Growing intent

The first of the plants has now gone in.  For no especial reason this was a honeysuckle, or rather two of them taken from my own garden.  To generate these new plants I capitalised on honeysuckle’s useful trait of sending out stems that root wherever they make contact with the ground.  Back in August a few rooted runners were found underneath the original mature plant, and these were then gently dug up and potted on.  To hold the stems in place (my garden is really windy) a few short lengths of wire were bent into hairpin-like shapes and then used to pin them securely.  In late September, after a least a month’s root growth, the umbilical cords from the parent plant were severed.    

Honeysuckle: the first plant to go in at the roof top.

There is something truly wonderful about the fact with almost no effort, and given a little patience and forward planning, you can produce plants for free.  There are so few things left in life that are free that everyone should be shouting about this.  The propagation of plants is a great partnership between people and nature; it is a shame that not everyone knows the pleasure.  It is one of the most sensible and satisfying things that I do.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether the honeysuckle will meet my expectations.  This plant has a reputation for being vigorous and this is exactly what is needed to cover the wall, given appropriate support, with luxurious foliage and a mass of sweetly-scented flowers that will hopefully entice pollinating insects from across the city.

Jasminium beesianum on the left and a tayberry on the right.

The other two plants that have gone in are a red-flowered jasmine (Jasmine beesianum) and a tayberry.  Both are known to be vigorous and they can fight it out for space in their new home next to this sunny, west-facing wall.  Large and juicy tayberries will surely attract the birds, although I am hoping that we might get to try some too.

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Build it and they will come. And they did. Well, it did. #RebootingEden #Sheffield #RooftopGarden

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On Sunday 9th October 2016, we finally started moving plants on-site at the DINA Rooftop Garden, and things started happening immediately.

After some anticipated delays, we moved approximately 100 plants on-site. Not 100 different plants but 100 individuals and quite a diverse collection. It was a genuinely emotional moment as we re-potted some of the plants into larger containers and watered them with water we had collected from the roofs, gathered into the adapted barrels we bought.

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To witness the event, we also had Ben Court, an undergraduate student in journalism from the University of Sheffield, to document the event for one of his assignments.

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Fran being interviewed by Ben, in the shadow of the soon-to-be-demolished Grosvenor Hotel.

Also, thanks to Andy Cropper who has volunteered some regular time to the project, and helped us do some preliminary work on the roof.

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Like I said before, I am the brawn and Fran is the brains, and she has done a lot of work at home already, seeding and nurturing plants that we have gathered from various donors, and here is an immediate result, our first bee.

Result.

We have a long way to go, and with winter approaching, we won’t see much for a few months, but it feels good to see something happening.

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Getting seedy

Our project has received a generous donation of seeds from Christos Papachristou, of Ecotopos  landscape consultancy.  The seeds are mainly herbaceous perennials plus a few annuals, all of which come with particular wildlife benefits.

The many packets of seed, confusingly in recycled packets.

Achillea filipendulina ‘Cloth of Gold’ – attractive to butterflies but be warned, it is a prolific self-seeder and will take over given half a chance.  Deadhead spent flowers to prevent seed development and avoid numerous seedlings the next spring.

Aquilegia vulgaris, columbine – beautiful flowers that are good food source for bees and other beneficial insects.

Centaurea scabiosa, greater knapweed – butterflies are unable to resist this plant’s charms.

Cucurbita pepo, courgette – as well as being delicious to humans, bees will visit the large trumpet-shaped blooms.  In fact bee pollination is essential; no bees, no courgettes.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower – nectar and pollen for the insects; seeds for the birds.

Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss – a wildflower par excellence, attractive to bees, moths, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

The distinctive nodding bonnets of Aquilegia vulgaris.

Eremurus spp., foxtail lily – tall spikes covered in scented flowers that are beloved of honey bees.  I must admit I have had little success with growing these from bulbs, only one out of five flowered in my garden – perhaps growing them from seed will produce better results?

Hypericum perforatum, St. John’s wort – a good food source for both honey and bumble bees.

Knautia arvensis, field scabious – an excellent all rounder with pretty lilac-blue flowers that serve bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies.

