July 24

Gardening in a Changing World by Darryl Moore part 5

Plants as possibilities.

In the early 1900s a Swedish botanist, Gote Turesson, discovered what he called ‘ecotypes’ of plants which is the same plant but with small genetic changes depending on where they grew. Understanding the ecotypes of plants provides a better fit of plant to place with climate, soil, latitude and altitude giving the greatest range of ecotypes.

How can this prepare us for the future? Well, some ecotypes are better adapted to warmer temperatures and so may help in a changing climate. Different ecotypes offer different rates of carbon sequestration and oxygen provision. Variations in leaf size and shape offer alternative responses to light and moisture. They can extend flowering seasons and therefore will be suited to different pollinators. Now, instead of saying right plant, right place we can say ‘best plant in the right place’.

Since 2012 Sjoman working at Gothenburg Botanical Gardens has been looking at ecotypes in trees to ensure the best plant not just when it was planted but for long-term success. His focus on drought tolerance of trees means that it will be possible to diversify the trees planted in urban areas. And we know from earlier chapters that a greater diversity in plants + a greater diversity in wildlife plus a greater likelihood of surviving temperature changes.

James Hitchmough has been focusing on this when looking for plants for his new house in Dorset and his research with Sjoman and others suggests that adaptation of trees in urban areas needs to be studied in greater detail to match the tree with the specific site, e.g. near a pavement or a busy road. The limiting factor here is lack of knowledge.

Plant communities are not, as previously thought, in competition with each other. Many plants have positive interactions known as facilitations where one species alters the environment for another and enhances their growth, reproduction and survival. This might be through reducing temperature, moisture or nutrients. Trees do this by moderating the light levels underneath them as well as the moisture content and alters the nutrient levels through leaf drop. Some plants will provide shelter for others such as in windy environments and enable it to survive in conditions it wouldn’t normally. This can also be planned for in changing climates.

But what about what is going on underground? Roots do not just anchor a plant into the soil but also transports carbon into the soil and extracts nutrients and water for growth and reproduction. The microbial populations assist in adaptation to environment as do the plants themselves. Different leaves when they decompose offer different nutrients and this will affect individual plants within a community. This leads to the idea that if the microbiome of the soil is varied so will our microbiome be as well. We’ve moved a long way from colour theory here . Could we offer planting schemes that provide particular bacteria to people walking through them?

You can read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 if you click on the links.

July 21

Butterfly Count 21/07/23

A bit of variety today but only because I went down to the wildlife garden to count in the afternoon. It was much windier and less sunshine. This is definitely the week of the peacocks though.

At times there were up to 4 peacocks on one flower of the buddleia. I wonder if that is because they are starting to go over and so the small flowers with nectar are all at the end of the group. The small white was on the fading Nepeta or Catmint and the Gatekeeper on a Geranium leaf.

In this picture you can see the probiscus of the Peacock on the flowers.

July 20

Butterfly Count 20/07/23

Do you think I am seeing the same butterflies each day? I get the feeling I am but never mind. Here are todays beauties. The Gatekeeper or Hedge Browns are really enjoying the Marjoram or Oregano flowers at the moment. We have white and pink and they seem to prefer the white.

I might have been getting my Painted Ladys and Red Admirals a bit mixed up. I have them sorted for today!

July 20

Gardening in a Changing World by Darryl Moore part 4

Plants as processes.

Ecological planting can take many forms. One form is biogeographical in that plants from a certain area are grown together as a community. The communities have developed over a long time and are often used for historic situations as they are almost a restoration method of planting.

A second method is to take plants that exist throughout the world in similar situations and put them together providing more flexibility but novel communities. For example, here in Exmouth where we garden on dry, coastal sand with large pebbles, we are able to grow a large range of New Zealand plants that come from a similar type of environment but the other side of the world. Here the aim is a general naturalistic impression rather than a direct copy, but one where plants are more liable to support themselves with minimal intervention.

Whichever method is used, they both aim for the idea that diversity is healthy.

In the US there is a lineage of naturalistic planting often using native planting. Prairie planting ws driven by a romanticised view of the landscape – landscapes as seen by the white settlers. But what they were not was landscapes free from human intervention because the indigenous people had been ‘working’ them for aeons. The flora were not natural communities but those that had established after bison had been through and disturbed the land to which the plants had become adapted.

This type of planting should change over time as the plants seed and move around the area. In fact, this is the only constant of this type of planting. Van Sweden and Oehme developed this style of planting with grasses and perennials on quite a large scale. The were less interested in colour, but more interested in texture, height and drama. Colour was just left to do its own thing.

