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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Caroline Vickers

Crisp, crunchy, juicy eating and cooking apple trees.

How wonderful it would be to harvest apples from ones own garden or plant a community orchard in your village from which everyone can benefit.

The pretty delicate pale pink and white Springtime blossoms are softly fragrant and wonderful for encouraging bees too. Ripening on the trees as I write, we have several edible apples growing on our 350 acre tree nursery in Ely, Cambridgeshire suitable for planting this Autumn:- Malus bramley seedling – standard and espallier Cox’s Orange Pippin – espallier Malus James Grieve – standard and espallier Malus Discovery Malus Jonagold – standard and espallier

We also grow other fruits:- Edible cherries, Pears, Figs, Plums, Greengage, Quince. An interesting fact, there is no VAT on trees which bear edible fruits!

When you plant a tree from a tree nursery, it will need nurturing in the landscape for the first 2 years until it will be independent. The tree will need to be staked and tied and regularly watered.

Source trees from a UK nursery with a robust Biosecurity Policy. Each tree should have an audit trail to show where the seed came from and how long it has been growing in the UK. This helps prevent the spread of tree pests and diseases from imported trees into our glorious landscape.

Caroline Vickers

Brand Awareness Manager

Barcham Trees PLC

Visit www.barchampro.co.uk – trade website.

Visit www.barcham.co.uk – retail website.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ellie Porter

The Health Benefits of Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a healthy hobby. It gets you outside and active, and can offer stress relief and the freshest produce you can find. Read on to learn about the many ways outdoor gardening can support your health.

Outdoor Gardening is Physical Activity

Maintaining a garden takes physical effort. In fact, it’s enough work that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it to be moderate physical activity. Each hour of gardening burns about 330 calories. If you’re getting into heavy yard work, it’s considered vigorous physical activity and could burn about 440 calories per hour.

Physical activity can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. You could also reduce high blood pressure, arthritis pain, and your risk for osteoporosis and falls. Not to mention, gardening offers fresh produce that can improve the quality of your diet if you’re not regularly eating fresh fruits and vegetables regularly.

Gardening is an intriguing choice of exercise for people with disabilities. Not all exercise or physical activity is well suited to all abilities. But anyone who can manipulate tools can garden effectively and get the physical benefits.

Gardening can also help you maintain hand muscle strength and dexterity.

Spending Time Outside Gardening is Key

The physical activity offered by outdoor gardening can offer health support, but even if you’re not putting a lot of effort into it, you’re still getting outside. That alone can offer a long list of benefits.

Just being outdoors offers sun exposure. While sunscreen is important for avoiding sun damage, getting in the sunlight supports good health in multiple ways.

For one, sun exposure can help your body produce Vitamin D. This vitamin is responsible for maintaining bone and teeth health, support your immune system, brain, and nervous system, lung function and cardiovascular health, and also regulates insulin levels.

Sun exposure is also a powerful cue for your sleep and wake cycle, known as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock relies on cues such as your daily schedule of eating and physical activity, but it’s also dependent on light, and particularly sunlight. When you’re getting outdoors, you’re sending a signal to your circadian rhythm that the bright light and physical activity means it’s daytime. That helps reinforce correct timing so that when bedtime rolls around, it’s easier for your internal clock to recognize that it is in fact night and time to get in bed and rest.

Mental Health Support from Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a particularly satisfying and stress relieving activity. Tending to your garden means creating fresh produce, and it can be rewarding to physically see the fruits of your labor.

Also, the physical act and focus of gardening may help you relieve stress and anxiety. As you’re working on your garden, it may feel like meditation as you become focused on the task at hand and stressors and anxious thoughts get pushed away.

