After the Equinox our planet will start to tilt towards the sun and we in the Northern Hemisphere can look forward to the long days of summer. In the Southern Hemisphere the opposite will happen.
The “big picture” for this post, and several of the following pictures, show the work of the Bromley Green Gym conservation volunteers. Thanks to them there is a delightful green space to sit in and enjoy.
After mentioning in my last post the disappearance of sparrows I stopped years of idly wondering why I no longer lived surrounded by these cheeky little birds as I did when growing up in London, and decided to see what I could find out. These are social and noisy small birds – very successful colonisers with opportunistic habits that lead them always to live amongst us humans in our settlements – they will no doubt be well known to many other people who grew up in urban and suburban settings. So why haven’t I seen one for decades?
The RSPB puts the sparrow on the red list – that is highest conservation priority with species needing urgent action. Their populations they estimate as dropping by 71% between 1977 and 2008 and a species vanishing from many city centres. The sparrow, however, can still be found in towns and villages. Described as noisy and gregarious opportunists exploiting peoples’ rubbish and wastefulness they can usually be found feeding and breeding near to people.
Research into the disappearing sparrow seems to have started about ten years ago and is ongoing. The attempt to establish reasons for the decline of the species is, so far, inconclusive although there are believed to be many possible causes such as home improvements, predators (domestic cat), lack of nesting sites (they nest usually in cavities), pollution and disease, lack of food (seeds and insects) and so on. Also, because they are a species that are spread worldwide with huge regional variations in their distribution some think there is no risk at all of them becoming extinct.
A bit of nostalgia – remind yourself of that cheerful Sparrow cheep, cheep call – link below has a recording.
At the Allotment
A bonus crop for the “empty season”
In the pre-growing season period, when the focus is on seed sowing and planting, there isn’t a great deal to pick to eat. However in early March I was able to start getting harvests of mixed leaves from various plants from last year – enough for several helpings.
I caught the Cavolo Nero just as it went into flower. I needed the space so I removed two plants and stripped them of all leaves instead of the more usual handful of leaves to avoid exhausting the plant. NB With Cavolo Nero the tough midrib needs removing with a sharp knife before cooking – tedious but worth it.
Spinach Beet has not done so well but there was a small handful of leaves to collect and some small new leaves from the Chard. When I harvested my cabbages last season I left the stumps in the ground to allow them to sprout again. These had produced a crop of some healthy looking and tasty leaves so these came too.
At home I wilted them in a pan with pepper and butter and then froze them. If they are wilted rather than boiled they can also be used for stir-fries.
A few of these mini-harvests helped filled the gap before the Purple Sprouting Broccoli was ready to pick.
Ever since I learned, many years ago while studying for RHS exams, that slug pellets with metaldehyde as the active ingredient should be avoided I have done exactly that. I now understand that this type of slug pellet has now been banned and will be taken off the approved list of chemicals used both commercially and by the amateur gardener. They will be phased out over the next 18 months, but available to buy for the next 6 months – their use after this will be allowed for another 12 months.
Well, no problem for me I thought since I only use slug pellets based on ferric phosphate and then only very occasionally having been told all those years ago that ferric phosphate occurs naturally in soil so has to be better. This is true. Unfortunately it now seems that these slug pellets are not as natural as they might seem because of other ingredients that affect the action of the ferric phosphate we aren’t quite so aware of.
Both types of pellet kill by iron poisoning. Concerns seem to focus on exactly which creatures can be killed this way.
If there is a problem with any type of slug pellet what can we use as an alternative?
Ever suffered from lace hostas? These plants epitomize slug and snail problems.
When I organized a trip to Down House about seven years ago for the plotholders the Head Gardener there gave us a conducted tour and I noted his Hosta beds were full of perfectly whole plants as opposed to plants full of holes. How did he do it? He said he used insecticidal soap.
Since that time I have been making my own garlic spray. My main use for it was for a serious blackfly problem I often got on my allotment broad beans, serious enough to ruin the crop. Regular use of the spray was certainly effective. I know that slugs and snails don’t like the smell and taste of garlic any more than do blackfly so could this be the alternative needed?
In my first post for this blog (Jan 2018) I referred to a holiday in Copenhagen when I had visited allotments and puzzled over the different set up I saw. Working from an English allotment mental map I arrived at a site in central Copenhagen where I expected to see community vegetable growing Danish-style and found a piazza, with a stage for outdoor performances at one end and tables and chairs and people, mostly older, sitting around enjoying a chat and a few beers. As is so often embarrassingly the case many of them spoke very good English and I chatted with an elderly woman and a man to whom I apologised for having little Danish. He wanted to know what I could say – Hotel Scandic and “tak” the sum total.
