The stand just before the gates opened
Another exciting week as the intern - The inaugural Wildlife Fair at the Beth Chatto Gardens, a garden of great renown just outside Elmstead Market, provided ample opportunity to get out and about. We and other local wildlife and conservation organisations, set up stands and gave talks and demonstrations, sharing our work and enthusiasm with an excellent crowd.
Mark Nowers, the warden for Wolves Wood and Stour Estuary, ran a fantastic and well-attended moth event, opening a light trap set the day before. We found 25 species, some of which were rather charismatic and all of which were enthusiastically identified by Mark, quick-fire-fashion. I tried my best to keep up with recording a legible list!
Later in the day he helped over 30 children make
bird-themed badges. It was great to see so many young people wandering
around wearing these, and no-doubt some of them will have learned a new
bird name too.
One of many treble-bar moths. This one posing on the light-support bar.
Shirley Boyle, the Project Officer for the Flatford Wildlife garden, gave a bustling talk on wildlife gardening, using the whole site as an aid to teaching.
I manned the very busy stand almost throughout, and had many interesting and fruitful discussions about local reserves, Flatford, and the Homes For Wildlife activity. It was really good to see so many people interested in our work, and in nature more generally.
As an aside – the Beth Chatto Gardens are perhaps best known for their Gravel Gardens – areas of extremely well drained substrate, mulched with gravel and planted intelligently to produce something which is simultaneously visually spectacular and intellectually stimulating, but which isn’t ever watered once the plants are established. They call it a ‘horticultural experiment’ but to me it is quite inspirational, as it demonstrates that intelligent planting - what Beth Chatto famously called ‘the right plant for the right place’ - can have a real impact beyond the immediate environment. Every drop of mains water is processed and moved using energy, and so our taps contribute to climate change. Moreover, water has to come from somewhere, and over time we have removed a great deal from valuable wetland habitats, in many cases damaging them greatly. With growing demand for our finite water resources, reducing consumption is becoming necessity.
I’d be wrong to write an entire post without even mentioning what we’re doing at the Flatford Wildlife garden. This week saw the completion of the new three-bay compost bin, mostly from bits of chestnut not quite good enough for the boardwalk. This will be a great resource for the garden, ensuring that nutrients are recycled back into the beds and reducing any future need to bring in compost from outside. I’ll be reporting on our compost right here in future posts!
So here we are, a week after the official opening of the garden and - importantly for me - five weeks since I joined the RSPB team at Stour Estuary. I’m the new intern, and over the next eight months I will be working with the staff and volunteers to make the garden as good and as relevant as it can be, while learning all I can.
As time passes, plants grow. Even within the five weeks I’ve been here I’ve noticed borders fill out, and the floral composition change as some plants come to the end of their flowering season, and others begin. Most spectacular for me has been the transition within the ‘Entrance Garden’, just to the right of the wonderful carved arch. So recently the bee-filled Salvia ‘May Night’ dominated this bed, but now as it fades into the background the fantastic Aster ‘Monch’ is stealing the show. It pleases me greatly to think that where I see a colourful and beautiful border for months on end, pollinating insects see an almost continuous source of essential nectar and pollen. In gardens at least, it seems you can have your cake and eat it.
Working with nature is the essence of the gardener’s craft; after all, you won’t get far without respecting the seasons and the particular requirements of your plants. So it seems a short hop from understanding what you need to do to make the most of what nature gives you to thinking a bit harder and giving something back. It’s reassuring that the Flatford Wildlife Garden manages to do this while being both well laid out and attractive. It feels as it should, like a sanctuary for people and wildlife.
Over the remainder of my internship I will do my best to blog on the interesting work we’re doing, on my experience of being an intern, and on whatever catches my eye in the developing garden. No internet experience beats a walk and a chat however, so if you are able to make it to the garden do come and have a look around for yourself.