Motherlode

This one’s been a long time in the writing & means a great deal to me – tracing my family history from our early shepherding roots living alongside the poet John Clare, through 1920s urban Manchester & into the present day. My thanks to Little Toller’s ‘The Clearing’ for the opportunity to share the story with readers…

Sussex Wildlife Trust: Nature Writing Workshop

It was such a pleasure to run this nature writing workshop for the Sussex Wildlife Trust, supported by Arts Council England and MEAction UK. Designed for anyone who enjoys watching nature out of the window, in the garden or in the local landscape, the workshop focuses on sharing experiences and developing our individual creative voices.

If you’d like to catch up with the video on YouTube, the session looks at different ways to connect with wildlife and landscape, how and where to find inspiration, and what form your writing might take. The workshop includes short guided writing exercises that can be developed into longer pieces afterwards. All you need is pen and paper (or a computer) and a natural object (feather, flower, piece of bark, etc.)

This is the first in a series of workshops for the project Moving Mountains. Led by Louise Kenward (writer in residence at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve), Moving Mountains is a new project focusing on nature writing for and by people living with chronic illness and/or physical disability. You can find out more about the project and further workshops at www.movingmountainsanthology.wordpress.com

Mallows in the Meadow

The towpath beside the River Lee is a study in mauve with sprays of Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) sprawling along the verge and out over the water. Often reduced to stunted tufts in managed verges, wilder areas that have been spared the mower allow this jaunty perennial to spread luxuriantly, its stems trailing and reaching up to a metre.

In our wildflower meadow (if a 4m x 1m patch in the lawn merits such a name, which for idealism’s sake we think it does) Common Mallow’s open, five-petalled flowers colour in the gaps between Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis). It was the first flower my daughter learnt to identify and amongst the first I attempted to paint in watercolours, but our affection for this wildflower is just the latest chapter in its long history as a familiar plant growing outside the backdoor or down the lane.

As members of the Malvacaea family, Mallows are related to Hollyhocks (Alcea), Hibiscus and Limes (Tilia). Like Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) and Large-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos), Common Mallow has edible leaves and flowers, but the nutlets or fruits (known colloquially as ‘cheeses’) were the part of the plant most prized by children as a wayside snack.

I like to rewind a couple of centuries and imagine the children in my family munching on the nutty cheeses, a tradition recounted by poet John Clare who shared a cottage in rural Helpston in Northamptonshire with my shepherding ancestors back in the 1820s. In The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827), Clare describes a thresher musing on his childhood:

The sitting down, when school was oer

Upon the threshold by his door

Picking from mallows sport to please

Each crumpld seed he calld a cheese.

I can’t help wondering if, one summer morning in the late 1820s, my young great-great-great grandfather Henry might have picked a fistful of mallow nutlets to give him something to nibble on as he trotted beside his father on their way to tend the sheep in the Helpston fields. While Henry might have been thinking about his handful of cheeses, children in other counties knew them as ‘rags and tatters’, ‘old man’s bread and cheese’ or ‘Billy buttons’.

Mallows were also important for their medicinal properties with both Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta) and Common Mallow collected by the local herbalist in John Clare’s poem ‘The Village Doctress’ to add to her potions. They had a wide range of uses including as a laxative and purgative, and as poultices for bruises, inflammation and insect bites due to the soothing powers of the mucilage in the leaves.

Other native mallows in the UK include Musk-mallow (Malva moschata) with its delicate pinkish or occasionally white flowers in July and August, and slightly later from August to September, Marsh-mallow (Althaea officinalis), soft white with the merest whisper of rose-blush. Marsh-mallow was most valued for the demulcent properties of its leaves and roots – the latter was the original source of the glutinous substance in marshmallows, a sweet treat now commonly (and somewhat less romantically) concocted from sugar, water and gelatin.

Common Mallow’s nectar-rich flowers are a mauve magnet for pollinating insects. In 1999, a study at Cambridge University Botanic Garden revealed that Honeybees (Apis mellifera)and Red-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) were the most frequent visitors to both Musk-mallow and Common Mallow. Hoverflies, solitary bees and Small White (Pieris rapae) and Large White (Pieris brassicae) butterflies are also attracted to the blooms.

Caterpillars of the imaginatively-named Mallow Moth (Larentia clavaria) feed on Common Mallow, although they will forsake their main larval foodplant to feed on Hollyhocks in the garden too. If feeding caterpillars are disturbed, they drop to the ground and curl up, disguising themselves as mallow seeds. Least Yellow Underwing (Noctua interjecta) larvae eat Common Mallow leaves too, while Hollyhock Seed Moth (Pexicopia malvella) caterpillars seek out the seeds of Marsh-mallow as well as feeding on Hollyhocks.

Common Mallow thrives in most soils and is an ideal addition to a wildflower meadow (however small) and any sunny wildlife garden. Marsh-mallow is also easy to grow and its tall (1.2m) flower spikes have an elegant charm at the back of an informal or wildlife border. At the more modest height of 60-90cm, Musk-mallow suits sunny spots in wildflower meadows or the middle of cottage borders. It is a fairly short-lived perennial, but will self-seed.

To buy mallow plants and seeds, try Bee Happy Plants, Chiltern Seeds, Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, Scotia Seeds, Cumbria Wildflowers, Norfolk Herbs, PlantWild and other growers on the Peat Free Nurseries List.

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Both mallows and limes have edible parts, but should be eaten with caution as nitrates in the soil (for mallow) and old flowers (for lime) can cause problems. See the Plants for a Future database for further information.

Nic Wilson and Dogwooddays do not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally. Always ensure it is legal to forage and where identification is concerned, if in doubt, leave it out.