Outdoor gardening offers health benefits both physical and mental. Spend time outside, relieve stress, and enjoy the products of your garden for better health.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Neil Rawlins

Flowers of New Zealand

Deep in the South Pacific, at approximately the antipodes of the British Isles, lie the islands of New Zealand. The northern island is washed by the warmer currents of the South Pacific, while the southern islands are influenced by the turbulent winds of the Roaring Forties which are generated in the circumpolar Antarctic Convergence of the Southern Ocean. To put New Zealand in a European perspective latitude-wise, Auckland, in the north, lies on approximately the same latitude south of the equator as does Malaga in Spain or Algiers, lie north; Wellington, the capital, lies about the same as Rome or Barcelona. Queenstown in the south is about the same as the Bordeaux region of France, and Oban, the only settlement on Stewart Island, is about the same as Paris. In this unique environment, separated by around 2000 kilometres from Australia, the nearest neighbour, the fauna and flora of these islands evolved for millennia without outside influences. Species homo sapiens arrived less than a thousand years ago.

Some 80-85% of New Zealand’s plant life is unique just to these islands. The giant kauri trees of the (Agathis australis) of the North Island are among the world’s largest trees by volume, and in the southern beech (Notofagus spp.) of the South Island  was the inspiration for Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Perhaps the most distinctive tree in the coastal North Island is the pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), better known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, whose bright crimson flowers decorate the cliff tops and beaches between November to January. These flowers attract the nectar-feeding tui bird, an important pollinator.

A tui feeding on nectar in a pohutukawa

In the early spring the semi-deciduous kowhai (Sophora tetraptera} bursts into a splendid display of vivid yellow flowers – Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow. This showy beautiful flower, also pollinated by nectar-feeding birds, is unofficially New Zealand’s National flower. It’s much rarer cousin, the kowhai ngutu-kaka, or kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus) is, arguably, NZ’s most showy flower. Although extremely rare in the wild, it grows well in gardens.

The yellow kowhai flowers

The showy red blooms of the kaka-beak

In the alpine regions of the Southern Alps, in spring and early summer, blooms what is erroneously called the Mt Cook lily (Ranunculus lyalli) which is more correctly called the giant buttercup. It is one of many species of buttercup found only in New Zealand. I believe seeds of this alpine plant are available in selected garden centres in UK.

Mt Cook lilies, or giant buttercup, flowering in Mt Cook National Park

Several New Zealand native plants are well known to gardeners in Britain by their Latin species name rather than their Maori name. Perhaps one of the best known are the hebe species. These range, in New Zealand, from the coastal environments to the alpine regions, all with different characteristics and colour variations. The most common is the koromiko (Hebe stricta), samples of which were first taken back to UK by Joseph Banks who was with Captain Cook’s first expedition to the Pacific.

Bumble bee in a koromiko (Hebe stricta) flower

Harakeke, or New Zealand flax, is better known in the UK as a phormium. There are two main species – Phormium tenox and Phormium cookianum – the second being Cook’s, or alpine flax, with smaller leaves and yellow flowers. NZ flax has large tough leaves and orange flowers. Variegated or red-leaved varieties are garden hybrids.

Flowers of the NZ flax (Phormium tenax)

Cook’s flax (Phormium cookianum)

The last native I will mention is the kotukutuku, or tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). This is the largest of fuchsia family and is one of the very few deciduous trees in New Zealand. The fruit produced, known as konini, is pleasant tasting and was a popular food-source to the pre-European Maori – if they could get to the fruit before the native pigeons!

tree fuchsia flower and fruit

large fuchsia trunk in the Stewart Island forest

Neil Rawlins,

travel writer & photographer

www.neilrawlins.blogspot.com

Books published on Amazon – One Foot in Front of the Other

This week’s guest blogger is Alison Moore

A garden for all seasons

For the past seven years I have been lucky enough to enjoy a second career as a garden designer, and whether it’s working with a completely blank canvas or just giving a garden a bit of a makeover, I get huge amounts of job satisfaction from my work.

Photography is also an integral part of indulging my passion for gardening and design. Taking my camera for a walk around a beautiful garden is both a great way to relax and also a source of inspiration for my own planting designs.

