Rattery Parish

Terry & Dot's Garden and Wildlife Advice Page 4

Information on this page is kindly provided by Terry and Dot Underhill

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Ornamental herbaceous plants: these can be very Bug friendly. The following is a list of some of the common plants, some of which, can be found in most people’s gardens:
Achillea, Aquilegia, Astrantia, Bugle, Campanula, Chrysanthemum, Coreopsis, Cornflower (Perennial), Dahlia (Single blooms preferred),Erigeron (Fleabane), Euphorbia,  Gaillardia, Geraniums (Not bedding Pelargoniums), Helenium, Hesperis, Leucanthemum (Dog Daisy), Lysimachia, Michaelmas Daisy,  Monkshood, Primulas and Primroses, Rudbeckia, Sedum (Ice Plant), and Solidago (Golden Rod).
These are starting into growth about now and it is an ideal time to propagate from bits by division. Anchusa and Eryngiums (Sea Hollies) can be increased by 5cm long pieces of roots.  Why not make a collection of potted bits of these herbaceous plants and spare annuals and bulbs for distribution at a village event when the Virus Pandemic allows? Flowering herbs: A very bug-beneficial feature is a collection of herbs that flower, such as:
Chives, Marjoram, Fennel, Thyme, Angelica, Borage and Feverfew, and perhaps add a bush of Sage, Rosemary and LavenderAnnuals: Many people complain that sowing an area with a mixture of ornamental annuals  such as Cornflowers, Marigold, Cosmea, Clarkia, Alyssum, Convolvulus, Californian poppy and Candytuft has not worked for them, likewise wild flower mixtures. The secret is to prepare an area of bare ground and loosen the surface to make a fine tilth. Only then sow the seed thinly and very gently rake it into the soil surface. If the soil is dry water the area and then give the area some protection from birds e.g. a child’s windmill, a suspended potato with feathers stuck in it or netting. (Beware of netting or black thread that might trap birds – and that sometimes cats decide that a fresh soil area is an ideal toilet spot!). An alternative is to sow a pinch of seed in numerous pots of suitable compost and plant the contents out when well germinated and established. Perennial mixtures:. The method of sowing in pots and planting out is ideal for mixtures of perennials especially wild flower mixes or individuals. I have introduced a number of wild flowers into my established Wildflower meadow by this method.  The Wildflower meadow was created from an area of established lawn. I repeatedly scarified and removed the debris until the area was a mass of bare earth with just the ‘hearts’ of the grass and other plants visible. Only then did I sprinkle wild flower mix of seeds over the area, followed by watering in. Later on I added Bluebells, dwarf Daffodils, Crocus, Fritillaries, Grape Hyacinths and Snowdrops, allowing them to seed naturally.  Need more inspiration? There are lots of websites with great ideas for suitable plants for your wildlife-friendly garden e.g. rhs.org.uk and devonwildlifetrust.org (the latter has a good page on establishing a meadow).

Photograph by Terry Underhill

You can also download PDF files:
Wildflower Meadows - Creating and maintaining flowering lawns and pots
Wild About Gardens - Bee action pack

Wildlife gardening can be in one small area of your plot:
This supposes wildlife will recognise and only use the bit of your garden you have set-aside and designated for it!  But, ordinary gardens, large or small, are great for wildlife, which will make the most use they can of all your plot. You can make a designated “Wildlife Patch”, but the wildlife will only respond if you have insect-friendly plants, which can be anywhere in your garden.

Wildlife gardens must be informal (and scruffy):
So you like a neat and tidy garden – no problem! You’ll still have lots of wildlife provided they have plenty of vegetation and you use preferably no or minimal pesticides and weedkillers. Letting areas of the garden re-wild doesn’t necessarily lead to more wildlife, as aggressive plants can take over, reducing biodiversity.  People who put in regular maintenance but like to see their gardens flourish in as natural a way as possible have probably got the happy medium.

Only common species live in gardens so they are not important for conservation:
Conservation is about saving all of nature, including common species that are now declining.
The biodiversity richness and conservation importance of garden is under-appreciated.