Rainer and West moved this style of planting on a stage with the layering of plants to fill every niche including complete ground cover. Annuals are also included particularly if there has been significant ground disturbance during the design. Balancing the needs of people and plants: the range and type of plant with what people find beautiful is a system of plant communities that shows great promise. It is something that I am trying to find my way with on the wildlife garden.

In the 80s we started to see the Dutch ‘new perennial’ planting as shown through Gerritsen and Oudolf where naturlaistic planting was mixed with modern design. Wild planting with strong design. They rejected the idea of continuous and intensive labour to maintain the gardens but meant that they needed a different palette of plants such as wild plants and ornamental grasses. In fact, this led to the development of the Oudolf’s nursery so that they could obtain the plants that they needed and wanted for their designs. Oudolf is the surviving member of this group and is interested in plant colour but he considers the flower’s shape and seed heads first, then the leaf shape and texture and then colour. He is the master of plant structures and shapes once they have lost their leaves so that they look good into winter. This type of planting relies on careful selection of plants, something Oudolf has been researching for many years.

Recent work such as Hitchmough and Dunnett has focused on random planting of species, sometimes through seed mixes to explore how communities and individual plants are responding to climate change and therefore provide useful indications of the future of vegetation, particularly for urban areas.

In Britain, work was undertaken to look at newly built on areas and not importing top soil but using what was present, disturbance, clay, rubble and shale and linking planting that remained arund teh outside of the housing site to planting within and around to create a richer and more diverse stimulating environment for the people who live there.

This cleared teh way for Hitchmough and Dunnett and the Sheffield school of planting, their most high-profile planting being the Olympic Park in London in 2012.Although the worked together on this, they do have distinct ideas on the relationship between ecological and aesthetics. What does tie them together is their scientific rigour of ecological planting. The university is a hotbed of research focusing on the relationship between planting and people in urban areas.

James and Helen Basson are using science to push forward the art of planting in the south of France where it is hot and dry. They focus on water-conscious methods of planting and research the stress-tolerance of plants and the communities they inhabit. So, the landscape may use Rosemary but eh Bassons will use up to 20 varieties that flower at different times, some of which will come from drier parts of the region such as Greece and Turkey and which will work with severe drought. This means that as the climate changes and becomes hotter the planting will survive. Most planting is in in 10cm of gravel mulch to help root run with deeper levels of gravel where they are deemed necessary. Whilst they do import materials, they do not irrigate and therefore waste precious resources. The gardens are constantly changing because some plants have shorter lives, lavender, cistus and rosemary about six years, and they prune or what they call ‘goat prune’. This replicates the grazing which takes place in the wider environment.

The Bassons have created a large database of plants based on where they grow best with many variables and are now useing AI to help process the data. This means that they will be able to identify which plants will become over dominant in an area and what the ideal balance of species is to make the community diverse and complex. Future factors they would like to add in are things such as scent and to link to climate databases. Phew. Garden design by AI!

You can read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 if you click on the links.

July 20

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve read a lot of Kingsolver recently. Demon Copperhead for one book club and Unsheltered for another and now Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which I loved. In fact I am just going to list all the things that I loved.

  • Her choice of vegetables. If I had to choose key vegetables I would choose the same as Kingsolver chose. As I write this in July and we are sinking under a mound of courgettes and almost eating them at every mealtime. I am going to chop some up and put them in the freezer for soups in winter but I really couldn’t face the amount of time she spent in the kitchen in August preserving all that food.
  • The idea that we can decide how we feel about cooking at the end of the day. Is it a mind-numbing chore or is it an act of love to bring everyone together around something that is good for us but also provides a social occasion for a family. I choose an act of love and health.
  • She’s funny. I am still chuckling at the thought that we ask our young people to delay having sex, wait until they are a bit older, but we can’t wait for tomato season. We buy them all year round and eat them even when they are tasteless winter blobs. In fact they are like that in the summer if you buy them from a supermarket. Or, how about when she had to teach her turkeys how to have sex because it has been bred out of them.
  • Living on what you can get locally. Kingsolver and family had animals for eating. It requires that we research local suppliers and then buy from them. I love the idea that our money can be put to good use within our community. Farmers were having a hard time when she wrote the book in 2008 but they are having an even harder time in 2023. Climate change is happening and affects what and how we grow.
  • “We all may have some hungry months ahead of us, even hungry years, when a warmed-up globe changes the rules of a game we smugly thought we’d already aced.” p325
  • Secretly, I hanker after doing the same thing. I would have to be a lot more organised and think more carefully about how much of each thing to grow but I do have the space and some know-how. I would start in May and I would really have to think about winter because I don’t have the space to freeze everything to keep us going all winter but I do have a polytunnel.

