I surfaced from the verdant green of Hembury Woods the other day to go to the office at Parke. I apologise to my long suffering boss Mick, who constantly wants me to do a blog on Hembury or Holne Woods, but it was going into the Walled Garden that finally broke the dam. Wow! It looks fantastic. The work of Kate, Mary and the other volunteers has resulted in a mass of colour and a nectar elysium for pollinating insects. Another aspect of the National Trust’s conservation work, but one maybe sometimes overlooked when people think of National Trust gardens. Formal ones abound, exemplars of horticultural practice in many of our old estates, but the message of such ‘wildlife gardening’ as practiced at Parke is a reflection of the present rather than the past. That most of our flower rich meadows have gone due to changing agricultural practices and with them, many of our pollinating insects. It is an example of how those of us who want to help pollinators and who have neither the space, time or expertise for formal gardening, can help. The Royal Horticultural Society have a list of ‘Plants for Pollinators’, this venerable old organisation also recognising the importance of ‘wildlife gardening’, something also championed by Plantlife.
Many garden flowers are merely cultivars or hybrids of wild ones, but as long as the flower structure is simple and uncomplicated, nectaring insects will come in abundance. Kate, Mary and the other volunteers have mounds of ox-eye daisy and chamomile accentuating the vivid orange of Californian poppy. Hardy geraniums (cultivars of our wild cranesbills) light up the corners of the paths, whilst Love-in-a-mist shimmers alongside spires of foxglove and drifts of Achillea (Yarrow) in this invertebrate metropolis. Anchusa (Bugloss), Alchemilla (Lady’s Mantle) and Scabiosa all illustrate their wild antecedents for those of us whose first love is wild flowers. Even the ‘weeds’ on the path I know as wild flowers. It’s weird having Germander speedwell described as such.
Alongside the conservation work the rest of us carry out in the ancient woods, moorland and relict meadows around Dartmoor, what the volunteers in the walled garden do is another facet of that work, but, unlike us, (working over many hectares in semi-natural habitats) their work illustrates what we can all do in our own gardens. It also in a way reminds me of the debate we often have in our woodlands with the public, that they should be neat and tidy, whereas wildlife prefers it less ‘formal’, with deadwood, brash and brambles invaluable for invertebrates.
PS – Mick, I promise I’ll do something on the woods next time!!!?