You must only plant native species:
Research has shown this is not necessarily true. Typical gardens planted for pleasure using ‘good’ non-natives are excellent. Check out Terry’s recommendations for inspiration here. But if you buy plants labelled ‘wildlife-friendly’, do check that they’ve not been sprayed, as many garden centre plants are, and these can do more harm than good.

You must plant nettles in wildlife gardens:
Nettles (like other “weeds”) are beneficial for wildlife, but given that they inevitably appear in all gardens, you don’t need to plant them, and don’t worry if you remove patches from where you don’t want them - it’s your garden!

Lawns are poor for wildlife and must be replaced with flowering meadows:
Typical lawns are much richer in plant species than people realise. But, variety is the spice of life, so if you allow all or part of a lawn to grow longer, it will allow more creatures to make a living. And you don’t have to spend so much time and energy cutting the grass!

Real wildlife gardeners don’t kill pests or weeds:
Real wildlife gardeners have every right to consider some biodiversity to be a problem and control pests. Even nature reserves remove invaders.

The info for this article has been taken from http://www.wlgf.org/myths_intro.html. Well worth checking out for more details, more myths and wildlife-friendly gardening advice.

Photograph by Terry Underhill

You can also download PDF files:
Wildflower Meadows - Creating and maintaining flowering lawns and pots
Wild About Gardens - Bee action pack

Click here to download a really useful Guide on things you can do at home to support our threatened insects. It has lots of great, simple suggestions. (Guide PDF file)

Top tips include:

*  Keep some dead or dying plant material for insects to hibernate over winter or take cover in poor weather.
*  Keep some grass long, for food and shelter.
*  Create a water source, even a small, shallow pebble pond, or upcycled washing up bowl, will be beneficial.
*  Allow ‘insect safe’ spaces e.g. cracks in walls, rockery and log  piles and corners of sheds
* Plant groups of nectar-rich flowers and choose native locally sourced and grown trees and plants where you can.
*  Think about how wildlife and insects move around your garden. Picture it across the seasons and think about how all the insect-friendly places you create connect together. Create networks of habitats for wildlife to find a home for all their lifecycle stages.
     Keep hard landscaping like decking and paving to a minimum.
* Go peat free
* And, of course, don’t use pesticides!

On our roadside banks, especially where the soil is moist, there are clumps of plants bearing foam-like heads of pale cream to white. Closer, examination reveals masses of small 5 petaled flowers, which will surprise many people to learn that they are members of the Rose family. This perennial  plant is Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria. There are two theories as to how it has the vernacular name Meadowsweet; one is that its sweet smell was appreciated in meadows and the second is that it was used to add an extra flavour to mead. Because, like Salix (willows) it grew in damp places and damp conditions which encouraged cold related illnesses, it was recognised in the Doctrine of Signatures as having chemicals that would alleviate cold complaints, and therefore was readily used in herbal medicines.  They were both found to contain Salicylic Acid which, in 1899, resulted in the production of Aspirin, that product name being a play on the then generic name for Meadowsweet which was Spirea.  Because of its fragrance it has been used as a strewing plant. A few years ago I visited the ancient St Beuno church above the cliffs nr Pistyll and Anglesey, where the floor was covered in strewn Meadowsweet, which was  favoured more than Candle rush, Juncus communis, as a strewing plant by Queen Elisabeth 1 .