Were there things I wasn’t so sure about in the book? Yes. Her daughters never appeared to argue about wanting things they couldn’t have – perhaps they had been talking about this way of living for several years so they had bought in to the idea. They do come over as a rather perfect family. But, how do you live without lemons? I have grown 4 this year, all tiny. Not exactly abundance so the things we would have to go without might be quite a lot. I don’t eat many bananas so that isn’t a problem. Maybe I ought to start growing lemons a little more seriously.

This book is one woman and her family’s journey. It isn’t mine or yours and so I think if we take the principles we can all have a go. It’s just that some of us might have more disagreements (!) along the way.

July 17

Gardening in a Changing World by Darryl Moore part 3

Plants as pictures.

This section of the book is a brief history of the styles of gardening and how we have ended up where we are.

Gardens have always been the province of the wealthy with land, and still are to a large degree today. As an expression of wealth, taste is very important and tastes have changed over time. From the very formal garden with a lot of labour to manage it, to those where the plants are left to a degree to make their own place in the garden, there has been a steady march towards more holistic, plant community planning that leaves gardens for people and wildlife.

I’m going to start with William Robinson and his version of naturalism. The planting he designed had plants from across the world not just natives and he was concerned with planting a plant where it would not need any further care. Whilst he tried many combinations of plants, one that has survived is the naturalising of narcissus and daffodils in the grass and around the base of trees. His was a style of gardening that showed the ecological requirements of plants which we still use today.

Next up is Jekyll and her use of colour through the use of flowers with this lasting for as long as possible in the year. She was the first colourist, probably due to her training as an artist and using colour theory based on the colour wheel. She treated plants as items to be arranged in a prescriptive manner and this lasted for a long time in UK gardens.

The next step forward was Lawrence Johnston who took over where Jekyll left off but introduced the idea of formality through garden rooms at Hidcote. These rooms were then themed as were some of the borders, e.g. the red border, the white garden where plants were categorised according to a feature, e.g. colour rather than naturalistic or environmental relationships. This was further developed by Rosemary Verey with her iconic laburnum arch underplanted with bulbs – often purple.

Alan Bloom then set up a garden using the plants in his family nursery, Bressingham, where perennials were used, planted in islands in the grass. These were designed to be seen from every angle and consisted of plants used based on form and colour – like annuals were previously used.

Sandra and Nori Pope developed the colourist idea to the nth degree with beds of all one colour, e.g. plum and playing with tones and hues. This was a high maintenance garden which ended when they left. They went on to manage West Dean where they took their ideas about colour but there were also vegetables and shrubs and trees in this different garden.

Eckbo started to think about gardens for people but John Brookes develped this much further with his idea of outdoor rooms. Now we have outdoor kitchens, but back in his day he developed a modular system for creating spaces based on the geometry and measurements of the house in relation to the garden. In fact our patio is the size it is because I followed his guidance on using the height of the house and width to create the right sized space. It worked! Brookes used the crossover between architecture, art and landscape in his gardens.

Christopher Lloyd used what he called mixed borders where herbacious and shrubs and bulbs and anything else were all planted together. He used the whole of the plant to see where it fitted in – height, form, colour, changes throughout the season, soil preferences and changed and updated planting througout the seasons. This was a very high maintenance, labour intensive garden which really took off with the employment of Fergus Garrett as Head Gardener. Since Lloyd’s death, Garrett has introduced a more ecological form of planting with plant selection and knowledge of their characteristics as key to the beds.

Beth Chatto was a near contemporary of Lloyd and is famous for her ‘right plant, right place’ ideas aided and abetted by her husband who studied and collected plant communities from around the world. Her boook Green Tapestry showed that colour was not the deciding factor in creating beds and her other titles reflect her ideas of right plant, right place: The Damp Garden, The Dry Garden, Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden and Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden. I have them all! Living in a part of the country with very little rainfall, Chatto was ever aware of the changing climate and how we need to change our gardening for the future.

The current trend is for more naturalistic gardens, thinking beyond flowers to ecological interactions: plant communities that can be more resilient when faced with unpredictable weather – hotter and drier and wetter and which need less intervention and fewer resources such as water and fertilisers. These plant communities work together to improve the soil health, create habitats and assist biodiversity.

You can read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 if you click on the links.

July 16

Big Butterfly Count on the wildlife plot

There is a great animation made by the BBC and voiced by Dave Goulson about the importance of insects.