There are so many wonderful gardens in my area, some of which just open occasionally for the National Garden Scheme, and others that are open all year round. My favourite local haunt is the National Trust gardens at Dunham Massey near Altrincham which includes a 7 acre winter garden.  Under the expert guidance of head gardener Emily Chandler the gardens are flourishing and there is always something new to see.

To show you the whole of the gardens would take far more space than this blog allows, but let me take you on a little tour of the winter garden and some of its’ gems through the seasons.

Spring

I’ll start with the daffodils. These are spectacular at Dunham. There are so many varieties planted in the garden, from the early ones such as Rijnvelds ‘Early Sensation’ right through to the late flowering Narcissus ‘Actaea’ pictured below.

And this is one of my favourite spring bulbs -pictured below – Fritillaria Meleagris aka Snake’s head fritillary is establishing itself really well at Dunham now.

One of the paths that wind through the winter garden, with Magnolia stellata looking rather lovely in the foreground.

Summer

The winter garden in summer is a quiet place, as you might expect, but still my favourite part of the garden. At times you can almost feel like you have the place to yourself as the majority of visitors tend to head for the spectacular perennial borders and rose garden. This photo (below) was taken in early June last year and for me it captures the understated natural beauty of the garden.

Butterflies and insects are attracted to the wildflowers that are allowed to grow here in summer.

And in high summer the hydrangeas have their day enjoying the dappled shade of the trees.

Autumm

What a glorious sight this is with the scarlet leaves of the acers falling over one of the pathways! I was lucky enough to capture this image below on a perfect autumn day a couple of years ago.

Underneath the many mature trees in the winter garden a carpet of pink Cyclamen hederifolium brings colour to the woodland floor.

Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ has the most unusual coloured berries. The birds tend to leave these alone, so the purple berries last well into winter.

Winter

We don’t tend to get much snow in this part of Cheshire, but when we do the winter garden takes on a new prettiness.  The seed heads of Phlomis russeliana look stunning when covered with snow.

Hammelis or Witch Hazel is one of my favourite scented winter shrubs and the flowers are a dream to photograph. There are many varieties at Dunham and they add colour even in the depths of winter.

And although we think of snowdrops as a sign of spring, February is the month when they are at their best.

I hope that this little photo tour of the winter garden at Dunham Massey has been of interest. I’d highly recommend a visit at any time of year if you’re in the area. The site is fully accessible to disabled visitors https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey#Facilities

Alison Moore

Website renaissance-gardendesign.co.uk

Twitter @renaissancegd

Instagram   @a1isonmoore

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Dave Goulson

Let the ‘Weeds’ Grow

Professor Dave Goulson, University of Sussex

Successful wildlife gardening is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. This is not to say that a wildlife garden has to be untidy. Many imagine a wildlife garden as an unruly tangle of brambles, nettles and dandelions, and it is true that a laissez-faire garden like this will certainly attract a lot of wildlife, but it is also perfectly possible to have a tidy and beautiful garden that is teeming with life (though tidiness does of course tend to require a little more work).

If I could give you just one wildlife gardening tip, it would be this. You can get rid of all the weeds in your garden in a heartbeat, just by renaming them wildflowers. The concept of a weed is something we have constructed. Why do we endlessly persecute dandelions, groundsel, willowherbs and so on, at great personal effort, and usually without much success? Does it matter if there are buttercups and daisies in your lawn? Many of us spend money on spraying their lawn with selective broadleaf herbicides, intended to kill everything but the grass. Buttercups and dandelions are beautiful native wildflowers. Ease off on the mowing, and they will burst into bloom, adding colour and attracting insect life; bees, hoverflies and so on.   