Linaria purpurea, purple toadflax – often seen hanging out in old walls and other difficult situations, it is a long-flowering species, sometimes going from May through to October, and is attractive to bees, hoverflies and moths.

Malva moschata, musk mallow, a pretty and drought tolerant perennial that hosts both bees and butterflies.

Phacelia tanacetifolia – an annual plant with plenty to offer honey bees, bumble bees, hoverflies and moths.  Bee keepers sow fields with this plant to aid their honey yields.

Prunella vulgaris, self-heal – the common name refers to this plant’s medicinal properties.  Forming a creeping carpet, and often seen growing in meadows, the small long-lasting purple flowers are a favourite of bumble and honey bees.

Sanguisorba officinalis, greater burnet – a large burnet with distinctive red flowers held aloft on tall stems; it is visited by both bees and butterflies.

The large yellow flowers of courgettes are like beacons to bees and other pollinators.

Salvia sclarea, clary sage – a biennial or short-lived perennial that is attractive to bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca, pale yellow scabious creamy pincushion yellow flowers that are especially attractive to hoverflies, which appear to prefer white and yellow blooms.   

Silene marítima, sea campion – as its name suggests, this low-growing semi-evergreen plant is a coastal specialist, growing on cliff tops, making it well adapted to wind exposure and free-draining soils.  The small white flowers are notable for attracting bees.

Growing plants from seed has both advantages and disadvantages.  Seeds are usually cheap and, if germination goes well, it will lead to a large number of plants, which is exactly what the DINA rooftop garden needs.  On the flip side, germination is not as easy as chucking seeds in some compost, standing back and watching them sprout.  Over the years I have met with mixed successes.  The worst failures can probably be blamed on trying to sow seeds in-situ in my garden where the veteran ash tree casts just a bit too much shade meaning that the soil never quite gets warm enough for germination to occur.  More recently I have been sowing in trays in my greenhouse and the results have been more promising, although only a small proportion of the seeds have produced seedlings.   Given the large quantity of seeds donated by Christos, there is a chance to sow half now and half next spring.  In theory this will increase the chance of success – watch this space for updates.

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40 more plants and growing

Two days ago Richard and myself were kindly allowed to raid his Mum’s garden and we gathered together 40 plants for the project.  The haul was a combination of unwanted plants growing in the wrong place and the offspring of other plants that were set to take over.  You could say it was a fair trade: we helped make some space in the garden and got loads of free mature plants that will be ready to go this autumn.  Win-win.  We need more people to advantage of our garden clearance service!

Plants from Richard’s Mum’s garden.

Anemone hupehensis – a personal favourite of both mine and the bees with large saucer-shaped flowers on tall stems that emerge in late August and continue through until October.      

Aquilegia vulgaris (probably) aka columbine, granny’s bonnets – no cottage garden is complete without this classic plant.  The distinctive, nectar-rich flowers are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects, however many of the commercially available Aquilegia varieties are double-flowered and should be avoided as they contain much reduced levels of nectar.

Bergenia cordifolia, this evergreen stalwart makes excellent ground cover although it likes a bit of shade, so we will most likely be using it for underplanting larger shrubs.  One of the season’s earlier flowerers, emerging in March, Bergenias are attractive to both bees and butterflies.  Their leathery leaves are readily devoured by snails and slugs, which will provide a little extra protein for visiting blackbirds.

Cyclamen hederifolium, ivy-leaved cyclamen, is in flower from September and will hopefully continue right through until November.  We also wish to acquire C. coum, eastern cyclamen, which blooms from December right through until March.  Together these diminutive plants with disproportionately large flowers have a lot to offer insects visiting the garden in late autumn and winter, when nectar and pollen sources are more scarce.  Both species prefer partial shade, so they will be used to create low-growing carpets underneath shrubs. 

Autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium

Digitalis purpurea, foxglove – few things are as idly pleasurable as watching a bee disappear right inside the trumpet-shaped foxglove flower in search of food.  Pollination is primarily carried out by a single bee species: Bombus hortorum, the garden bumble bee, which comes equipped with an especially long tongue for the job.     

A shrubby Hypericum, although I am not entirely sure which one as yet.   The hoverflies found it almost immediately, so that is an emphatic yes!