Spread the Word Life Writing Prize

It’s been a quiet year or so on the blog, partly due to family illness and months of home-schooling – the kinds of issues many of us have been dealing with in our lockdown lives. But I’ve also been completing a Diploma in Advanced Non-Fiction at the University of Cambridge, continuing to write for The Guardian Country Diary and contributing to the anthology Women on Nature.

Last month, I was delighted to be one of 12 writers longlisted for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, judged by writers Damian Barr and Frances Wilson, and Catherine Cho, a writer and literary agent.

My piece is an extract from the book I’m currently writing, which explores ways of engaging with everyday landscapes based on my own experiences as a displaced Northerner, a stay-at-home mum and someone dealing with long-term fatigue – a symptom of coeliac disease.

Frances Wilson commented that it was ‘an ambitious meditation on memory and the senses, with its roots in the soil of John Clare’.

If you’d like to explore these new voices and also read my piece (with guest appearances from a puss moth caterpillar, memory-saving bombweed and my two-year-old binoculared self), all 12 extracts have now been collected in an online anthology available to download here.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back on the blog with a series on wild flowers in the garden very soon.

Images from the Spread the Word website

An Exhalation in the Alder Carr

Went for a lovely walk this afternoon that reminded me how vital our wild places are, especially at the moment. This is a piece on the importance of my local patch, first published Friday 9 October in The Guardian Country Diary.

There’s a spring-fed sliver of alder carr shaped like a thought bubble near the source of the River Purwell. Before the pandemic, I volunteered here with the local wildlife trust and I’m often drawn back to this swampy woodland in search of solace and inspiration. Alongside the holloway that skirts the carr’s eastern edge, I learnt to lay a hedge, or ‘plash’ it to use an old Hertfordshire term. On a raised bank unceremoniously named The Dump, I’ve coppiced elder and hazel to allow light to reach the understorey and when life is too loud and angular, I sit with the mosses or settle in the sedges on the riverbank and watch the little egrets fly by, trailing their washing-up glove feet behind them.

As I dip into the wood on this hazy autumn morning, the lopsided basketry of the laid hedge looks familiar and welcoming. After several grim housebound weeks recovering from Lyme Disease, the act of walking into the carr feels like an exhalation, a gentle homecoming. In front of me, as if anticipating my return, the wood’s last surviving black poplar has lowered a drawbridge – a vast plank of riven bark, taller than a woman, now lying across the path. The top half has fractured, sending corky chunks drifting off into a sea of dog’s mercury and hedge woundwort like a disintegrating life raft. This poplar’s days are numbered; already the wood is reclaiming its bare trunk in alder, elder and bittersweet spirals.

Mired in glassy black pools at the heart of the carr, titanic common alders rise twenty metres above the water. I walk across the spongy woodland floor, picking my way warily through the marshy areas, leaving a fenny trail in my wake as each footprint fills behind me. In the waterlogged soil, alder roots are engaged in symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi and the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Frankia alni in a mutually beneficial exchange of nutrients. I rest my head against the nearest alder trunk, feel the rasp of lichen on my cheek. I stand rooted here for a long time, transfixed by the fecundity of life beneath my feet and its invisible impact on the superficial layer – the tip of the iceberg – that we call wood.

Pesticide-Free Plants with the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme

It’s a sultry September afternoon and I’m pottering round the garden, deadheading the dahlias as I go. I can hear the echinacea gently buzzing as a drowsy bumblebee picks its way across the tawny central cone. On the dwarf blue lavender hedge that edges the border, a green-veined white butterfly is also making the most of the late nectar supply.

Bumblebee on echinacea

The flowerbeds have been attracting large numbers of bumblebees, hoverflies, solitary bees, beetles and butterflies all summer long – especially the borage, globe thistles, calendula and red valerian. It is always a privilege to share the garden with wild creatures, especially when they play such a fundamental role in supporting ecosystems and pollinating our crops.

Green-veined white on lavender

Pollinator-Friendly Plants

We’ve tried to choose as many plants as possible for the garden with pollinators in mind – avoiding double flowers, incorporating small areas of wildflowers in the lawn, including a range of flower shapes for different pollinators, adding a mix of plants that bloom from early spring until late autumn and encouraging ivy to colonise the bottom of the garden near the shed to extend the nectar season over winter.

Vestal cuckoo bee on knapweed

We’re often told that even the tiniest patio or window box can grow plants to benefit pollinators – and this is absolutely true. No space is too small. Each individual plot, however modest, is part of the one million acres of garden habitat in the UK, each acre of which (depending on our planting choices) can make a significant difference in the fight against the catastrophic biodiversity declines that have seen a 68% fall in wildlife populations since 1970, according to the WWF Living Planet Report 2020.

But that’s not the end of the story. The recent focus on the damaging effects of neonicotinoids and other pesticides on pollinating insects is highlighting the unfortunate irony of buying ‘plants for pollinators’ that may have been treated with synthetic chemicals. Even if we make informed planting choices, with the best of intentions we could be unwittingly offering a poisoned chalice to pollinators, adding flowers to our containers, beds and borders that could be laced with residues of synthetic chemicals that risk harming the very insects we’re trying to support.

Common blue butterfly

The Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme

With this issue in mind, the National Botanic Garden of Wales recently launched their innovative Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme. When I spoke to Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Conservation and Research at the Garden, she highlighted several problems that consumers currently face when attempting to buy pollinator-friendly plants from nurseries or garden centres. The first issue is that many ‘plants for pollinators’ lists aren’t based on scientific data, unlike the list behind the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme which is backed by many years of scientific research on the best plants for pollinators. Plants with the Saving Pollinators logo have been scientifically proven to support pollinators (based on a strong evidence base of data from the Botanic Garden’s DNA-barcoding research).

Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme logo. Credit: NBGW

Natasha and I also discussed the depressing fact that most of the plants we buy (even if they are suitable for pollinating insects) are still grown in peat – the extraction of which destroys ecosystems and the environment, releasing vast amounts of climate change gases into the atmosphere. The Saving Pollinators logo can only be used on plants grown in peat-free compost – meaning consumers don’t need to choose between supporting pollinators and protecting the environment.

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Conservation and Research, National Botanic Garden of Wales. Credit: NBGW.

Finally, Natasha emphasised the lack of information available to consumers concerning the insecticides that have been used on the plants they are considering buying. I have certainly struggled in the past to find nurseries that can give me any assurances that their plants have been grown without the use of pesticides. To enable consumers to make informed purchases, all plants sold under the Saving Pollinators logo are guaranteed to have been grown without the use of synthetic insecticides.

National Botanic Garden of Wales. Credit: NBGW

I witnessed the widespread desire to make environmentally-responsible gardening choices last September when I compiled the UK’s Peat-Free Nurseries list. I was truly overwhelmed by the positive response to the list, which has already sent many thousands of readers to independent peat-free nurseries across the UK (many of whom are also pesticide-free) and I’m equally excited about the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme which I believe will enable gardeners to support pollinating insects more effectively. It is being trialled initially with growers and nurseries across Wales (some of whom deliver nationally) and Natasha is hoping that the scheme, or something similar, can be rolled out across the UK in the near future.

Garden Schooling: Ladybird Maths

The sunshine has brought out the ladybirds on our snow-in-summer. Some hurry along the raised bed sleepers in between the silvery leaves, clearly preoccupied with ladybird business, while others doze and mate on the warm wood.

10-Spot Ladybird 20_02a (2)

10-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata)

The kids have always enjoyed watching these charismatic beetles with their striking patterns and distinct spots, so we decided to focus on ladybirds for our garden school maths project (with a bit of art and natural history thrown in for good measure). Ladybirds emerge from hibernation during spring, so now is a great time to go on a ladybird hunt. There are over 40 species in the UK, although only 26 resemble what we would generally think of as ladybirds. The number of spots varies between the species from 2 to 24 – ideal as the basis for a range of garden equations. 

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Learning about different species of ladybird

We started by learning about different species and drawing some of the different patterns so we’d be able to identify any ladybirds we found. Favourites included the 14-spot ladybird which we later found on the whitecurrant and the multi-coloured 10-spot ladybird.  Once we’d learnt a bit about the different species we might find in the garden, it was time to get calculating…

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Funky Ladybird

MATHS: CALCULATE AREA

  • Choose a sunny afternoon when ladybirds are likely to be out and about. Begin by measuring the length and breadth of a border, garden or any green space that you have access to – in metres.

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Measuring area

  • Calculate the area of your space by multiplying the two numbers together, to find the area in m2.
  • Now measure out a m2 quadrat in one section of your space (1m x 1m) or a smaller quadrat – maybe 0.25m2 (0.5m x 0.5m) – if your space is restricted. Mark it out with bamboo canes or twine.

RECORD LADYBIRD NUMBERS

  • Count all the ladybirds you can find in the quadrat and record by species on a tally chart. We also recorded ladybird larva, but not by species.
  • Make a bar chart or pie chart to display the numbers and species.

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Ladybird pie chart

  • Work out how many quadrats there are in the whole space by dividing the total area by the area of your quadrat. Round up to the nearest m2.
  • Calculate the estimated number of ladybirds in your space by multiplying the number in the quadrat by the number of quadrats in the total space.

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This pie chart turned into a ladybird

GET CREATIVE

  • Of course, it’s possible that there are not many ladybirds in the quadrat or that those you find are all of one species. If this is the case, imagine some different scenarios such as:
    •  You find 10 two-spot ladybirds, 6 thirteen-spot ladybirds and 3 twenty-two spot ladybirds (feeding on the mildews on your herbaceous plants!) How does this change your calculations?
    •  What would happen if you find 12 ten-spot ladybirds, 9 five-spot ladybirds (you’ve clearly got a Welsh river running through the garden) and 4 beautiful yellow fourteen-spot ladybirds?

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      Ladybirds emerge from the pupae without spots – these develop over the next few hours as the wing casing hardens

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

  • Consider the equations in terms of spots rather than individual ladybirds. How many ladybird spots are there in your total space?
  • Complete the same exercise for the results above in blue and make up some of your own ladybird sums.
  • Throw in a few non-native harlequin ladybirds just to mix things up a bit. They can have up to nineteen spots!

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    Our completed ID chart

DEVELOP HABITAT

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Log piles create great habitats for all kinds of insects, including ladybirds

  • Attract more ladybirds to your garden in future by building a bug hotel to give insects somewhere to shelter. 
  • Avoid using pesticides in the garden – instead encourage natural predators like ladybirds, ladybird larva and blue tits that will eat problem insects such as aphids.
  • Don’t be too tidy – overgrown areas, long grass and hollow stems left over winter are all beneficial habitats for ladybirds.
  • The only disadvantage to creating an amazing habitat for ladybirds is that next year’s maths equations will be far more tricky!!!

For more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be posting another project soon and if you’d like to read about our last projects you can explore the Seed Sowing Challenge and Nature Spells lessons here:

Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…

Garden Schooling: Nature Spells

 

Updated Peat-Free Nurseries List

The response to the Peat Free Nurseries List has been incredible. It’s fantastic to see such interest in sourcing peat-free plants. Thousands of people have accessed the list which now includes 120 nurseries across the UK, from Edinburgh to Cornwall, from West Wales to Norfolk. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me information and used the list.

