with well written articles and beautiful artwork on subjects not discussed in the more mainstream media. So it was that I learned about the very stimulating installation artwork called ‘Blackfield’ created by an Israeli artist, Zadok Ben-David. Painstakingly created from 20,000 botanically accurate skeletal steel etched sculptures placed in a rectangular bed of white sand, and designed to be walked around, the plants are black on one face and coloured on the other (a point not entirely clear in the article). So as you walk around the installation a monochrome image changes to one more akin to a beautiful diverse wild flower meadow. I found a good review with a video walk round and a few close up pictures, which you can access by clicking here.

But the images were chosen to illustrate a fascinating piece by Jeremy Naydler (an Oxford based philosopher and gardener) who has recently written a book  ‘Gardening as a Sacred Art’ about the role of gardening as a work dedicated to celebrating natural beauty, linking the space of the garden to the spirit of the place, and having a spiritual dimension as an attempt to recapture the concept of paradise on earth. Much of this struck a chord with our own feeble attempts in these directions. And even more interesting to us self-styled ‘Garden Impressionists’ was the beginning of the article where the point was made that the first thing Monet did on acquiring Giverny was to rip up the fruit and vegetable garden and replace it with flowers – to the dismay of his friends. Since Giverny was the inspiration behind our own gardening ethos and blog title, this was an appropriate nod to our own fascination with the beauty of flowers, and their importance in the wider ecology of a garden.

As if this alone wasn’t enough chord striking, there was an equally interesting piece by Nicola Peel on recycling waste in those many parts of the world without formal refuse collections. A bit like Gelli until quite recently, judging by the piles of buried rubbish we still uncover when working in parts of the garden. Novel solutions for non recyclable rubbish included ramming it into plastic bottles which were then placed between walls of netting and covered with clay or mud based adobe to form useable buildings. The colourful image used to illustrate this piece of writing was ‘The Little Clod of Earth’ by artist Tracey Bush. In small print it was noted that this was from the ‘Nine Wild Plants Series’, created in response to work by Paul Hawken who commented on the disconnect from the natural world for the average Western adult who can recognise over 1,000 commercial brand names or logos but fewer than 10 local indigenous plants.

Finally, what image was chosen to illustrate an article by Keith Critchlow on ‘The Mystery of Flowers’? Why an image of a Himalayan Blue Poppy by Tessa Traeger. Which as regular readers will know is something of a Gelli favourite and iconic linking flower in several threads of gardening thought we’ve encountered over recent years. So is all this appropriately pitched copy making me think I should renew my subscription? Possibly.

A hand pollinated Gelli variant this year of Meconopsis grandis. Not quite as stunning as the clear blue form, but still a lovely flower. 2/05/12

It also got me thinking that it’s perhaps time to review our own attempts to re-use materials generated as commercial or industrial waste within our garden (in case any readers see a value or inspiration in using any of them), and also perhaps kick off a separate garden worthy wild plants blog page with some of our own favourites. So a few photos below to illustrate these points :

We started insulating the lower greenhouse panels with saved bubble wrap packaging. 29/04/12

We’re now switching to old plastic food trays, filled with off cuts of building insulation board and stapled/glued to the greenhouse walls. A bit more durable, water-resistant and possibly better heat retention – we’re more concerned with greenhouse warmth retention than overheating in our high rainfall, and often grey climate. 29/04/12

We’ve just started using old 1 litre milk or juice cartons as plant containers. In particular my first batch of carrots are in the cartons here. I like the idea of starting early carrots inside, and a few at a time, which is easy to do, as the cartons come along a few at a time. They’re way ahead of our earliest outdoor sowings in this cold late spring. The right hand side of the image shows the central heat sink greenhouse path which uses recycled envirogrid pavers (made from old tyres) over 2 feet of rubble stone over a perforated soil pipe. See my blog from last year by clicking here for more details of construction. 29/04/12

Another new trial system is this one using cut in half 2 litre plastic milk containers. It’s easy to fix them to a single screw on the greenhouse frame by drilling a single hole through the 2 sides. I’m trialling strawberries, but reckon lettuce might work as well. Again a waste item regularly generated in our household, which may have valuable growing potential – the inverted spout of the bottle contains the soil/compost and plant and allows a visible water reservoir beneath the plant, for simple watering. 29/04/12

We started off growing a lot of vegetables in our matrix tyre garden. Following on from the Monet theme mentioned above, the last 6 months has seen me trialling more flowers in tyres as a cutting garden and to assess their value as favoured flowers for pollinating insects. We still use enviromesh and fleece, and recycled plastic pipe for hoops. A staple gun proves invaluable for many of the above applications as a cheap simple fixing tool for any number of materials and surfaces. 5/05/09

Our orchard of apple and pear trees trained in spiral fashion around pillars of stone filled tyres, as an aid to frost protection of blossom and fruit ripening, continues to mature. 28/04/11

The appearance of rabbits in the garden over the last few years coincided with the move away from money deposits on dumpy bags from builder’s merchants. Which have as a consequence become single use ‘disposable’ packaging. Much of my vegetable growing and composting of leaf mould and chainsaw waste now takes place in these. They’re moderately durable and can be organised to create a simple raised bed type arrangement, out of reach of hungry nibbling mouths. 20/08/11

We save all our cardboard packaging until we need to mulch around trees or in preparing areas of the garden for planting. Then in wet weather (to stop it blowing around) it’s laid on the ground, covered in a layer of part composted saved leaf litter or chainsaw waste, and usually topped off with grass clippings, to avoid nitrogen depletion. Within 9 months or so the ground is pretty well prepared for planting 29/04/12

And how about some favourite local wild plants? During a brief sunny interlude yesterday, I nipped round the garden to see if I could find 9 native wild plants in bloom in our garden right now. With a tiny bit of license, (the lily-of-the-valley is a couple of days away) I include 9 of our own favourite local wild plants which we very happily encourage in to share our garden space. I think I’ll repeat the exercise later in the year, to show that it really is aesthetically worthwhile incorporating native flowers into garden planting schemes.