            Aside from those in the lawn, wildflowers can be an attractive addition to herbaceous borders. I have teasel, viper’s bugloss, marjoram, foxgloves, mallows, campions, comfrey, betony, deadnettles and woundworts mixed up with the usual garden favourites; lavender, catmint, coreopsis and so on. Viper’s bugloss is one of my favourites – producing beautiful blueish purple flower spikes in July and August that bumblebees adore. Controversially, I also have ragwort, loathed by horse lovers as it is toxic when dried in hay. But this is a wonderful plant for insects, attracting bees, hoverflies, butterflies, and of course the yellow and black caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. Native wildflowers are worth including not just for their beauty but also because they are often the foodplant of herbivorous insects such as moths, butterflies, true bugs or leaf beetles, so they help to support a whole ecosystem. My red campion flowers attract bees, but also attract the campion moth which lays its egg on the seed pod and the young caterpillar feasts on the developing seeds.

Relax, soak up the summer sun, and enjoy the weeds!

Dave Goulson’s new book, The Garden Jungle, is on sale now in all good bookshops.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Trevor C Judd

The latter part of 2018 saw us, as a nation, commemorate a number of centenary events linked to the First World War. By the very nature of the original events these were sombre events, and rightly so.

By contrast, 2019 will allow us to commemorate such uplifting centenary events as the first non-stop transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown, and Lady Nancy Astor taking her seat in the House of Commons as the first women member of parliament.

Additionally, hidden in the depths of the New Forest, there is a garden that was the passion of a banker, also celebrating its centenary. The banker, in question, was Lionel de Rothschild a passionate collector of plants and a keen supporter and sponsor of the early 20th century plant hunters and the garden Exbury. The garden was created in 1919 and was developed over the following 20 years to become a stunning 200-acre garden paradise in the New Forest filled with rare plants, shrubs and trees.

The centenary is being marked with the unveiling of a new ‘secret’ garden and a showcase display at the world’s most famous flower show, RHS Chelsea.

Visitors can now get to glimpse the new Centenary Garden designed by Lionel’s great grand-daughter, and RHS gold medal award-winning designer, Marie-Louise Agius. This was planted within Exbury Gardens in 2017 and has been carefully hidden from public view, whilst it grew and matured.  Given the scale of the rest of Exbury Gardens, and that it’s had a 100 years to mature to what is seen today, the Centenary Garden is necessarily more intimate in scale. It is planted on the site of one of Lionel de Rothschild’s former tennis courts!

       

Grown in secret – Centenary Garden 

                                                                     

 It is contemporary in style, focusing on late flowering summer perennials, interwoven between a strong vertical planted structure, with the existing Yew hedging proving an evergreen backdrop. The central area is sunken – enhancing the 3 dimensional space – with the Rothschild 5 Arrows in black Caledonian slate set into York stone paving. At the far end of the garden is a curved timber bench surrounded by cloud-pruned evergreen azaleas, a modern salute to the core history of the Gardens.

Thomas Clarke, head gardener at Exbury, said: “The 1920s were the golden age of woodland gardening and Exbury, under the careful eye of Lionel de Rothschild and his staff, was at the cutting edge of this movement. The location, climate, existing oak woodland and acid soil all allowed for the creation of one of the finest gardens of its kind in the UK. Combine this with the legacy of the great plant hunters, and the extensive plant breeding programme at Exbury, and we are fortunate enough to have inherited a truly wonderful garden packed full of horticultural treasures.”

“In this centenary year we are delighted to be unveiling some fantastic new projects plus a continued focus on our work to conserve and develop the plants and landscape at Exbury for the next 100 years.”

Exbury Gardens, located in the New Forest near Southampton, is open daily until 3 November 2019 10am – 5.30pm. Adult tickets £12.50, children (3-15yrs) £4, under 3s are free and a family ticket is £29. Full information at www.exbury.co.uk

Exbury Gardens aims to enable visitors with disabilities and additional mobility needs to use and enjoy the gardens, railway and facilities.

www.thepureimageworks.com

Trevor Judd is an experienced photographer specialising in the photography of flowers, nature, and landscapes.

“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice” – Robert Frank

This Week’s Guest Blog is about opening your garden and raising money for Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity

One way you can help Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity (GDT) is to open your garden to the public and donate the entrance fee to help us continue our life changing work.