Agroforestry Research Trust – non-profit making charity researching and educating about agroforestry, focusing on tree, shrub and perennial crops, based in Devon. Online orders cover a wide selection of forest garden plants including more unusual species. The nursery is carbon-negative and sends out plants in biodegradable packaging.

Allwoods – specialist growers of pinks, carnations, pelargoniums, fuchsias and succulents. Plants available online and from the nursery in West Sussex by prior arrangement.

Applewise – nursery near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales selling old Welsh varieties of fruit trees, mostly apple trees. The nursery doesn’t use any chemicals harmful to pollinators. Email or phone to place orders.

Arvensis Perennials – trade nursery specialising in herbaceous perennials, grasses and ferns online and from the nursery in Wiltshire.

Ashridge Nurseries – online nursery based in Somerset, delivering to customers across mainland England, Scotland and Wales and also to the Isle of Wight.

Babylon Plants – wholesale nursery in Oxfordshire supplying garden designers, landscapers and horticulturists. Specialists in growing hardy perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees.

Barnsdale Gardens – Chelsea Gold Medal Award-winning nursery attached to Barnsdale Gardens. Online and nursery in Rutland.

Backyard Larder – Alison is a guru on growing perennial vegetables and other food plants. She writes a fascinating blog about perennial food plants and sells her perennial veg online in as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible.

Bee Happy Plants – small family-run nursery based in Somerset. Selling bee-friendly, seed-raised, organic, wild species plugs, plants and more seeds online.

Beekind Plants – top quality pollinator-friendly plants, packaged in 100% biodegradable plant pots. Plants available online and at farmers’ markets across Suffolk.

Bernhard’s Nurseries – family-owned trade nursery supplying the finest quality plants to local authorities, landscape contractors, landscape architects, garden designers and general trade. Based in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens – propagated from plants grown in the gardens, the Beth Chatto nursery offers a wide range of herbaceous perennials, ferns, grasses and alpine plants with excellent advice on choosing the ‘right plant for the right place’. Available online and from the nursery near Elmstead Market, Essex.

Binny Plants – specialist peony nursery near Edinburgh; also grows a large selection of herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Blooming Wild Nursery – family-run nursery in Somerset selling herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses. Plants available from the nursery. 

Bluebell Cottage and Gardens Nursery – nursery in Cheshire specialising in flowering perennials, run by former BBC Gardener of the Year, Sue Beesley. Plastic-free mail order service and option to de-pot at counter. No neonicotinoid pesticides used.

The Botanic Nursery – family-run nursery in Wiltshire selling online and on-site, focusing on salvia, foxgloves, hollyhocks, peonies and seeds.

Botanica – British grown plants – a wide range including trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and grasses. Plants available online or from the nursery in Suffolk.

Boulton Nurseries – an established wholesale bulk plant nursery supplying plants all over the UK, based in Staffordshire.

British Wildflower Plants – the largest grower of native plants in the UK. Plants grown from seed from known provenance at the nursery in Norfolk and available online.

Bud Garden Centre – bijou, independent garden centre in Burnage, South Manchester selling UK grown plants and peat-free compost.

Caves Folly Nurseries – selling herbaceous perennials, alpines and bulbs online and from their nursery in Herefordshire. They also sell to trade customers and for shows.

CB Plants – traditional nursery in South Somerset selling unusual hardy perennials and herbs, cottage garden favourites and native wild flowers. Plants available at local plant fairs and mail order via the RHS plant finder.

Celtic Wildflowers – with the mission of supporting the conservation of native flora, the nursery (based near Swansea) supplies over 300 species of locally sourced native wildflowers, shrubs and trees for large and small scale projects and pollinator-friendly gardens. Plants available online and via email.

Celtica Wildflowers – suppliers of wildflowers grown in peat-free compost and recycled pots wherever possible. Specialists in pond, wetland plants and wildflower meadow plants and kits for living willow structures. Based in Perthshire.

Chew Valley Trees – large tree nursery near Bristol, selling British-grown quality trees online and from the nursery, also sells peat-free compost.

Claire Austin – family-run nursery, national collection holders of both a Bearded Iris Collection (full status) and a Hybrid Herbaceous Peony Collection (provisional status). Large perennial selection available online and from the nursery in Mid-Wales.

The Coastal Gardener – specialist plant nursery (maritime plants) and garden design practice on the Isle of Wight. Plants available from the nursery.

Corseside Nursery – family-run, boutique succulent specialist in Pembrokeshire. All plants propagated in West Wales in locally sourced organic peat-free compost. Plants available for UK delivery and visits to the nursery can be arranged by appointment.

The Cottage Herbery – quality herbs, aromatic and scented foliage plants, hardy perennials and more unusual edibles grown on the nursery in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. Plants available at farmers’ markets and plant fairs around the country (see website for details) and visits to the nursery on request or open weekends.

Craigiehall Nursery – specialist alpine plant nursery and sempervivum growers based in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Every plant is propagated and grown on site in their own, peat-free compost. Plants available online.

Crûg Farm – outstanding selection of plants at available online and from the nursery in North Wales, run by plant hunters and horticulturists Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones.

Cumbria Wild Flowers – UK native wildflower plug plants available online only. 100% reusable or compostable packaging.

Delfland Nurseries – family nursery based in Cambridgeshire. All module plants are peat-free: wholesale, online and in the nursery shop. Veg grown in compost blocks still contain peat, as do bought-in flower plug plants prior to being potted into peat-free compost.

Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs – retail and wholesale nursery based in Devon. Wholesale plants can be ordered and the nursery also supplies retailers across the England and Wales.