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A hoverfly visiting one of the distinctive flowers of a Hypericum spp.

Primula veris, cowslip –  one of Britain’s classic wild flowers and closely related to the more widely-known primrose found growing along woodland edges and in damp soils.  The cowslip favours sunny sites and a well drained soil, making it much more suited to a rooftop habitat

Sanguisorba minor, salad burnet –  a generously self-seeding plant with edible, although not to my tastebuds, evergreen leaves and small flowers that are visited by bees and butterflies.

Veronica gentianoides or possibly V. spicata – hopefully it will turn out to be the latter as it is attractive to butterflies.  I will soon know as the former is said to be evergreen.

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Paradise on a shoestring

Committing myself to the DINA rooftop garden project seems like the most natural thing in the world. Having run out of room to do anything more in my own garden, and with many spare plants lying around, I am only too happy to get my hands on some extra space to design and have fun with.

Then came the realisation of how difficult it is to maintain a rooftop garden. Apart from the odd sheltering wall, the site is exposed to the wind and will suffer the extremes of downpours and droughts. Though I knew that a carefully chosen selection of hardy plants could potentially thrive here, I was worried about who is going to do all the watering when the summer sun bakes the soil dry? At least there is potential for rainwater harvesting using strategically placed water butts to collect the run-off from slanting roofs around the perimeter.

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Plants and seedlings from my own garden potted up and ready to be taken to the rooftop in the coming weeks.

Aside from the horticultural challenge there is the other small matter of having no money to invest – surely we must be mad to embark upon such a scheme? Creating something from nothing to benefit nature is exactly what I wish to be doing right now. It feels like a positively defiant act in a world where money talks so loud that it drowns out birdsong and silences the hum of insects. What Richard and myself are engaged in is about so much more than making one successful garden alive with invertebrates: the plan is to demonstrate what can be done on a shoestring aided by the goodwill of others.

Because the garden will be made out of whatever can be cobbled together, and any generous donations that come our way, the idea of a design aesthetic is low down the list of concerns. After all, this is a place for non-human animals and they only care about habitat quality. Areas specifically intended for nature are few and far between in urban environments, with most green space dominated by closely mown grass and well-manicured plant borders that are designed to please the eye. The DINA rooftop is a chance to generate some eclectic spontaneity, a space where nature’s ‘untidiness’ can lead the way without being limited by ideas of style and taste.

My hope is that the garden will ultimately be judged on whether it can provide an, albeit temporary, home for urban nature. This is an ambitious aim and it is important to not lose sight of the fact that one roof, surrounded on all sides by tarmac and concrete, can only do so much. If urban wildlife is to be given a realistic chance then this idea needs to be embraced by other city centre dwellers with access to a rooftop or even a balcony. A patchwork of many vegetated roofs would help insects and birds to navigate the city via green corridors above street-level, and make the link with suburban gardens and the countryside beyond.

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E is for Eden, F is for Firethorn #RebootingEden

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First day of actual work on the DINA rooftop garden, I did three hours of sorting rubbish and sieving soil from the existing two half-barrel planters on the roof. The two planters just crumbled when I attempted to move them, so I sieved out all of the crap that had been dumped in them and rescued the two plants that I could; a self-seeded Buddleja and a stunted Pyracantha, which just so happens is on our planting wish-list.

When I say “our” planting wish-list, I mean Fran Halsall‘s (the photographer, not the swimmer) planting wish-list. She is a long-time friend who just so happens to know all about plants, and the practical business of gardens, and is free enough to act as a consultant on the project.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fran-Halsall/e/B005OROB2M/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

It’s a long story but, suffice to say, I am the brawn and she is the brain.

On technical projects, I’m usually Brain, but when it comes to gardening, I am nothing more than Pinky. So here’s a technical thing:

The wildlife present in one of the long-neglected planters.

Here are a few shots from today’s efforts:

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A growing collection of stuff. Lots more needed.

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Reclaiming the soil from the abandoned planters.

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Some actual wildlife. A tiny centipede in the centre.

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The first plants. A rescued Pyracantha and a self-seeded Buddleja.

Lots more soon…

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DINA Rooftop Garden

Coming soon…

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