It’s quite tricky to get a photo which does justice to the very pretty native Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, which seeds around quite vigorously. Anywhere. It does have orange forms, which I shamelessly tend to pull up, being one of those gardeners who finds orange a really tricky colour in a garden. But these clear yellow flowers from late April, for months off and on, are beacons of crinkled illuminated silk, and like several native flowers they appeal to many flies and bees. 02/05/12

Which flower do I visit next? Bugle, Ajuga reptans, is one of our favourite wildflowers – admittedly we grow the purple leaved form, but when it flowers from the end of April into May it’s the flower magnet for bumblebees, and occasionally honeybees. It also is a great plant for merging through other low growing ground covering plants in sun or shade, e.g. mossy saxifrage or London Pride, Saxifrage urbium. It’s really easy, in our damp conditions to multiply by naturally rooted cuttings, as it spreads around. 2/05/12

Sea campion, Silene uniflora, is a native coastal plant that loves it 800 feet up in the Cambrian mountains. We grow it now as a blending plant underneath the drip line of our longhouse, to merge the building into the cobbled path, and the garden beyond. It grows really easily from seed, and will flower from late April to October. What’s more, the flowers are liked by bumblebees, flies, moths and butterflies – a rare example of a flower appealing to a diverse range of insects.

And here it is on the left. Growing in just sand and cement used to bed in the cobbles. Provided it gets some sun, it seems to grow anywhere with us, it really doesn’t need decent soil. Or indeed any ‘soil’ – it just grows in the ground, or gravel or shale. What a star performer! 2/05/12

About now, the pretty white flowers of wood-sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, emerge to complement the pale green origami like leaves. It seems to come through our coverings of moss, and here it’s growing next to a late flowering Cyclamen coum. Lovely in a moist shady spot. And you can eat a few leaves in a salad for a sorrel-like acidic bite (clue in the acetosella name).

Native lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis, is a beautiful plant, albeit a bit of a thug with us, and one to grow in shady spots as an effective ground cover. I’m experimenting with other plants running through it to extend the season of interest, since in late summer it can look a bit unkempt. Early snowdrops can be underplanted through it, and mossy Saxifrage just about holds its own, as do some of the low growing Euphorbia, like E. cyparissias. Apart from the fresh new growth, and its weed suppressant ability, its real charm is the gorgeous scent from the tiny white flowers on short vertical stems for a couple of weeks in May. 2/05/12

Woodruff, Galium odoratum, is another native and potentially thug like plant which we use as groundcover right up to the base of trees. It looks good with the fronds of emerging ferns growing up through it, and here beneath our mature oak combines well with the tiny pink flowers of Geranium lucidum. But I think it spreads too vigorously to be allowed in better soil or many areas of the garden. You can even use it as a herb, for example for flavouring rice. 2/05/12

And here’s a close up of Shining Crane’s-bill, Geranium lucidum. It found its own way into the garden as 3 unrecognisable seedlings and we prefer it over Herb-Robert, Geranium robertianum, which has slightly larger flowers, because of its low creeping habit, glossy leaves and bright red stems. It also often survives well through winter cold. It does seed around vigorously, so perhaps don’t include it in your garden if you’re not prepared to hand weed it out. 2/05/12

Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana, has gradually seeded around the garden in sunny dry places, but more effectively in damper shady spots, like this vertical clump on our access track mossy bank. The flowers are enjoyed by bumblebees, mining bees, butterflies and bee flies as a nectar source, and it’s a flower which associates really well with other low growing spring plants and will grow beneath many trees. Several of our native fritillary butterflies use it as a larval foodplant as well.

We don’t have ‘weed’ free lawns, and the common Daisy, Bellis perennis, is one of the native plants which quickly invades what passes for our predominantly mossy turf. But the quick maturing flowers are visited on occasion by flies and bumblebees for nectar and pollen, so allowing a few to bloom, and not mowing as frequently or as short, benefits the gardener and our native insect populations. 2/05/12

And finally a few other garden images from the last week to show we grow a few exotics as well:

With all the recent wind and rain, sometimes fallen petals create colourful images – Pieris ‘Forest Flame’. 29/04/12

Camellia ‘Waterlily’ 29/04/12

Tulip ‘Flaming Purissima’ 29/04/12

And not fallen, but nearly, the Tulip Fire affected and now fully opened decaying petals of Tulipa whittallii 29/04/12

And an interesting, and I think very pretty, Gelli saved seed Aquilegia vulgaris flower. Will it grow any spurs? 2/05/12

View up the mossy copse.  2/05/12

And now a question. Which of these 2 joined flies is male and which female? And why the huge difference in the size of their eyes ? Rational or comical comments much appreciated. 2/05/12