This week is the Big Butterfly Count organised by the Wildlife Association. You can find out more about it here, but I usually do several counts on the wildlife plot. Here is todays 16/07/2023 at 9.30am standing by the buddleia

July 10

Gardening in a changing world by Darryl Moore part 2

Plants as panacea

There is a phase ‘plant blindness’ which is used scientifically to describe those people who do not notice or acknowledge plants, think animals are more important than plants – including humans – and who don’t recognise their use in our world. Plants are non-threatening, unlike some animals, and can usually be easily removed. There are some that can’t. Just talk to people with Japanese Knotweed on their property. They therefore are less able to fight back and we then enter a vicious circle of not living amongst plants, becoming distanced from them and then relying on the natural world to help heal us. Just think of prescriptions for gardening, forest bathing and other methods of becoming immersed in nature. There is an irony here that we rely on the very thing that we mistreated to treat us.

There is a lot of talk about rewilding or regeneration agriculture and its misuse to ‘sell’ a product. Those who are undertaking this work over time alongside the scientific community are doing sterling work but it is hard to rewild in a garden – difficult to have animals with hooves in a small city plot. Another term that might be more useful is ‘reconciliation ecology’ where the idea is to discover how to modify human areas of habitation to include as a wide a variety of species as possible. This is probably what I am aiming to do on the wildlife plot, I just never had a name for it.

Green plants are the starting point for all terrestial food chains and many insects are confined to one food plant or group of related species – diversifying plants generates many different food chains.

. . . the ecological value of the management of gardens is an important tool that can be used to increase biodiversity and ecosystem functions in the face of the climate crisis. The questions is: how can these benefits be maximised most effectively, and are gardeners up for the challenge?


This is my problem with this book. I thought we were going to find out how we could do this. Nope. Not yet. At present it still reads like a series of articles for an academic journal put together in a book.

Of course, gardeners are not ‘plant blind’, quite the opposite in many instances but their actions can have a very negative effect on the natural world. It’s that trifecta of plastics, peat and pesticides. We have to give them up.

You can read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 if you click on the links.

July 10

Surviving the heat and drought on the wildlife plot

Not everything on the wildlife plot has survived the heat and drought with no watering but some things have done well and so I thought I would list them as we are all going to need more of this type of plant.

First of all is the Nepetas that were planted two years ago. I chose Nepeta racemosa which is a taller Nepeta identified on the rosybee website as being one of the best for bees. Rosybee undertook six years of research to see which of the plants bees landed on the most, so for instance out of 4 types of Nepeta the racemosa variety was the one that the bees went to the most, bumble bees in particular. But this has also proved to be a popular plant for others as well. We have had Mint moths on it and earlier this month a Hummingbird hawk moth (not easy to capture on camera), both of which are day-flying moths.

First off, the Hummingbird hawk moth. You just can’t capture these with a still image because they are never still so here is a very short film if you can’t see the one above. Play it back at half speed by clicking on the cog at the bottom of the film screen and then playback speed. At half speed you can see the moth in a bit more detail.

Nepeta is a plant used by a lot of wildlife and has flowered well and for a reasonable length of time in the heat. The plant has flopped with the temperatures but that isn’t a problem. You can also get a sense of the plant from the video too.

This picture is the best image of the moth I could get with my phone but it also shows the plant with its small flowers which give an overall blur of blue.

Next off is the Echinops ritro – a steely blue globe on top of a stick. Usually covered in bees of all types but this one had a snoozing ladybird probably escaping the heat inside it. These are very tolerant plants and I suspect that this one is Blue Globe. They spread slowly and divide very easily. This one is a division moved in the spring of 2022 and has taken well with no watering apart from when it was transplanted.

The plant is a native of southern Europe and western Asia, both quite warm, dry places inland and is a type of thistle.

I think it is flowering slightly earlier this year than usual – it’s usually more of an August flower.

This is what I know as a curry plant because if you crush the leaves they smell like curry, perhaps. It’s not a smell that everyone loves but it has narrow grey leaves which tells us that it is good in heat and drought and has small yellow bobble flowers. Its official name is Helichrysum italicum and has been flowering for at least a fortnight now and looks set to continue for a while.

And finally, a bit of a marmite plant, that is not one that you would place in your garden but one that might put itself there.


I know it has a bad name, is poisonous for horses etc, etc but the fact is that horses will only eat it if they are in an over-grazed field and there is nothing else to eat. It is a plant that supports about 30 insects many of which only live on ragwort and is an important source of nectar and pollen. And guess what?

It is very, very drought tolerant!

Here it is in all its glory.

And finally, just because I am focusing on moths this year, here is a wonderful video of moths flying.