One such garden that has done that is Fursdon House in Devon.  Their stunning gardens are regularly open to visitors in the summer and they dedicated one day where the charity would receive a percentage of the garden entrance fee.

We have 9 volunteer committee members and work tirelessly to fundraise, enabling us to get more people back into their gardens by offering grants.  We organise a number of events but by people opening their gardens and donating the income from it we do need to find manpower to carry it out. We assist with publicising the event but the garden owners deal with the logistics of the day.

GDT was invited to attend Canterbury Cathedral Open Gardens because we had been nominated as a beneficiary of the day and received a third of the garden entrance money.  The other benficiaries were Perennial Charity and National Gardens Scheme.

The Duke and Duchess of Grafton have invited GDT to attend their Garden only Open Day at the magnficent Euston Hall on 16th September from the 10am until 2pm.  The park and gardens are open and we will receive a portion of the profts form the day.

Please consider supporting these events or opening your gardens, or allotments etc and donating the income from it to us  to enable us to continue our life changing work.

Visit our website gardeningfordisabledtrust.org.uk to find out more about our work .

This Week’s Guest Blogger is James CEO at Eco Roses

The Best Wedding Flowers You’ve Never Heard Of:

At Eco Roses, we have the best wedding flowers which you have never seen before. Yeah! You heard it right… We provide a unique range of Wedding flowers, which are always the stars at any wedding. Our explosion of Roses, colours and textures including red, pink, spray, Tinted, Austin roses, Bicolour Yellow-Red, Hot Pink and Garden Roses combined with large new variety Roses.

If the couple isn’t careful an impressive floral arrangement or top quality flower can overshadow the couple themselves! Classic varieties of roses come in white, cream, tinted and dual coloured roses, which you never think of before.

But luckily there is only a place, in this world that is blessed enough to be able to grow more than just those colours and many new forms of different varieties flowers. That place is Eco Roses. Let me show you how:-

  • First range of beautiful flower, has a very delicate soft orange/peachish centre with bold dark red edges. To put it mildly, these are truly a unique breed of rose we name it – Bicolour: Yellow-Red
  • Another variety has it all and connects with the soft and bold sides of the human personality and according to the decoration of wedding arrangements.
  • You can compare the presence of our freshly deliver roses, you will see the power that it holds in and the energy which presents the positive vibe that our flower brings to any event, indoor or outdoor, is contagious.
  • Our wedding flowers are fully appropriate to adorn both the bride and the groom, because it is the classic wedding tradition white and red? Our Red & White Bicolour roses are best for wedding functions.
  • The peachy orangish red outer petals, which contain some of the most beautiful colour connectivity by the best team growing team, blending found in nature.

Every wedding or event we cater, we focus on its nature, a truly unique event with its own combination of elements makes it special occasion with flowers by Eco Roses. Occasion like, weddings and any wedding related functions; we at Eco Roses, try to design and arranged several beautiful table displays for a wedding party. We requested for giant gathering as well as small gathering, spherical mixed rose bouquets to place in ornate cut glass vases.

We Work closely with our clients to ensure that you do not forget any of the important parts to your wedding arrangements.

Selecting wedding flowers seems simple and straightforward enough… until you dig into it and realize the dizzying array of choices, we at Eco Roses provides you Top quality unique roses for weddings. There are so many options by our farm to your doorsteps, all of them are incredibly beautiful, and never seeing designs; here is our compilation of most required handy FAQs to selecting the perfect wedding flowers for your one-of-a-kind celebration.

Take Cues from Your Venue

Chances are that if you love the idea of an untamed outdoor venue, you probably drawn to the look of wildflowers too. Similarly, if it is on the big villas and home, then it is completely your style then you are likely attracted to elegant.

Wedding Arrangements for an outdoor venue also tend to be less structured. In formal venues, according to us, classic flower choices and polished styles are a good choice.