Earthed Up! – nursery based in Belper, Derbyshire selling peat free compost and perennial and resilient edible plants without harmful chemicals.

Edibleculture – proud of being an old-school nursery, Edibleculture sells a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs, native perennials and native hedging plants from its base in Faversham, Kent. They also sell peat free compost in a bag-for-life form.

The Edible Garden Nursery –  one of the leading culinary herb and edible plant nurseries in the UK, based near Okehampton, Devon. Plants are grown cold and without chemicals. Buy online or from the nursery (open weekdays, but check if coming a distance.)

Fawside Farm Nursery – small friendly nursery founded on the principle of growing environmentally-responsible, pollinator-friendly plants that are able to survive the harsh climate of the Peak District

Flora Alive – this carnivorous plant nursery has been growing in peat-free compost since 1990. They sell Thrive, their own peat-free growing medium for carnivorous plants, and have an online plant catalogue. All plants are grown free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. (Website down at the moment, but should be back online soon.)

Gardener’s Cottage Plants – family run organic and sustainable horticultural enterprise based in Northumberland. Herbaceous perennials, herbs and wildflowers available on site or by mail order. Bare root perennials can be ordered online.

Growild Nursery – small, independent nursery specialising in desirable plants and seeds, all grown on-site without chemicals. Based in East Ayrshire, Scotland. Plants available online.

Grow WilderAvon Wildlife Trust’s wildflower nursery selling native wildflowers, herbs, unusual edibles and other garden plants for pollinators from our five-acre site in North Bristol. Organic, peat-free compost and plants are available online, by click-and-collect or by visiting the nursery.

Gwynfor Growers – fruit tree nursery, including heritage Welsh fruit trees. Based in Llandysul, Mid-Wales. Trees available from the nursery and for local delivery.

Habitat Aid – small business in Somerset, selling plants and seeds online, especially native species, all sourced from British peat-free growers.

Hairy Pot Plant Company – Family-run nursery near Winchester, Hampshire growing a range of eco-friendly, sustainable and ethically produced cottage garden plants and herbs in hairy coir pots. Plants available from stockists across the UK and wholesale deliveries in the South of England.

Hall Farm Nursery – family-run nursery near Oswestry, Shropshire. Hardy garden plants, all grown organically on site, available from the nursery.

Hardys Cottage Garden Plants – wide range of herbaceous perennials from one of the UK’s leading nurseries. Online and nursery in Hampshire.

Harriet’s PlantsStaffordshire-based Harriet grows and sells sustainable house plants all across the UK. She hand-picks UK-made artisan botanical wares to compliment her plants.

Hartside Nursery Garden – offering a selection of rare and unusual hardy plants grown in the North Pennines near Alston, Cumbria. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Hawkwell HerbsNorthamptonshire-based herb business providing herb collections, growing in pots of peat-free compost, for use in cooking and runs cookery courses with herbs. Herbs available at local markets in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire.

Heeley City Farm Garden Centre –  Sheffield-based garden centre, selling a range of plants to suit all conditions. All profits from the Garden Centre are used to help fund their many community projects and to feed the farm’s animals.

Hippopottering Japanese Maple Nursery – Japanese maples available online and from the Chelsea Gold Medal winning nursery in Haxey, North Lincolnshire.

Hoo House Nursery – a retail and wholesale nursery that has been growing perennials and alpines peat free for 16 years. Plants available from the nursery in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Howle Hill Nursery wide range of plants and specimen trees for private and show gardens. Open to both professional and amateur gardeners. Call or email the nursery in Herefordshire to arrange a visit.

Humble-Bee Gardeners – nursery in Whitcliffe, Ludlow growing a range of hardy perennials specialising in shade-lovers and bee-friendly flowers. Plants grown without neonicotinoid pesticides, delivered within 10-mile radius of Ludlow.

Incredible VegetablesDevon-based permaculture plant nursery and research site into sustainable food crops and wild edibles that have the potential to become future staple foods. Plants available online.

Jekka’s Herb Farm – family-run herb farm on the outskirts of Bristol, with the UK’s largest collection of culinary herbs. Plants available online and from the farm on Open Days – see website for details.

Kitchen Garden Plant Centre – locally grown herbs available online and from food fairs, markets and by appointment from the nursery in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Knoll Gardens – the UK’s leading specialist in ornamental grasses based in Wimbourne, Dorset. Grasses available online and from the nursery.

Langthorns – family-run nursery specialising in top quality ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, and many uncommon and heritage species that are more difficult to obtain. Plants available online or from the nursery in Essex.

Little Green – house plant purveyor with a green heart. Plants available at the Tobacco Factory Market, Bristol, and other events/markets around the South West. Little Green also has an online shop and will deliver anywhere in Bristol.

Little Green Plant Factory – organic plants propagated on-site at the nursery in Yorkshire. Plants available online.

Little Green Plant Nursery – tiny eco nursery based in Gloucestershire, UK. Range of plants available in 9cm pots; herbaceous perennials chosen with pollinators in mind.

Logie Farm and Garden Shop – based in Forres in the north of Scotland selling hardy plants specially selected for Scottish gardens and peat-free compost.

Long Acre Plants – shade plant specialists based in Somerset. Order online or collect pre-ordered plants from the nursery.

Lovegroves – a traditional plant nursery with trees, shrubs, ferns, climbers and a few of their favourite perennials. Based in Gloucestershire and selling online.

Lowaters Nursery – the wide range of plants grown at this peat-free nursery in Hampshire can be ordered online or bought at the nursery.

Malcolm Allison Plants – unusual hardy and half-hardy perennials, all grown on the nursery in Gloucestershire. Plants available from Stroud Farmer’s Market, at plant fairs and at horticultural events across Gloucestershire and beyond (March – Oct), and online (Oct-March).

