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Gardening and Wildlife
Primrose Garden habitat
The garden is open for guided tours only.
The water vole, kingfisher and bat are all locally important species who
might use the site and are at risk from habitat loss. All natural
places support a different range of plants and animals depending on the rock
type and climate they are in. Wherever it starts from, bare rock or
pond, the vegetation will go through changes over time which eventually
result in this special assortment. It is the plants and animals that
inhabit a place (as well as other factors) which change it so that new
plants and animals find it easier to live there which then grow there. They
might change the soil, the amount of food available or the humidity, this is
The rock type and climate of an area, together with the species already
there, can therefore give an impression of what other species might grow on
a site, and how that might change in the future we can then use this
information to grow the right sort of plants in the garden. This means that
the local wildlife will find conditions in the garden more suitable, plants
will thrive there and so need less input from us, and little will be thrown
out of balance.
Tactics of some plants
Some examples of what the plants on the site are doing:
Goat willow colonises damp ground and heavy soils, it dries them out so that
less tolerant trees can grow there. Bramble suppresses more vigorous
weeds, allowing shade tolerant trees to grow up under it. Nettle holds
on to disturbed, fertile soil. It draws the fertility into its leaves and
then at the end of each season it puts it back into the soil in a form that
other plants can make better use of.
The brush hedge is an ideal site for invertebrates, particularly spiders.
Low nesting birds like robins and wrens will also use it. These
all make good predators of aphids and other insects that would damage garden
Willow catkins provide an early source of nectar for insects. Their foliage
also supports a range of insect larvae. The foliage on the site is quite
thin and high, as a food source it would be improved if coppiced.
Nettle foliage is an important food source for herbivorous insects as the
plant is generally left alone by the larger herbivores. Populations of
carnivorous insects (such as the lacewing larvae shown in the picture) can
build up in them which (being more mobile than the herbivores) can also
visit garden plants and help control aphids.
Large flat flowers like the hogweed provide food for hoverflies, whose
larvae and adult feed on aphids, the stems also provide winter homes for
these sorts of garden predator, the seeds are an important food source
for birds in winter.
Bramble fruits keep the birds and small mammals well fed, they may take less
of a share of cultivated ones.
Dry stone walls provide nesting holes for birds and winter homes in much the
same way as the brush hedge. Tree trunks, especially rotten ones, provide habitats for a different range
of invertebrates as well as providing roosting sites for bats.
Salix caprea (Goat willow)
Used by Gypsies to make clothes pegs for sale. The fresh growth is too
brittle for most basketry work but can be used where little bending is
required. The leaves and, most often, the bark can be used for dying. The
branches with catkins are used to decorate churches on palm Sunday.
Acer pseudoplanatus (Sycamore)
The timber is often grown as coppice for woodturning, or as it is fast
maturing and does not warp, for furniture. Local craftsmen have been using
large sycamore trunks for making drums. The tree makes an excellent wind
break near the coast, as it is able to withstand salty winds better than
other hardwood trees. The tree under which the Tolpuddle Martyrs met was a
sycamore, and is still standing.
Rubus fruticosus (Bramble)
The bramble is a very useful plant apart from its obvious berries collected
for eating in early autumn. The berries can also be used for dyeing cloth
(whether you want them to or not). The stem can be dried and made into
twine, or they can be used whole for weaving. Bramble covers a large area of
ground but only roots at either end of the stem; thus they suppress shade
intolerant weeds with very little root competition. It is because of this
that they make a good nurse species for shade tolerant tree seedlings (like
oak). The stem (with prickles still on) also make quite an effective cat
Epilobium angustifolium (Rosebay willow herb)
Rapidly colonising disturbed ground, the plant brightens otherwise bare
sites such as demolished buildings and waste ground. The outer stems can be
dried and made into twine whilst the downy seeds make excellent tinder.
Urtica diocea (Nettle)
Nettle is another of the really useful plants on the site. In early summer,
the young leafy tops can be boiled and eaten, they are also the parts mostly
used to yield a light green dye, although the roots can be used. Later in
the year, the stems can be dried and used to make very strong rope. The
fibres can also be extracted and spun to make rough cloth or paper. Nettles
make a good tonic tea and were harvested in the second world war for
Fraxinus excelsior (Ash)
The ash is a very useful timber tree. Its wood is strong but not brittle, it
therefore makes ideal tool and weapon handles (the word ash comes from the
Nordic aesc which means spear). The keys (fruits) were often pickled and
eaten. The light shade it casts makes it an ideal standard to grow over
Heracleum sphondylium (Hogweed)
The hogweed stems are hollow and ideally suited to making peashooters (for
children of course). The stems should be dry first as they contain traces of
a chemical that can harm sensitive skin. Earlier in the year, the young
shoots are edible like asparagus, although other member of the same family
as hogweed are very poisonous so care needs to be taken when identifying the
plant. When the leaves are more mature and bitter, they were used to feed
pigs, which is where the name comes from.
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)
Hawthorn timber is very hard and can be used for carving and other fine
work; it matures a golden orange if left in the sun. The leaves can be eaten
in salads when young; the berries are also eaten in jams or used made into a
wine. Even the thorns can be used being relatively strong; they were used to
make fishhooks. The thorns also make the tree and ideal stock proof hedge.
Senecio vulgaris (Groundsel)
Gathered by children to feed guinea pigs.
Rannunculus repens (Creeping Buttercup)
To tell whether or not someone like butter!