3 months in Ulting wick

A quick update on the ever changing and exquisite Ulting wick

Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months already! The garden has grown & changed so much in such a short time. We’ve had so many visitors, raising huge amounts of money for the NGS who in turn donate to lots of worthy charities. 

Soon we will be doing the change over from summer planting for the spring display of bulbs, an incredibly exciting time. Ulting wick is a dynamic garden which I am still learning about. Very different to any other garden I’ve ever worked in, I know it will take me a year of watching it through the seasons to get to grips with.

For me this is both slightly daunting & also challenging in a very positive way. It’s very easy to become complacent as a gardener, going through the routines which become habit. Ulting wick doesn’t allow for that due to its ever-changing nature.

Of course there are the jobs which need to be planned in as with every garden, pruning, training etc. But Phillipa’s enthusiasm for trying new things is bottomless, as is her energy!

Already plans for the next year ahead are multiplying and new planting in the beds has started. We cleared an area of rampant vinca a month or so ago. Some dead hawthorn hedging was removed opening huge possibilities. Last week we started to actually create in that area, adding exquisite Epimedium ‘spine tingler’, Geranium ‘splish splash’, G. Pheum & lots of thalictrums, ferns etc which when viewed from the opposite bank will create an amazing display!

We also noticed that sadly another tree has taken a blow in this year’s climbing tree toll! The old pollarded oak just across the boundary had succumbed to rot and one of its main limbs has ripped the trunk to the base, heartbreaking! Measuring just over 6 metres at the narrowest point of its base (making it between 5 & 600 years old!). This of course isn’t a death knell for this tree even if it’s a significant event, the tree will happily carry on for another 100 years at least but some of its perfect symmetry has been lost.

Other things that have been happening, I went to GLEE & to Kew (see previous posts!) Next week a lot of us are going to the Cotswold’s wild animal park, Harriet Rycroft (The guru of all things pots, colour & form) has very kindly organised us a tour with the HG & it coincides nicely with Roy Lancaster being there, so books shall be bought & signed! Exciting to meet such a gardening legend!

I was invited to do a talk on organic gardening for Tottenham flower and produce show, competing for volume against a steel drum band was a challenge even for someone as loud as me! Thankfully I had an incredibly receptive & interested audience who asked so many questions I ended up talking for far longer than planned which was lovely!

Phil cat has thoroughly settled in an honestly I haven’t seen him so happy in years! A few territory spats out of the way & an uneasy truce (on Phil’s part) with Bobby the spaniel, who is absolutely convinced he can make Phil love him if he just wags his tail a bit harder!

Although Phil’s reputation as a killer of all things rodent may be challenged given his reaction to the new residents in the cottage roof space the other morning… his face was a picture when he heard the skritching, scratching noises coming from above us! Hilarious!

The big hedges are now fully done for the year too, leaving only a bit of box to be completed. The weather has been utterly frustrating me on this front though! I’m beginning to think the whole “drier than Jerusalem” thing is a myth! We fitted irrigation in my first week here and since then it’s rained consistently and at times biblically! But hey ho! These things are sent to try us & I’m hoping next week for a few days of dry so I can crack on & finish up the parterre in the old farmyard.

Our meadow was cut & bailed for hay last week, done with a flail on the back of a tractor it took literally half an hour to cut. A few days later they came back to bale. To do this manually would have taken days!

The garden still has lots to offer in this beautiful autumn light so I’ll leave you with just a few of its delights to peruse until my next Ulting wick update…

Last of all, possibly one of my most favourite ever pics of Phil & I ever…

Where the wild things are!

Creating your own meadow or place for wildlife isnt as hard as it seems. Heres a few native wildflower species that will thrive whatever your conditions

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Meadow at Oxford Botanical gardens

There’s been a lot written about wildflower meadows in the last few years and whether the style is prairie or english meadow there can be no doubt they are absolute havens for wildlife.

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Green Hairstreak
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Newts need water but can often be found in leaf debris and thick grass
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Knapweed is an important source of nectar to butterflys

If you’re considering turning an area over to wildflowers there are a few things worth considering before splashing out huge amounts of money on seeds. For example what soil you have. A clay soil will support a totally different type of wildflower to a sandy soil. If you have the benefit of a stream nearby perhaps you would be better suited choosing moisture tolerant plants.

I’ve been lucky to have worked in some beautiful gardens with well thought out wildflower meadows, some even had native orchid species!

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Orchis mascula – early purple orchid

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Dactylorhiza fuchsii – common spotted orchids

If you’d like to know more about identifying native UK Orchids, of which there’s over 50, have a look at this handy guide

But Orchids are a plus, a wildflower area doesn’t always have the right conditions for them, often you won’t even be aware they are there until conditions become right for their germination. Orchid species should NEVER be removed from the wild, the soil in which they grow has very specialised conditions which cannot be replicated and by moving them you are pretty much giving them a death sentence no matter how hard you try.

What about what you have then?

Lets have a look at what you can grow!

Acid/Clay soils

Clay soils are prone to drying and cracking in dry periods and being cold and wet during the winter. They also have an ability to hold nutrients which for wildflowers who thrive in undernourished conditions can be a challenge! I’ve included the description of acidic as most clay soils tend to err towards slightly acid conditions but it’s always best to check your soils PH. Testing is a simple process, kits being available from most garden centres.

