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Up and away

Posted: Tuesday 16th May 2017 by My-Wild-Garden

Rocket insect hotel at the Malvern ShowRocket insect hotel at the Malvern Show

Sue's inspired by children's insect hotels this month

I’m not one to brag, really I’m not, but I have a secret weapon in my quest to rid my allotment of slugs: a hedgehog. Come dusk, my prickly friend can often be found snuffling around a pile of manure on which I’ve piled a thick layer of soil for growing courgettes.

Hector, as the children have named him (we’re assuming it’s a male), must be able to sniff out the little red brandling worms that are busy munching their way through the heap, but I’m sure he won’t pass up the chance to put paid to any slugs he encounters as he makes his way around. It’s times like these that make me glad that I put out beer traps and crumble egg shells around my most vulnerable crops and not slug pellets, which might have a nasty effect on Hector’s tummy.

The yeasty smell of beer is irresistible to molluscs, which are unlikely to re-emerge once they’ve been lured over for a drink, while the rough edges of the shells should make them think twice before trying to cross them.

Another couple of wild encounters come in the form of two wild flowers that have taken root in my soil. Red campion, or Silene dioica to call it by its Latin name, is proving very popular with bees, as is green alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens, the common name of which is a bit confusing as it has pretty blue flowers. A few weeks ago I spotted the plants’ unusual-looking leaves while doing a spot of weeding and decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m wondering if these chance additions to my allotment, and the solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) elsewhere, have come from the community compost I’ve been scattering around over the last few years. Whatever their origins, I’m glad to have them.

Everybody on the allotments has been commenting on the long period of dry weather, although I’ve found that the soil a centimetre or so below the surface has been reasonably moist, something I’m attributing to the addition of leaf mould and weathered coffee grounds. I have been trying to encourage new plants, such as broad beans started at home and seed sown crops, with the occasional sprinkling of water; it’s at times like these that I’m glad I’ve been running off cold water from the hot tap into old milk containers and storing them in a corner ready for the time when they’re needed. It saves a few minutes in terms of traipsing down to the water tank – as well as conserving a bit of water that would otherwise end up going down the drain.


Another upside of the dry weather has been that slugs have been less inclined to leave their cool, damp shelters in search of a tasty nibble, and this means that my young seedlings have had a fighting chance of getting established.
This year I’ve been trying to put in as much as possible, with radish, lettuce, leeks and turnips among my sowings. The carrots in the old dustbins are coming along well – with hindsight I think they’d appreciate being a little further away from the partial shade created by the shed - but they’re looking promising all the same and I’m hoping the soil level is high enough to thwart dastardly carrot root flies. Vegetables from last year that are now ready for harvest include Swiss chard and purple sprouting.


Keeping on top of weeds is a big challenge at this time of year, even if the lack of water has made them a little less rampant than usual. Keeping them in check means they won’t be robbing the soil of moisture and nutrients in the weeks to come. Annual weeds, such as the speedwell that seems to be having a bumper year, are great additions to the compost heap if caught before they go up to seed. I’m keeping an eye out for any opportunistic bindweed or couch grass that has escaped my eager grasp the first time around –I’m determined not to let it get the better of me.

The flowers of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries represent juicy treats in the weeks to come and are a great source of nectar to honey and bumble bees

 

I love this time of the year on the allotment: the return of the housemartins swooping around the nearby houses; the flowers of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries that represent juicy treats in the weeks to come and a great source of nectar to honey and bumble bees; the brave potato shoots appearing above the soil which, now that the Ice Saints have had their feast days, should be safe from the frost. We don’t tend to observe the feast days of St Mamertus, St Pancras and St Servatius in the UK, but in Europe it’s commonly believed that the last of the cold weather will have come and gone by May 15.


Weeding, watering, sowing and the occasional bit of mowing: May is a busy time on the allotment, although it’s not all work and no play. Every May I’m drawn towards the majestic Malvern Hills for the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. Several of this year’s show gardens were friendly to wildlife, which is always encouraging. I particularly liked the use of logs to create a wall around the Buckfast Abbey garden: they look attractive, and in a real garden setting they would gradually rot down, providing a home for all manner of beetles and other useful insects. The chef Marco Pierre White has made similar walls at his new hotel the Rudloe Arms on the outskirts of Corsham, although each of the logs used are around two feet wide and sure to last a number of decades.

Plants that caught my eye at Malvern included woad, which was used to great effect in Jekka McVicar’s new herb garden. This yellow flower, popular among ancient Britons for making blue dye, is rich in nectar.
Ragged robins and cow parsley were among the wild flowers that looked beautiful in Sue Jollans’ ‘The Refuge’, in which the British countryside was portrayed as a safe place for people escaping conflict.


The children’s gardens, which had a space theme, were particularly good this year and I picked up a couple of fabulous ideas for insect hotels. Top marks went to the Royal Grammar School Worcester for its satellite-shaped model, topped with foil trays filled with flowering plants. Meanwhile Stanley Road Primary School and Nursery had a rocket-shaped one, along with customised tin cans and old wellington boots that were being re-used as planters.


It just goes to show that there’s no excuse not to have a bit of fun in the garden and unleash your creativity, while providing plenty of habitats for wildlife at the same time.

Satelitte-shaped insect hotel at the Malvern Show

 

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