Don’t Obsess Over Flower Knowledge

Maybe, you know your roses from your simpler colours but Eco Roses has made a victory over variety of roses. Therefore, most of our customers get badly confuse. Yes, they pretend as if they love all of them, as all the range is best and fresh for roses.

Some brides-to-be get their hands and hearts set on a particular flower, not realizing that it may be hard to get at the time of the wedding but we make it possible to them by our better preservers.

It is Possible to Start Too Early

The early bird gets the worm; if you arrive before your last days to wedding then it would be fun, because we give you complete knowledge of our certainly unique roses that you never find anywhere. It is quite exciting to start nailing down wedding details as sooner as you could.

Selecting you own wedding flowers should be great fun!! In addition, not overly stressful. Plan, but stay open to suggestions by our experts, where required.

You will asked most certainly by many of your friends or guests to name the rose variety on display and wedding arrangements. You can proudly say that, this is by ECO Roses, grown in their fresh farm to your wedding destination, they are home of the best wedding flowers in South America.

Website: https://ecoroses.com.ec/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Debi Holland

Adapting Gardens, Changing Lives, Defying Disability

Blog post & photos by Debi Holland

I run my own gardening business and work with many people who have physical or mental difficulties. I am constantly thinking about how I can make gardening easier for people, which plants can be chosen to give maximum joy but require minimum maintenance and how can I help keep people enjoying gardening independently at their home rather than feeling overwhelmed with jobs.

Daily life stresses, bereavement, ailments and disabilities all bring their own challenges but whatever your situation an hour or two spent outside can work wonders for morale, reduce anxiety and lift spirits. Green therapy. Seeing a job through to completion is immensely satisfying and evokes a sense of pride.

Bee Feasting on an Allium

Soil contains Mycobacterium vaccae, which releases natural anti-depressants serotonin and dopamine so getting our hands dirty can genuinely improve our mental health and make us feel more positive.

Gardening offers a great distraction from everyday life, a few hours spent outdoors can work wonders. It allows us a little breathing space away from issues that may be troubling us, focuses the mind and gives purpose and hope for the future from the anticipation of what will grow.

Try and keep gardening fun and not a chore. If certain elements of the garden begin to stress you out then change them. Gardens are forever evolving and need to develop to meet your needs.

For example cut down on the number of pots you have or consolidate small pots into larger as this stops the soil drying out so fast. Small pots are rather needy for food and water.

Sempervivums

Watering can feel an arduous task so make life easy for yourself, choose drought tolerant plants like pelargoniums, sempervivum, sedums or cactus for in a conservatory or windowsill. These independent plants thrive on neglect. You can enjoy their foliage or blooms with minimum input.

But if you love sowing seeds and potting on then plant at a height you can work at. If you have back trouble or cannot kneel then resist planting at soil level where you would have to bend down; try waist height raised beds. It’s your garden so ensure you can access it.

Raised Bed

Direct sow seed where you wish them to grow. This cuts down on the time consuming task of nurturing seedlings through each stage till they are finally transplanted out. Try Eschscholzia californica (California poppy), calendula, cosmos, cornflowers, marigold, nigella (Love-in-a-mist), Phacelia tanacetifolia (Purple Tansy) Digitalis (foxgloves), poppies or antirrhinums (snapdragons).

Phacelia tanacetifolia and cornflowers

Cut down on weeding, use groundcover such as hardy geraniums, vinca or hardy herbs to cover bare soil and smother weeds.

Lasagne plant bulbs at different depths in pots to get a successional display of blooms from winter through to summer. Try crocus, muscari, fritillaria, narcissus, tulips and alliums. All super easy to grow and provides months of colour.

“Lasagne” plant bulbs

If you are feeling lonely or isolated then ring a friend, get them round for a cuppa and a gardening session!

Join a local gardening club. Meet up with like-minded people and discuss what is going on in your garden. If you are physically unable to garden yourself then go to the gardening talks. Get inspired by the professionals and learn about plants. You can always hire a gardener to come and help implement your new ideas.

