notes from the garden shed: august 2017

Gardening books refer to the June Gap: a phenomenon (typically in June) when there is a shortage of forage flowers available for bees. In recent years, with the disturbance in the seasonal patterns it has been well into midsummer before the “gap” arrives. So we’re lucky (and so are the bees) that this empty gap is now being filled with some notable non-natives.

Most of us can recognise Buddleia, the so-called butterfly bush from central and south-western China, that now decks the railway embankments not only attracting butterflies but I also once saw two Bee Hawk-moths, feeding like mini hummingbirds on a bush right outside Waterloo Station!

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The other two notable non-natives seen along the railway embankments and on bits of rough ground are the Evening Primrose and Oxford Ragwort.

The Evening Primrose (originally from Mexico and central America), as its name suggests mainly flowers in the afternoons and evenings to attract its moth pollinators but now seems to flower most of the day making lovely stands of soft milky yellow. It probably originally escaped from gardens but now seem quite at home everywhere.  

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Oxford Ragwort is a hybrid (one of its parents comes originally from Mount Etna in Sicily). It started life over here in 1690 as a specimen at the Botanic Gardens Oxford where one day it jumped the wall and is now found in most of the UK – not welcomed by farmers as it’s poisonous to cattle but in London it’s another welcome late summer flowering plant and especially for the beautiful day flying Cinnabar moth whose black and yellow striped caterpillars warn that it’s putting the plant’s poison to good use.

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Cinnabar moth caterpillar feeding on Oxford ragwort

Cinnabar moth caterpillar feeding on Oxford ragwort

These shortening days should remind us all to start planning for winter crops. In the Skip garden we practise ‘successional sowing’ anyway – plenty of time to sow more summer vegetables like carrots and peas and get a crop. But we’re now thinking ‘short day’ crops like Pak Choi and other oriental leaf.  We sow Claytonia (Miner’s lettuce) for winter vitamin C and the glorious Leaf Beet ‘Rainbow Chard’ to light up our winter mornings with their glowing stem colours.

Happy harvesting fruit & veg to one and all!