Three weeks ago I saw the most welcome sight: the first flowers on my plum tree (Opal), which is fan-trained against a south-facing wall of my house, and one in which I can see up close from the elevated storm porch at my back door. And I smiled! Soon after, more flowers opened and the bees were buzzing and my heart sang!
This mass of flowers on trees and shrubs, known collectively as blossom, is a welcome sight. Other than early flowering plum trees, Amelanchier lamarckii is another tree that flowers in April along with early flowering shrubs, such as Spiraea 'Arguta', Corylopsis pauciflora and flowering currants, such as Ribes sanguineum 'Pulborough Scarlet'.
So I say, let us celebrate the arrival of blossom as it is done in style in Japan - in the form of the cherry blossom festival, Hanami. Every year between the end of March and early May, people in Japan congregate around the country's cherry and plum trees for 'flower viewing', or Hanami, which is a traditional Japanese custom to celebrate the transient beauty of the flowers (see Wikipedia for more information on Hanami). I think that we should not only embrace this custom but extend it to be one in which we celebrate all early blossoming trees, not just plum and cherry trees.
Our festival can be one that celebrates the beginning of spring and the warmer months to come. After all, there is nothing quite like the sight of early blossoming trees buzzing with bees to bring a smile to your face.
Of note, Helensburgh's Tree Conservation Society will be celebrating the return of the Spring Blossom this Saturday (30 April) in Hermitage Park in Helensburgh. This event will be opened by Lee Stetson, an actor who plays Tom Muir, who will plant a Sequoia in commemoration of the famous conservationist. For more information, visit The Tree Conservation Society's website.
Today, the sun was shining on James Street park - literally and metaphorically. I had a fantastic time talking with local residents of all ages about the vision for James Street Community Garden. I was working alongside the community group who want to see the park used and several council members and councillors at the consultation for the proposed design.
In case you could not make it today, the proposed design for the community garden is shown below. It aims to turn an under-used green space, which is pretty much an uninviting blank canvas into a garden where the community can enjoy quiet play within natural play areas to basking in the sun whilst hearing bees and other wildlife go about their daily business.
The community group had asked me to find an attractive and inspiring low maintenance solution for the park, one that would provide space for parents and children to enjoy and a place for retired people to relax. In particular, the community group asked for a wildlife garden and a natural play space for children.
According to a spokesperson for the community group "The design has met this brief and uses natural materials where possible (and practical), has provided a natural play space for imaginative play, and has creatively turned the wet area into a positive addition to the garden, rather than a negative."
From talking to many visitors to James Street park today, the positive feedback to the vision for the park was incredible with a number of local residents offering to get involved. This is wonderful news because the garden will need a strong community involvement to come to fruition. Efforts will be needed now to raise funds for the project and in the longer term to actively create and then maintain the garden (even a low maintenance garden needs some tender-loving-care).
I look forward to getting involved in making the garden come to life and to seeing it develop. I also look forward to gardening alongside members of the community.
So, in case you did not make it to the consultation, the masterplan and a full description of the design, which makes the most of the site and its conditions can be seen here: Masterplan for James Street Community Garden.
This garden is for the community, so please get involved and also send in your comments by completing the online questionnaire by 30 April 2016 at: http://www.helensburghcommunitycouncil.co.uk.
I am privileged to be involved in two community group projects at the moment. For the first project, I am devising a planting plan and approach to populating the two wildlife pond in Duchess Wood with plant . The second project is the renovation of James Street park for which I have been commissioned to design a new community garden for the space. This design will go out to consultation on Saturday 23 April. Though I cannot say too much at present, the design for the park aims for an attractive, slightly wild space that can be enjoyed by all whilst being low maintenance. Two very different projects with a common thread - wildlife.
For both projects, I am considering native versus non-native plants. Putting the overall aim of Duchess Wood to return it to it’s native state aside, I feel it would be inappropriate to introduce non-natives into Duchess Wood given it’s position in the landscape. The wood is adjacent to regenerating woodland and links to other broadleaved woodland on Glenoran Road to the west and to the north. It would not take much for vigorous plant species to widen their reach. We already see Japanese knotweed on the outer-reaches of the wood that was until recently threatening to encroach this local nature reserve. So I turn to the natives here.
The new ponds in Duchess Wood would support native plants such as the yellow-flowered Iris pseudoacorus, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet), and Juncus sp. - three plant species already found in damper areas of the wood. These native species would be right at home around the margins of the pond along with Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Valeriana officinalis (valerian), and Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) . The pretty sky-blue, though sometimes pink flowered Myosotis scorpioides (water-forget-me-not) would grow well at the edge of the ponds or in shallow water. Whereas, the white water lily, Nymphaeus alba, with its large flowers and leaves, Mentha aquatica (water mint), which has spherical lilac flowers that are loved by pollinators, and Potamogeton natans, with floating leaves that are appreciated by insects, would be happier in the water. Together, these native plants would provide habitat for wildlife in and out of the pond and the oxygenating plants within the pond, such as Potamogeton natans and Myriophyllum spicatum increasing pond biodiversity.
On the other hand, non-natives combined with natives would be far less controversial for James Street community garden. This green space is in the centre of town and bounded by gardens and buildings. In fact, non-natives would be welcome here as they would extend the season. For us, we can enjoy the later flowering plants, such as Helenium, Anemone x hybrida, Eupatorium maculatum, Ageratina altissima, and Aster sp. that give such a wonderful autumnal display. And for the wildlife, the food that some at least of these plants provide long after many of our native plants have finished flowering. I say some - those that are considered near-natives (i.e., those naturally occurring in the northern hemisphere, but not native nor naturalised in the British Isles, and from at least the same family if not the same genus) are better for our pollinators than exotics according to an extensive study carried out at RHS Wisley (1). Though even exotics have their place in providing food for our pollinators.
So in short, my answer to that question - native or not-native - is yes to both, but (and it is a very large but) it very much depends on the context and the wider landscape. These really need to be considered - carefully.
Reference: (1) Salisbury et al (2015). Journal of Applied Ecology 52: p.1156 to 1164
For more information, visit:
RHS website: plants for pollinators
Butterfly conservation: plants for butterflies
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.