Marchants Gardens and Nursery – independent nursery and gardens in East Sussex specialising in grasses and herbaceous perennials, with almost all plants propagated on site.

Meadow Plant Nursery – locally-grown, organic plants available to collect or delivered within 12 miles of Didcot, Oxfordshire. Local supplier of Dalefoot peat-free Wool Compost.

Meadow View Plants – small nursery selling traditional and more unusual cottage garden plants delivered within 15 miles of Tarleton in Lancashire.

Mickfield Hostas Mid-Suffolk based nursery, holders of a National Collection of Hostas almost half of which are available for sale. Plants can be ordered over the telephone or by email.

Moore & Moore Plants – award-winning nursery in Billericay, Essex, specialising in shade tolerant, woodland and pollinator plants. Plants are available online, by appointment at the nursery and at fairs and shows.

National Botanic Garden of Wales – range of peat- and pesticide-free herbaceous and woody plants available to buy at the Y Pot Blodyn Garden Centre in Carmarthenshire, South-West Wales. All proceeds go back into the Botanic Garden’s charitable and conservation work.

National Trust – all plants sold at National Trust properties are grown in peat-free compost and all their gardens are peat-free too.

Natural Surroundings – wildlife gardens and nursery near Holt, North Norfolk. Wildlife-friendly cottage garden favourites and native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, bulbs and seed, all available from the nursery.

New Wood Trees – specialist tree nursery selling British field-grown, multi-stem trees from the 35-acre site in South Devon, home to over 90 different tree varieties. Delivery available across the UK.

Norfolk Herbs – growers and suppliers of naturally raised culinary, medicinal and aromatic herb plants, both wholesale and retail/mail order.

Northern Ark Nursery – specialising in an unusual range of hardy perennials, shrubs and herbs. Plants available online and at the nursery near Morpeth, Northumberland.

Old Market Plants – interior plant specialists based in Old Market, Bristol. Plants available to buy on site.

Paddock Plants – family-run nursery near Southampton, Hampshire selling perennials, grasses, ferns, shrubs and house plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Penlan Perennials – nursery in West Wales specialising in hardy geraniums, ferns, woodland, shade and moisture-loving plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Pennard Plants – edible plants, heritage and heirloom seeds, fruit and herbs. Online and nursery in Somerset.

Pepperpot Plants – family-run herb nursery in the South Downs National Park, Hampshire, growing a range of over 200 peat-free and pesticide-free herb varieties for sale at local retail events, from the nursery and online. Check website for opening times.

Pershore College Garden Centre and Nursery – grower, wholesaler and retailer of plants to the trade and public. National Plant Collections of Penstemon & Philadelphus. Plants available from the garden centre (public) or nursery (trade) in Worcestershire.

Pineview Plants – nursery based in Kent offering mostly herbaceous perennials, especially shade-loving plants, ferns and a wide range of epimediums. Colin and Cindy attend a large number of plant fairs around the South East of England and orders can be brought to the fairs, or an appointment made at the nursery.

Pippa Greenwood – UK Grown, garden-ready veg plants. Dispatched at the right time for planting & accompanied by weekly advice emails. ‘Winter Thru’ Spring Collection now available.

Plants with Purpose – great range of culinary and medicinal herbs, unusual edibles, wildflowers for pollinators and other plants…with a purpose. Grown without pesticides, herbicides or any other chemical applications. Plants available online and for local delivery or collection in Perthshire, Scotland.

The Plantsman’s Preference – selling an extensive range of hardy geraniums, ornamental grasses and unusual perennials (especially those suitable for shade). Based in Norfolk, with plants available online and at the nursery.

PlantWild – family-run nursery based in Northamptonshire growing a range of British native wildflowers. Plants available to order online for delivery throughout the UK.

Polemonium Plantery – organic nursery in County Durham selling polemoniums, a wide range of unusual and edible herbs, edible flowers and plants for pollinators. Available by mail order or from the nursery.

Potash NurserySuffolk-based fuchsia nursery, also sells a wide range of pelargoniums. Plants available online, from flower shows and can be collected by arrangement from the nursery.

Prenplants Sussex Ltdwholesale herbaceous nursery based between Horsham and Billingshurst, Sussex. Selling plants in recycled and recyclable (where councils permit) taupe pots to garden centres, landscapers and garden designers in the South East of England.

Potgang – subscription to peat-free vegetable and herb growing kits (one-off boxes also available).

Quercus Garden Plants independent nursery 16 miles south of Edinburgh, selling tough plants well acclimatised to Scottish growing conditions. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Ribblesdale Nurseries – selling trees, shrubs and perennials on-site in Preston. All home-produced plants grown in peat free compost.

Rose Cottage Herbs – wide range of herbs available online and from the nursery based near Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

The Rosemary Specialist – rosemary nursery, holder of Rosemary National Plant Collection based in Ceredigion, Wales. Buy online.

Rosewarne Nursery – commercial enterprise supplying the nursery trade throughout Cornwall and Devon. Broad variety of plants including Southern Hemisphere plants, coastal plants and good range of hardy shrubs, grasses and herbaceous varieties. See website for contact and visiting details.

Rosybee Plants for Bees – pesticide-free and peat-free plants grown near Wantage in South Oxfordshire. Plants available online, with gardening club and bee keeping visits to the nursery by arrangement.

RV Rogerthird generation family-run Plant Centre and nursery based in North Yorkshire specialising in shrubs, roses, fruit and ornamental trees for supply to the retail and wholesale trade. We are open seven days a week and the nursery has been peat-free since 2014.

Saith Ffynnon Wildlife Plants – wildlife plants grown on the North Wales coast and the Eupatorium National Collection. At least 10% of profits donated to local conservation projects. Plants available online.

