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The Story So Far. Part 1: The Pollinator Patch
Can it really be 4 years ago that a small group of us met at my house to discuss forming an FOPR gardening group? As we sat around drinking tea, or wine, (according to taste), we talked about how we could tackle restoration of the rather neglected garden area. Little did we know! Since starting out, we’ve had to contend with the vagaries of the British weather, doing endless battle with brambles and a certain global pandemic……amongst other things. But working with the Council and with the occasional help of other groups, we feel we’re definitely getting there.
The gardens had previously been renovated in 2011 following a community consultation and grant application by a local, now disbanded, residents’ group NBSP which decided on creating a Moth Garden. It would be the first, and possibly only Moth Garden on Council land in the city. Working with the Council, the outline of the beds was designed in the shape of a moth with planting to attract these beautiful, overlooked insects. Sadly, with Council budgets becoming increasingly squeezed maintaining flowerbeds in parks such as the Rec, had to be sacrificed, and the demise of the residents’ group meant a loss of volunteers and the area began to look neglected. When our newly constituted group got going, the responsibility then fell to FOPR, should we choose to take on the challenge. A former member, James, managed to keep things up together for a while, with the help of some students, and other volunteers, but the lack of a regular gardening group made the task almost impossible.
When our new gardening group finally got going on the garden, weeds and brambles had moved in to stake their claim and all the beds were very overgrown. The task seemed overwhelming! But we decided to concentrate our efforts on the large central bed first. We were out to make a statement, and in the process, create something that would be pollinator friendly. Easy peasy? Not so! But fortunately, we did have some help at strategic points.
First task, in 2018, was to move some of the shrubs from the central bed to the perimeter and remove all the weeds, brambles and self-seeded saplings that had invaded the space. It had been suggested that the easiest way to do this would be to use herbicides, but we were determined that as far as possible, we would work in sympathy with the environment. That meant a lot of pruning and digging!! The Grounds Team from the University gave us a few hours of their time, and they really shifted some stuff. Then it was down to our small team of gardeners who beavered away digging up thistles, pulling out brambles and generally doing battle with anything that shouldn’t be there.
The next challenge was planning a scheme and planting it up. We aimed for plants that were designated as ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and between them, had a long flowering season. I’ve always gardened in a rather ‘create as you go along’ fashion, but realised this would have to be done according to a plan. After much agonising over various design features, we started to acquire the plants. We bought quite a few from Mayfield Nurseries in Weston and other suppliers that don’t use peat and pesticides on their pot grown plants. Although I’d considered the soil type, the fact that the bed is in full sun all day and various other salient features, what I hadn’t considered was the availability of the chosen plants. Most suppliers only stock plants when they’re in season, which meant that the scheme had to be executed in a piecemeal fashion over a number of months. Obtaining funds for the project was also a major challenge and we have to thank our wonderful Acting Chair, Bev who is a supremo when it comes to grant applications. We also had some very generous donations from one of our members, and between them they enabled the project to go ahead.
Everything was more or less finished in 2019 and it really began to look good that summer. We hoped it would put on an even better show the following year. Then in March 2020 the lockdown was announced and everything stopped in its tracks. We were all more or less confined to our homes throughout one of the hottest, driest Springs on record. Good for us, but less so for the gardens. We couldn’t get to the Rec to water for many weeks and I honestly thought we would lose most of the plants, which hadn’t had very long to get established. But much to my surprise, the majority of things did survive and went on to flourish.
We’re now faced with the task of maintaining our Pollinator Patch (PP). As is the way with gardening, it’s always ongoing. Some things succeed spectacularly and others less so; it’s a case of constantly reviewing and readjusting.
We’ve decided to tidy the bed each Spring rather than in the Autumn, to provide habitat for overwintering insects and seed eating birds. We’ve also decided to continue watering during drought conditions, to help out pollinating insects, whose food sources would otherwise be scarce. And I can confirm that watering such a large area using only cans is definitely no mean feat! Of course, there is always weeding and pruning, the occasional dividing of perennials, thinning out seedlings and innumerable small tasks that taken together keep the area looking attractive………….at least we hope that’s how you see it. The pollinators certainly approve and below are photos of some of those who’ve visited our PP over the past 2 or 3 years.
We are enjoying a brief respite over the next couple of months but if anyone feels inspired to join us in 2023, you’d be most welcome. Meanwhile we’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
By Denise Long
Click images to enlarge