April 30

What’s missing?

I am at the stage with the wildlife plot where I can stand back and consider what we have and what is missing. Last year I realised that we didn’t have any floxgloves and so we have spent this spring planting a whole range both wild and cultivated. They’ll all end up as one pinky-mauve colour in the end but at least we should have some. The other thing I noticed that we are missing is umbellifers. We have Verbena bonariensis (I think this plant counts as one) but we need more.

Anthriscus sylvestris – Cow parsley in my garden.

I’ve looked through a range of books and come up with a list that will provide some of these flowers for as long as possible across the year.

Ammi majuswhiteJune – August
Verbena bonariensispurpleJuly – October
Giant fennelyellowJuly – October
DillyellowJune to August
Daucas carrota ‘Dora’purpleJune – August
Angelica sylvestriswhiteMay – June
Seseli gummiferumwhiteMay – July
ValerianwhiteJuly – August (Thanks for the suggestion Belinda.)

This means umbellifer flowers from May to October, six months, with many pollinators enjoying these flowers. I have started sowing seeds and have Ammi majus that are large enough to go out and Daucus carrota on their way but still a bit small.

April 26

Cucumbers by numbers

I bought a packet of Cucumber ‘Carmen’ seeds. The average number in the packet is 4 so I was a little disappointed to only get 3 – but someone has to if it is an average. I think they are what Charles Dowding grows or I just picked them out and didn’t look too closely at the price and seed numbers. The packet cost me £4.99 so that is £1.66 per seed. This might be the most expensive seed I have ever sown. Usually, seed this expensive is F1 or even F2 but it doesn’t say this on the packet although I can find examples of these packets which say F1 on google.

All three seeds germinated (phew) so no losses yet. They have been potted up and are in the unheated greenhouse, growing on until I put them in the polytunnel. Tesco organic cucumbers cost £1 each. It probably isn’t enough really and with the Netherlands not exporting cucumbers this year, I am counting on these. They will only need to grow 3 cucumbers on each plant to make them financially viable. This number allows for compost and pots in the cost.

I am also growing my stalwarts Crystal Lemon and Marketmore both inside and outside as they are prolific and my usual worry is how to use the numbers of cucumbers they produce from three of each plant. I’ll keep you posted about what happens.

April 17

Spring greens

The colour green has been around a long time in art, one word that covers a whole host of bluey greens, yellowy greens and everything in between. It is particularly relevant to this time of year for a northern hemisphere gardener when spring is on its way and the garden is a multitude of greens representing renewal and rebirth amongst other things.

Euphorbia polychroma

A yellowy-green or is it a greeny-yellow could be called chartreuse, the name coming from a drink the Carthusian monks created in the 1600/1700s. They blended many, many herbs together – no wonder it came out a shade of green – named it Chartreuse and sold it as an elixir for long life. Apparently, it was enjoyed so much people started to drink it for the taste alone.

This seems to be a recurring story in monasteries. The Benedictine monks at Buckfast Abbey here in Devon created Buckfast Tonic Wine, a caffeinated drink originally made as a pick-me-up that used to be sold in Scotland as a cheap way of becoming intoxicated, particularly for those under the age of 18. Not quite the legacy or elegance of Chartreuse.

In the garden, it is a colour that lights up a darker corner, stands out from the crowd and screams ‘Notice Me!’ and goes so well with purples and reds and oranges. I have quite a lot of it to remind me in spring that things are on the move.

Fiddlehead fern

Slightly less yellow and you end up with what I call fiddlehead green, lime green or the HEX code #57E960 used by computers to communicate the red, green and blue colour value.

Fiddlehead ferns unfurl (try saying that quickly) in spring to reveal a light green that darkens over time. Called fiddleheads because they look like the scroll at the top of a fiddle or violin, they can be picked and eaten if cooked when they are supposed to have a taste somewhere between aparagus, broccoli and spinach. They are, however, poisonous if eaten raw and so I haven’t ever tried them myself.

The fiddleheads are large ferns and can reach over a metre high if the conditions are right and wave their greenery around in breezes. They keep a fairly dry patch of the garden looking fresh and as if there is far more damp around than might be expected. They look good under trees, out in the open and on banks in dappled sunlight – I have them in all three places and wouldn’t be without them.

How about some greens working together?