Even the good communication didn’t help me get a perspective on what I was seeing and hearing – lots of little houses and roads and the woman referring to the water being turned off in the winter (probably the only recognisable similarity with an English allotment site) meant she had to go and get it from elsewhere, because, she explained sotto voce, she often stayed over the winter as well. She went on to say that in some sites people may grow vegetables but they did not on theirs.
I concluded at the time that there were cultural differences in their allotment set up and ours that didn’t include vegetables as a priority and mentally filed the experience for revisiting later.
How often in life do you find something you are looking for when you are looking for something else entirely?
Looking up information on the Swedish garden currently being built in Saltwell Park, Gateshead recently I came across websites run by US citizens now living permanently in Sweden and whose explanations of Swedish allotments, clearly akin to the Danish system, put things into perspective for me. Theirs were explanations perfectly suited to a stranger to a different culture as I had been.
In Swedish “Kolonilotter” translates as “colony of lots” or allotments. On each plot there is as small house – the descriptions depending on which account you read – a pavilion ranging in size from an old rebuilt railway car to a small summer house; a combo of a garden shed and a micro house; a tiny house 15’ by 8’; and a one-room wooden shack surrounded by garden. People sign up for these koloni gardens and shower them with affectionate care when they get them. Many people live there throughout the summer and they are not usually permitted to live there all year round.
These sites seem often to be centrally located in a city – Stockholm or Copenhagen are both the same in this respect so despite being second homes they are of a different order to the second home in the countryside that we are familiar with. These sites seem to have started in the early 19th century and the original reason, just as in the UK, was to grow vegetables. Development however seems to have gone along very different lines in the two countries. I think the underlying reason for existence of these koloni gardens in Scandinavia is a recognition of the special relationship that human beings have with the land and an attempt to keep this alive in a city environment, having recognised its crucial importance to those human beings. In the UK now there is now a trend towards this important recognition too.
Prompted by hearing about the current creation of a Swedish garden in Gateshead – not a random happening but apparently part of a ten year collaboration between the North East and the Vastra Gotaland region in West Sweden resulting in many events and I started wondering what a typical Swedish garden might be like. Did I find out? Not really, but I did discover a very different abstract, cultural relationship to the land that is clearly not the same kind of gardening culture we have. I am now very curious to see how the designers will translate this into the garden at Saltwell Park.
Different approaches to gardening
A Swedish garden designer explains the relationship –
“Gardening in Sweden is a rather new field,” explains Ulf Nordfjell, one of Sweden’s most prominent landscape designers and winner of the Best in Show award at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. “It was started with a need to produce vegetables after World War II. You can’t compare a Swedish garden with one in Britain or France or Italy; it’s not possible. We have country gardens where people spend time during their summer, but it’s a rather unique relationship — more a piece of nature, maybe with some strawberries and roses.”
I think the retention of the use of Latin names for plants shows that cultural differences are recognized in horticulture. There is a sound reason for this. Should I want to order a plant from, say, a nursery in Japan they will know exactly which plant I want from the Latin name because it never changes – Latin being a dead language. With the common names given to plants there are many variations – from country to country and even regions of a country, and one plant can have a number of different common names. Monarda didyma is a good example, the Americans call it bee balm, horsemint and Oswego tea while we British call it Bergamot – scope for much confusion.
Have enjoyed Monty Don’s recent television programmes on the Japanese garden – still available on BBC iplayer –
especially as I did, in the past, experience cultural confusion over Japanese gardens together with some clients of mine.
Some years ago I was working for clients fascinated by Japanese culture and who took regular trips there. This sparked an interest in me and I started looking at Japanese gardens discovering that there were many different types – I wanted to be prepared if the clients might at some stage ask for a Japanese style garden and was trying to find out as much as I could.
At around that time the National Garden Scheme (NGS) started to show a Japanese garden in West London. I usually take in one or two of their gardens a year and I was there. Well worth a visit.
The garden was part of a shrine in what had been an ordinary british residence. Women in Japanese costume graciously offered us the chance to join in a tea ceremony which we accepted. We saw the careful raking of the small stones in swirls around carefully placed boulders in a garden where there were no plants. The garden had created a lot of interest and it was quite crowded. What stuck in my mind particularly was being told that they had originally dug down several metres to remove every trace of weeds by hand – this put their garden-making for me into a new context.
I related my visit to my clients and said I came to the conclusion that there was some underlying religious meaning to the method of gardening in itself. They said that they had concluded the same thing on their visits to Japan. Monty Don cast more light on this in his second programme – in the Zen garden the process is as important as the resulting garden. The importance of the garden is in the sense of how it makes you feel.
You Must See This
Above a reminder to think of our wildlife seen painted on a wall in Lewisham, opposite the busy Shopping Mall car park and on a frenetic dual carriageway with traffic roaring past – wonderful irony.
Goodbye until next month’s post. Happy gardening.