Seagate Nurseries – family-run nursery in Lincolnshire including a fantastic collection of bearded iris. Plants available by mail order and on-site.

Seedball – non-profit company selling wildflower seedballs online

Seiont Nurseries – plug and liner producer based in North Wales specialising in new and unusual varieties, especially cordylines, heucheras and hardy ferns. Plants available online or to collect from Four Oaks Cash & Carry in Macclesfield. (Due to increased demand and lack of availability, the nursery is currently 95% peat-free and hoping to be back to 100% as soon as possible.)

SO Plants – country plant store based in Lancashire, specialising in hardy plants for the locality. All homegrown plants 100% peat-free, with many (though not all) bought in plants peat-free too.

Special Plants Nurserynursery near Bath selling a range of unusual plants from across the world including hardy and herbaceous rockery plants, and tender perennials. Plants available by mail order and seeds sold online. Also available from the nursery.

St Andrews Botanic Garden plants for sale (from seed & divisions) in peat free compost and one of the best ranges of peat free composts forests sale in Fife.

Stotts Nursery – hardy plant nursery based in Buckinghamshire selling on-site and delivering up to 10 miles from the nursery.

Suttons – founded in 1806, Suttons is an online supplier of flower and vegetable seeds, young plants, bulbs, fruit bushes and other horticultural products. 

Tan-y-Llyn Nurseries – herbaceous perennials grown without the use of synthetic insecticides or peat at the nursery in Montgomeryshire, North Wales. Plants available locally but website currently out of commission.

Tissington Nursery – family-run plant nursery. Herbaceous perennials available online and from the nursery in Tissington, Derbyshire.

Treseders – family-run nursery in the heart of Cornwall. Plants grown at the nursery using bio-friendly insecticides, no growth regulators and locally sourced material where possible – available online and from the nursery.

Ty Cwm Nursery – small nursery based in Ceredigion, mid-Wales, growing a wide range of perennials, shrubs, bedding, veg, fruit trees/bushes and carnivorous plants. Plants available online and from the nursery. 100% peat-free onsite, most but not all plants bought in (eg. bedding) are sourced from peat-free suppliers. Working towards being 100% peat-free throughout.

Ty Rhos Trees – small family business growing trees in Pembrokeshire, selling a wide range of hedging, ornamental trees, fruit trees and soft fruit to customers across West Wales.

Village Nurseries – family run nursery in West Chillington, Sussex. Seasonal and hardy plants all grown and sold on site.

Wall to Wall Plants – specialist growers of daylilies, hardy gingers, pineapple lilies and complimentary perennials. Plants available online and from the nursery in Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS14 by prior appointment.

The Wildflower Nursery – native wildflower plants grown in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Buy online or contact the nursery to arrange a visit.

Winterbrook Garden Nurseries – family-run nursery using and selling peat-free compost and Posipots online and on-site in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

Woodview Gardens – distributor of quality garden products including peat-free compost. Free delivery within 20 mile radius of Halstead, Essex and distribute through farmers’ markets and regional events across East London, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire.

Peat-Free Compost

It is still the case that peat-free compost is often more expensive than its peat-based equivalents, although buying online in bulk with friends/family and sourcing locally can reduce costs. However, I don’t believe it is acceptable to damage one habitat (peatbogs) in order to improve another (our gardens), especially when alternatives do exist. I’d rather reduce my compost use and garden a little less, so that I can afford to buy peat-free…

Dalefoot Composts – large range of exclusively peat-free composts, including ericaceous, seed, bulb, tomato and multipurpose compost. I have always had excellent results with Dalefoot products.

Melcourt SylvaGrow Composts – another large range of exclusively peat-free products with growbags, multipurpose, ericaeous and organic composts. Widely used by nurseries and gardeners across the UK.

Fertile Fibre – coir-based composts, all peat-free, including potting, seed and multipurpose. Coir is sourced from organic coconut waste and is dehydrated and pressed before being shipped to the UK to make the process as efficient as possible. 

For Peat’s Sake – dehydrated coconut coir compost blocks available from many stockists across the UK and online.

Blooming Amazing – peat-free soil conditioner and mulch produced as a by-product of the UK’s first commercial biomethane generating plant on the Duchy of Cornwall estate.

Earth Cycle – peat-free top soil, turf dressing, soil conditioner and cow compost, produced in from composted green waste from household and businesses across West Sussex. Products available online.

YorganicsNorth Yorkshire-based company Yorganics, makes this peat free compost from the green waste recycled by people living in North Yorkshire, City of York, Leeds, Bradford, Rotherham and Sheffield. Available from a number of recycling sites and retailers including Booths.

Pro-Grow – peat-free soil conditioner available online or from Household Waste Recycling Centres throughout Hampshire.

Plate 2 Plate Compost – peat free compost from household food waste, woodchip and coffee grounds. Based in Leeds – collects waste from postcodes LS2, LS3, LS4, LS6, LS7, LS8 and LS18 and returns as compost for a fee.

New Horizon Peat Free Compost – widely available peat-free compost produced by Westland. (Westland also sells peat-based composts)

Happy Compost – peat-free compost by Bord na Móna. (Bord na Móna was established as a peat company but has now formally ended all peat extraction on its land.)

Bulrush Peat Free Multipurpose Compost – 100% peat-free compost. (Bulrush also sells peat-based composts.)

If you would like to read more about the importance of peatland to the climate and biodiversity, here are some related articles:

Why is Peat-Free Compost So Important?