I think that Spring 2020 has been the best year that I can remember for foxgloves with their spikes of somewhat purple tubular flowers, each individual flower having a spotted throat. They tend to grow at the edge of light woodland, hedges, roadside banks and open stony ground. It likes acid soils and does exceptionally well in sandy soils. It grows readily from seed and  is an herbaceous biennial but can become a short-lived perennial. The seed can remain dormant for many years. A hillside copse at Marley Head was clear felled a number of years ago, and a year later was a dramatic sight with thousands of purple spikes. Foxglove is its most common name, believed to have arisen  because it frequents ‘foxey’ places and the flowers can fit on fingers like gloves. Because of the shape it has been named Fairy fingers, Fairy gloves, Witch’s gloves and because children would inflate or block the end with their thumb and then burst them like a paper bag they have been called Pops. Grigson’s Englishman’s Flora has over a page of local names. The scientific name is Digitalis purpurea.
Herbalists and country folk have long been aware of its medical properties using dried leaves to make potions to treat sore throats, catarrh, dropsy and some heart problems. However the potions are poisonous resulting in many deaths. The main constituents of the extract are cardiac glycosides digoxin and digtoxin, used to treat heart problems including heart failure and atrial fibrillation .It is not a plant to play about with; home medication being exceptionally dangerous.  Digitalis lanata, a foxglove from the Balkans and Turkey, provides the highest quantity and quality, but because of a shortage during WW11 vast quantities of UK grown leaves were gathered and dried. Occasionally wild plants produce a white form. Sadly a white flowered spike growing near Dry Bridge was removed a few weeks ago. Gardeners have in recent years been producing some fascinating hybrids and my wife, Dot, has some of these hybrids in full flowers some over 2m tall.  One is 2.68m and still growing with many more flower buds to open.

The pollination of foxgloves is interesting.  I cut open a flower to explain it. There are 4 (male) anthers that mature to produce pollen, but att hat time the (female) stigma which is between them is still immature. A bee visiting the flower to reach the nectar at the base of the flower will get  pollen attached to itself. When visiting another flower a little older in which the stigma has developed will brush past the stigma depositing pollen on it thereby cross pollinating the flower. However, if the flower has not been pollinated when the flower ages and drops off the corolla with the anthers attached still with pollen will be dragged past the mature stigma, thereby self pollinating the flower.

From about the middle of April, Garlic Mustard or Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) has been flowering on roadside and field hedge banks and the edge of light woods. It has a cluster of 4-petalled white flowers on the top of stems up to 60cm tall, bearing somewhat heart to triangular shaped leaves, bluntly toothed and a pale green that smell of garlic when bruised. When they commenced flowering the Orange Tip butterfly began appearing. The male has the forewings half coloured orange with a little black tip, whereas the female is only white with a black tip. Both have grey-green mottling on the hind wings, which when at rest and closed the wings provide superb camouflage. When flying from flower to flower they are very conspicuous but are left alone by birds as they contain bitter mustard oils, accumulated from their food-plants. The leaves taste of mild mustard and have been used in salads, soups and a sauce, especially for fish and lamb dishes.  It has been used to produce a yellow dye, and has been used by herbalists and homeopaths. There is evidence that as the essential oils are broken down in our bodies that iodine is released which has helped reduce gout. It has been used in the past as an antiseptic, and treating asthma and other bronchial complaints, ulcers and internal worms.
When the Orange tip butterflies are about I carefully check some flower heads t see if I can find their eggs, white when laid but quickly turning orange.  When hatched the pale green caterpillar feed on the developing seed pods, and if disturbed will stay erect disguising themselves as the seed pod.
Orange-tips also  breed on Honesty,, Rocket and Ladies Smock.
The botanical name Alliaria is derived from the Latin word Allium for garlic, and petiolata - because the leaves have a stalk (but then most plant leaves have a leaf stalk).  It was once named Alliaria officinalis - which told us that it had a medicinal use and found in the apothecaries shop.
For the very botanically minded - each 4-petalled flower has 6 stamens - 4 long and two short - which puts it in the Cabbage (Brassicaceae) family, previously Cruciferae.