  • Autumn Hawkbit( Leontodon Autumnalis)

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  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
  • Corn Poppy (papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip ( Primula Veris)

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  • Yarrow, (Achillea Millefolium)
  • Yellow Rattle (Rhinanathus Minor) – This is one of the most important ingredients in a wildflower meadow
  • Betony (Stachys Officnalis)
  • Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis)
  • Lesser Knapweed (Centaurea Nigra)

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  • Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)

Going back to Yellow rattle, the reason this is so important in a wildflower meadow is its fascinating means of extracting nutrients, it’s a parasitic plant! It attaches itself to the roots of surrounding grasses and stunts their growth thereby allowing the other less dominant species to flourish. Getting it established is the most important factor when starting your wildflower meadow and this is best done in the autumn using fresh seed. Of course once its in and in subsequent years this can be done purely by the process of cutting your meadow down.

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Meadow at the Queen Elizabeth Park, London

What if you’re on a chalk grassland though? Chalk will support a whole different range of species, its alkaline, low in fertility naturally. Sandy soils also are well-drained so ive included these two together. You’ll notice that some of the plants are included on both lists, this is because they are “bombproof” so let’s have a look at what you can grow!

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Chalk meadow at Ayot st Lawrence, Herts

Chalk & Sandy soils

  • Agrimony (Agromonia Eupatoria)
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Vetch ( Vicia sativa)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium Pratense)
  • Corn Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip (Primula Veris)
  • Dark Mullein (Verbascum Nigrum)
  •  Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)
  • Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
  • Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium Verum)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium pratense)
  • Musk Mallow (Malva Moschata)
  • Ox Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum Vulgare)
  • Rough Hawkbit
  • Ribwort Plantain (Planatago Lanceolata)
  • Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba Minor)
  • Self Heal (Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)
  • White Campion (Silene Alba)
  • Small Scabious (Scabiosa Columbaria)
  • Wild Carrot ( Daucus carota)
  • Yarrow (Achillia Millefolium)
  • Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus Minor)
  • Wild Marjoram (Origanum Vulgare)
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Meadows in the Orchard at Waterperry, Oxford

Come September its time to cut your meadow down. In the past ive used a brushcutter to cut meadows down, this is a great method for seed dispersal and if im honest it’s a job I love! Some people use a topper, which doesn’t always get low enough for the low growing species, others swear by using a scythe which is a very exhausting way & takes a great deal of skill to do properly. Plan to do it when you have at least a week of dry weather ahead.

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Posing for a Brushcutter selfie!

Later the cut grass and wildflowers can be collected either manually by raking or if you have a large area and the equipment you can “box” it up & remove it. This is incredibly important as the removal of cuttings firstly helps spread the seeds and also lowers the fertility of the soil which wildflowers prefer.

What if you have a stream bank or water meadow? What plants love to grow there?

These suggestions are best sown 1-2 metres within the streams edge as these plants do better with damp feet, again you’ll notice some that are included in the 2 previous mixes.

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Stream/pond edges

  • Gypsy Wort (Lycopus Europus)
  • Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula Ulmaria)
  • Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
  • Teasel (Dispsacus Fullonum)
  • Tufted Vetch
  • Water Avens (Geum Rivale)
  • Yellow Flag Iris (Iris Pseudocorus)

Of course there are many more native species which could be included, one that you don’t often see is this lovely chap. Stellaria holostea – Greater Stitchwort, most often found in hedgerows rather than meadows, its beautiful delicate flowers are a pleasant surprise peeking out from under hawthorns.

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Which leads us nicely to woodland wildflowers! If you havent got an open area to turn into your own personal nature reserve or if your garden is shaded by lots of mature trees this could be your answer. Of course there are Bluebells and wild Garlic but there’s lots more that can thrive in the shade of your leafy canopy!

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The Bluebell Woodland at Hole Park

Woodland Wildflowers

A traditional english woodland when properly managed can be awash with colour and nectar. It’s only an unkempt area full of brambles & nettles if left neglected. Traditionally pigs would be allowed to rootle around in the undergrowth keeping some of the thugs at bay but these days that’s relatively rare. As is the tradition of coppicing, stands of hazel to a gardener are such a boon, it’s a shame we don’t all have access to it. I digress!

If you do have a shady area under trees though you can make it come alive with just a few choice natives

  • Bluebell Seed (Hyancith non Scripta)
  • Common Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupotar)
  • Hedge Bedstraw (Galium Mollugo)
  • Wild Garlic ( Alliaria Petiolata)
  • Hedge Woundwort (Stachys Sylvatica)
  • Herb Bennet (Geum Urbanum)
  • Nettle Leaved Bell Flower (Campanula Trachnium )
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal ( Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Square St Johns Wort (Hypericum tetrapterum)
  • Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis Odorta)
  • Upright Hedge Parsley (Torilis Japonica)
  • Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis Cambria)
  • Wild Angelica (Angelica Sylvestri)
  • Wild Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)
  • Wood Sage (Teucrium Scorodonia)

Some of these listed are absolute nightmares in a garden setting such as Geum urbanum and Meconopsis cambria but in a woodland setting are perfect. It’s a matter of choosing the right plants for the right place and remember we are looking at this as a “Wild Garden” rather than a cultured bed full of choice specimens. Hopefully this will give you the confidence to go out and select some seed and sow your own little patch of wilderness.

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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