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Peatland: A Nature-Based Solution to Climate Change

Why Peat is Good For the Climate and Nature: A Guide

Why We Need To Keep Peat in the Ground and Out Of Our Gardens

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NB: I have taken information from nursery websites and, where this is not clear, I’ve contacted the nurseries for further information. While the majority of nurseries on the list are, as far as I’m aware, using 100% peat-free compost on-site and sourcing peat-free plants as far as possible, some are not yet able to source all plants for sale and plant material for propagation and growing on completely peat-free.

With more nurseries going peat-free and a lack of availability of growing media at times, some nurseries might, at some points, revert to using small amounts of peat in the short term. Where I’m aware of this, I will add a note to the listing. For the most up-to-date information on the peat-free status of individual nurseries, please contact them. 

Many thanks to David Morris for the beautiful image of pristine raised bog in the Nigula Nature Reserve in Estonia.

Garden Schooling: Nature Spells

This week dawned sunny and cold – new and strange too. But life with kids doesn’t give you much time to pause and think (a blessing at times), so we’re moving onward with a new garden school project involving poetry, nature and art – to get us all out in that bright, life-affirming sunshine.

We decided to write wild acrostic poems based on the spells in The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. For those who haven’t yet experienced the mesmerising images and spell-binding acrostics in this magical book, they aim to re-animate our relationship with the natural world –  returning to children (and adults) some of the words that were removed from the Junior Oxford English Dictionary in 2007.

Nic Wilson - Reading her First Poem

‘Fern’ – the first poem my daughter learned to read aloud

These words – acorn, bluebell, fern, kingfisher, newt, otter and more – were discarded in favour of more frequently used words in modern children’s vocabulary such as chatroom, blog and bullet point. The apparent redundancy of words connected to the natural world highlights the way childhood experiences have shifted as our kids become more focused on indoor, technological pursuits and ever more distanced from the world outside their back doors.

We are intending to use a couple of the nature spells as a starting point for an English and art project. We’ll be learning to read them aloud, working out how they make us feel and why, and then writing our own illustrated acrostics based on our experiences in the garden. If you don’t have a copy of the spell book, it’s a beautiful resource – especially for the next few weeks – which we’ve used time and time again. Or you can use other nature poems as inspiration, or just do the acrostic writing activities.

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Thinking about how the poem ‘Bluebell’ makes us feel

ENGLISH: WILD READING

  1. Choose a nature acrostic or other nature poem that you like to read. If you don’t have a copy of The Lost Words you could buy it from an independent bookshop or online from the Natural History Book Service (I don’t get any commission!!) The spell ‘Otter’ is also available to read on Jackie Morris’ website. Or you could read some of these other beautiful nature poems:

‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ by T. S. Eliot

‘A Dragonfly’ by Eleanor Farjeon

Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth

‘Whirligig Beetles’ by Paul Fleischman

‘The Eagle’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Little Trotty Wagtail’ by John Clare

‘Firefly’ by Jacqueline Woodson

‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy (for older students)

2. Practice reading the poem aloud, thinking about the sounds (rhyme, alliteration, repeated sounds or phrases, short or long words, rhythm) and how the poet uses these to create meaning.

3.  Find somewhere outside (if you can) to record your nature poetry reading to send to a friend or relative. You could include a few comments at the end of the video on why you particularly like this poem – or if you are reading the poem over Zoom, Skype or another live platform, have a chat with your ‘audience’ about how the poem makes you both feel and why.

WRITING AN ACROSTIC

  1. Choose a plant or animal in your garden or in a local green space. Write a list of adjectives to describe your plant or animal – thinking about its colour, size, shape, smell and sound.
  2. Think about any associations your subject has in nature – maybe your plant is often found growing alongside streams (like Celandine) or with other plants (like daisies and dandelions in lawns). Or your animal might prey on other animals (like sparrowhawks on bluetits) or feed on plants (like snails on my lettuce!)
  3. Find a simile or metaphor to describe an aspect of your animal or plant. Maybe the colour of the hyacinths is ‘as white as freshly-fallen snow’ or the sound of the goldfinches flying over reminds you of the pealing of distant bells.
  4. Research a little about your chosen subject – does it have associations with myths or other stories, with certain seasons and weather, is it facing particular challenges at the moment – perhaps its habitat is being destroyed or there is conservation work being undertaken to protect populations around the UK?
  5. Use these ideas to write an acrostic which conjures your plant or animal into being on the page.

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    My daughter’s final poem – based on ‘Bluebell’

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

  • The John Muir Trust has a series of excellent resources on The Lost Words – including ideas on analysing the poems and also covering a wide range of other subjects, eg. science, art, history, craft – which can be found on their website.
  • Look at Jackie Morris’ images that accompany the nature spells – can you find the words spelled out by the golden letters? Can you find the absence of each plant or animal and then its picture on the following pages?
  • Do some sketches of your chosen word – then use these as inspiration for illustrating your own acrostic.
  • Write and illustrate some more acrostics to make your own Lost Words book.

OLDER STUDENTS

  • Find a natural object, plant or animal in your garden or a local green space that interests you. Take photographs and do sketches – from different angles, in different lights – use these as the basis of a mood board to capture its essence – its ‘quiddity’. 
  • Create a piece of art – in any medium – based on the mood board, which depicts the absence of your subject. You might want to consider the different ways Jackie Morris conveys absence in her art – look at her use of white spaces, outlines, feathers, bubbles, stems and negative images.
  • Watch the YouTube video ‘Charm on, Goldfinch’. Using Jackie’s art and Beth Porter’s lyrics and music as inspiration, paint your own watercolour or compose your own song based on a favourite plant or animal, considering any challenges it faces in the modern world.

For updates on the nature spells project and more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be posting another project soon and if you’d like to read about our last project you can explore our Seed Sowing Challenge here:

Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…