Cosmos in the sun

Little did I know when I start out on my horticultural path that an over riding factor of gardening would be friendship. Over the years I have become great friends with the people I work for. And it is a two-way street, putting the world to rights whilst pulling weeds can be incredibly therapeutic. It can provide the platform to express how we feel whereas we may not be able to find the words whilst stuck within four walls.

Gardens are so personal and bring such joy. They are an extension of our personalities and provide respite from the stresses and toils of modern life. So get outdoors and inhale all the scent, sights and sounds of nature and get gardening!

Find regular gardening advice and articles at my website: www.debihollandgardening.com

I also write for Richard Jackson’s Garden website:

https://getgardening.richardjacksonsgarden.co.uk/author/debi-holland/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jane Perrone

A sniff of aromatic sage leaves, a few snips of garlic chives, a dusting of fennel pollen… giving everyone the chance to experience – and taste – the power of herbs first hand is what a community herb garden is all about. And it just so happens that the garden I help to run is situated on a roundabout. 

It may seem an unlikely situation, but it is not your average car-choked traffic feature. And the team of volunteers who help to keep the herbs happy and the litter at bay know that what they do brings joy – and free herbs – to the local population.

The Rothsay community herb garden sits at the junction of two residential roads in Bedford, a town of roughly 80,000 people situated around 50 miles north of London. The streets are lined with Victorian houses and mature trees, and the roundabout itself is larger and greener than you’d expect, with a diameter of around 40m (130ft).

Within it there are two large beds that make up the herb garden, filled with herbs of every shape and size, from creeping thyme and clumps of mint to mounds of purple sage and the towering elacampne (Inula helenium). All the plants have some value as herbs: some culinary, some medicinal. Paths intersect the roundabout so there’s plenty of passing foot traffic, and there’s an open invitation to everyone to harvest whatever herbs they need from the plot.

Regular maintenance sessions bring together a small group of local volunteers all willing to help maintain the garden, weeding and pruning sessions are full of chat on the local news and the odd passerby will stop to admire our handiwork.

Communication is a key part of the herb garden’s success. A noticeboard that helps local people understand the purpose of the garden and identify the individual herbs. Annual open days provide a chance for people to find out more about the garden and what they can do with the herbs in it: one of my jobs has been to give a talk which always garners lots of questions: it’s always surprising how some useful herbs are so unknown and under-appreciated.

The garden was set up a decade ago by Zero Carbon Castle, a local community group inspired by the Transition town movement, which fosters grassroots, eco-friendly community projects. The town council, who owns the roundabout, gave permission for the garden and helped pay for herb plug plants used by around 20 local people as they planted up the garden for the first time.

Ten years on, and although Zero Carbon Castle has since fizzled out as an organisation, the herb garden has gone on nonetheless, managed by a small team of local people, including me. The volunteer crew may have changed its personnel a little over the years, but the aim remains the same: providing something beautiful for people to look at, providing locally grown herbs for the community.It has been entirely self-funded for the past seven years.

It’s not always easy: I popped down to mow the grass around the beds the other day and within a couple of minutes I’d collected an empty sandwich carton; one nitrous oxide canister; a few cigarette butts; and a blizzard of sweet wrappers. Litter is probably our biggest problem, but by tackling it regularly, the space stays well looked after, which reminds people that it’s anything but a dumping ground.  Whole plants have been dug up on occasion, and a few dogs wander between the herbs from time to time.

Bedford is a multicultural community, so there are sometimes language barriers that can cause confusion: signs in Italian and Polish as well as English help to explain that while people are welcome to snip away at any herbs they want to take home, digging up whole plants is not allowed. There are two benches on the roundabout that attract people stopping for a rest and a chat, but also act as gathering places for late night drinkers and those taking drugs (which explains the nitrous oxide canisters). That said, the vast majority of people respect the space.