The Romans introduced Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum, as a pot herb, using all parts of the plant including the roots and seeds, even picking the tightly packed flower heads as miniature cauliflower. It was an important herb in monastic gardens which accounts for why there are often plants in and around such ruins and it is now naturalised in the U.K. being and found mainly in the South West, favouring hedge banks, edge of woodlands and cliffs near the sea. However there are some plants growing along Rattery lanes. with a few opposite Lister Bass’s quarry, just up from Mill Cross.
I it is a short-lived perennial or a biennial growing readily from seed making an herbaceous-looking plant up to a metre tall with strong green leaves, toothed and in threes. It’s flowers are yellow/green, about 3mm across and tightly packed in umbels (umbrella like) heads about 10cm across, in late Feb until late May. It has a peculiar smell, with a hint of celery, losing the pungent smell when cooked. Leaves can be put in stews or salads. The young stems, harvested in Winter before they age and become hollow and tough, are trimmed, similarly to rhubarb, and boiled in salty water for a maximum of 10 minutes, then seasoned with black pepper, before  garnishing with butter and eaten hot or cold. However as they are not prolific in our village and are visited by a wide range of insects they are best left off the food for free list

An aromatic plant coming into flower now on hedge banks but often overlooked is Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea- still named in some flower books as Nepeta hederacea). It only reaches between 10-15cm in height with short spikes holding violet blue tubular flowers with a lip that has purple spots. As the flower can only be cut one way into two matching halves, botanists describe it as a zygomorphic flower. This zygomorphic flower and square stems puts it in the Dead nettle family Lamiacea previously Labiatae. Why change the family name you may ask? Well, the International organisation for plant nomenclature decided that a family name must relate to a genera within that family and as there is not a Labiat genera they chose a new  name, Lamiaceae as a major genera in that family is Lamium .It creeps through the vegetation earning the local name of Blue runner, although home brewers of beer might know it as Alehoof or Tunhoof as it was the chief bitter in the brewing of ales before the introduction of hops. It is today often an important ingredient of tonic herbal teas. It spreads by runners and a strongly variegated variety ‘Variegata’ with silver-green leaves with a white margin is often used in hanging baskets where it ‘drips’ down the sides and is sometimes called Creeping Charlie.

Arthur Kilpin Bulley, the founder of the world famous nursery of Bees Ltd,, and whose garden on the Wirral overlooking the River Dee estuary, which on his death was bequeathed to Liverpool University to become their botanical garden, Ness, was a very keen plantsman. He asked missionaries throughout the world to send him seeds of attractive plants, of which many obliged. His daughter often said that her father after a short time had the best International collection of Dandelions. One can understand busy, non botanically minded, people of the church looking upon the bright coloured Dandelions that produced big fluffy seed head as the perfect answer to the request. The solution for Mr Bulley was to get professional plainsmen to go plant hunting, with the result that in 1904 George Forrest was sent to the Himalayas, followed by others to collect seeds and plant material. So began the era of plant hunters being sent to all corners of the world, and the huge increase in plants for our gardens.
There are numerous species of Dandelions (Taraxacum) one of which  I feel would be prized in any garden is Taraxacum laxiflorum which I have seen in the Russian Caucasus mountains.
Our Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, which are now flowering in profusion are according to the serious botanists, divided into many sections due to minute differences. ‘Taraxacum’ comes from the Persian word meaning ‘a bitter herb’, and ‘officinale’ tells us that is was an important herb in the apothecaries shop. The common name ‘Dandelion’ comes from the French ‘Dent de Lion’ due to the pointed end of the leaves resembling a Lion’s tooth.
The roots fresh or dried were used to reduce blood pressure, and detoxifying the liver and gall bladder, due to their diuretic properties. The same properties apply to the leaves, therefore only use them sparingly in salads. The country saying “Dandelion- wet the bed “ has a lot of truth.  Because  country-folk have used it for acne and eczema, it is a plant under investigation for other properties for use in modern medicine.  Many gardeners know it only too well that  it propagates readily by root cuttings, and its seeds on filamentous parachutes rapidly spread and germinate, often in the crown of a special plant making removal difficult. Dandelions have been used to make drinks, wines and cordials (eg. Dandelion and Burdock) and cloth dyes.  All youngsters know, you can tell the time by the number of puffs of breath it takes to remove all the seeds from the flower head, and lovers can recite “She loves me-She loves me not” . The white milky latex is the same as that which makes India rubber. There is much more to our native Dandelion than one realises!. By all means eat a few leaves but DO NOT suck the flower, flower stems, milky latex. or roots, or attempt to use it for ailment.

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