There is no source of water nearby so the planting has to be drought-resistant: bark mulch helps to keep the moisture in, but during prolonged dry spells we carry out emergency watering, transporting containers of water from a local resident’s outside tap to the herb beds.

A largely organic approach means that we can help rather than harm what’s a surprisingly wildlife-rich area, with owls hooting from the trees at night, hedgehogs snuffling for insects amid the herb beds, and bats circle above on warm summer nights. Not bad for a roundabout, really.

Six tough herbs for community spaces

Bronze fennel

The stands of feathery, deep red foliage  make it a wonderfully pretty plant for a herb garden, but its delicate looks belie the fact that, given the right setting, this herb is tough as old boots, naturalising along railway sidings and road verges wherever there’s a patch of sun and a scarping of poor soil. Pollinators such as hoverflies love the acid yellow umbels of the flowers, and it self-seeds around given the chance: just let any artful interlopers remain and pull up any seedlings that turn up out of bounds. A mix of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) can look particularly striking mixed with regular green herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).

Mint

I have a love-hate relationship with this plant: on one hand, it’s one of the most easily recognisable and widely-used herbs there is, valuable for everything from teas and salads to cocktails and garnishes. It’s also extremely tough and tolerant. But boy, does it spread. We have several different mint species and cultivars in the garden, but keep them under close control, and aren’t afraid to remove huge clumps every maintenance session to keep it in bounds. There are dozens of stunning mints to choose from: my favourites are chocolate mint, and mojito mint (Mentha x villosa), a ruffled-leaf mint that makes the perfect cocktail. ‘Eau de Cologne’ is marvellous as an addition to a hot bath.

Curry plant

This plant (Latin name Helichrysum italicum) is worth it just for the incredibly aromatic smell it pumps out on a hot day, although it also makes a good addition to the colours and textures of a herb garden: nursery Architectural Plants calls it a ‘shapely grey blob’ which is a little like damning with feint praise, but you get the idea. Its yellow flowers also attracts huge numbers of pollinators, and I cut springs of the silvery-grey foliage for use in vases and make aromatic herb wreaths out of it, too.  Some education is required to show people that this isn’t the plant to use to flavour your curries: that plant, Murraya koenigii, is too tender to survive in temperate locations over winter.

Lavender

Lavender has the whole package: aroma, flowers, and a surprisingly wide repertoire in the kitchen; I use it for everything from baking to barbecue marinades. Lavender looks great as a low boundary hedge to a community herb garden (try the compact cultivar ‘Miss Muffet’ if you want a really low hedge), or dot it throughout the garden to bring the bees in: its evergreen foliage also provides added interest in winter. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most hardy species, perfect for planting in beds; French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is bet planted in containers that can be moved or protected as temperatures drop. Lavender’s only vice is becoming leggy and sparse after a few seasons, so treat it as a shortlived perennial, taking cuttings to raise as new plants.

Parsley

The seed of this biennial herb is reputed to be difficult to germinate, and there are many tips and tricks to get it to sprout. The strange irony is that once planted in a herb garden, it will self seed around very happily and provide you with many a plant for selling or sharing. If you have several plants, cut all but one down before it sets seed but after it flowers (it’s another pollinator magnet) if you don’t want it spreading all over the place. I love flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) most, and love the huge-leaved variety ‘Gigante d’Italia’, whereas other swear by the curly (Petroselinum crispum), or butcher’s parsley as my mother calls it, has its place – for one thing it’s generally hardier than Italian parsley: it may even be due for a revival.

Chives

I think of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) as the perfect herb garden plant because pretty much everyone recognises it, and very few people object to its flavour. Plus it produces stunning lollipop like flowers every June and can thrive in all sorts of soils and situations from heavy clay to an unirrigated green roof. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, its relative garlic chives aka Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), with flat strappy leaves and white flowers makes a useful addition.

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Jane PerroneWriter, editor and podcaster
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Photo Credits:

Cat Lane (Jane Perrone), Justine Stringer (lavender, allium),Thompson & Morgan ( herb garden)

J