That’s the thing about greens in leaves, they always go together so here we have the yellowy-green of Penstemon pinefolius from California and the patterned green leaves of Cyclamen hederifolium. I really like the combination of greens in these two plants but I can’t take the credit for it. I planted the Penstemon but the Cyclamen planted itself in the little gap between the concrete edging of the bed and the tarmac of the drive. The coum (the tuberous bit the leaves and roots come off) is now almost the size of a dinner plate and spreading all over the edges of the drive.

The greens in the Cyclamen are more the racing type green in the centre with almost a grey-green outside that with some lighter edges to it that are nearly white. Each cyclamen plant has its own pattern and colours so no use trying to match them.

For a green with a hint of silver and on a completely different scale to Cyclamen, you can’t beat Globe Artichokes. These are big plants with serrated leaves that hang down. Sheltered by the greenhouse, it was so warm here in the garden this winter that the plant never lost its leaves, something they do up on the allotments, and so it has fruited a lot earlier than I would normally expect. These are dramatic plants which add a touch of glamour to a planting scheme. They do have a chemical in them called cynarin which can be bitter and hard to wash off your hands after you have handled the plant. The chokes of the flowers are delicious and I prefer to eat mine the french way, peeling off each segment, dipping it in mayonnaise and then scraping the flesh off with my teeth. Not something for the faint-hearted.

And finally, a very silvery-green not made out of pigment but caused by a host of white hairs fuzzing over sage-green leaves which is usually an adaptation for plants from hot countries to prevent water loss. This is a buddleja, a fancy one at that, but whose name I have forgotten. Once the shrub flowers, I will take photos and try to find a name for it. You can see the flower buds inside the protecting new leaves. Eventually those buds will hang down from the stem and the flowers will have a bell-like shape in purple-pink.

Something I always think about with these plants is how many different ways can you spell buddleja or buddleia? Which do you prefer? I bet the spelling with the i is the original and it has now been replaced with a j. Anyway, either works.

As the year goes on many of these greens will darken and fade so that freshness and symbol of growth and the year to come is at its strongest now. This is why I love spring greens so much.

This post was written as part of the #Wordpress #WordPrompt project where a different word is given each month to write about. This month’s word is #Green.

April 15

Trees trapping moisture

In Permaculture you are encouraged to find as many functions as you can in each element you use in the garden/land that you have. Trees are one of those elements that are a must; food forests are ubiquitous nowadays, and on permaculture courses you are often prompted to list all of their functions from food and fuel to leaf litter which enriches the soil. But one of the key things trees can do is harvest moisture from the air such as when it is misty and deposit it on the land.

We have had several days of sea mist this week with a couple of days when it hasn’t cleared at all. This morning was misty again and the picture shows clearly the damp spots on the ground where the mist has collected in the evergreen trees and then eventually fallen. Unfortunately it is on to tarmac so they won’t benefit from the moisture but this is going on wherever there is a tree.

Or so I thought until I walked down my road home. Here, there is no damp patch under the enormous eucalyptus, the small damp patch you can see is from the silver birch just past it. As Eucalyptus are a drought tolerant tree coming from hot places I wonder if they have some mechanism whereby they retain the water in some way through their leaves, bark, trunk etc. Silver birch don’t perhaps because they are a temperate climate tree.

You learn something every day!

Category: april, trees | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 17

The biggest bang for your buck with bees (and other pollinators)

I have been looking a lot at lists of plants for bees and butterflies because I made myself a promise that this year I would add plants to the wildlife plot so that  there would at least one more that flowers each month.

So many people have lists and they each have different plants on them which I think suggests that actually it is quite site specific and what bees in one part of the country go for is not always the same across the country. Lists that I use are:

  • RHS – very good list of loads of plants classified according to when they flower. I am using the plants for gardens list but they also have a wildflower list and a plants of the world list. The wildflower list has plants for ponds so that will be useful. They also have three research papers based around Plants for Bugs – bees and other pollinators, plant-dwelling invertebrates and ground-active invertebrates with some interesting findings which I will talk about in a separate post.
  • The Wildlife Trust doesn’t have the biggest list but almost everything that is on it is in the wildlife garden – not surprising because the whole plot was set up by the Devon branch.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has plants divided into groups according to whether they are shade or sun-loving.
  • The Butterfly Conservation trust has a list of plants for butterflies, many of which are on the RHS list but also has a caterpillar food plant list.
  • Goulson Lab created by Dave Goulson, an expert on bees and other insects in the garden, has a list with stars for their desirability by pollinators.

Bang for your buck!

So, what has proved most popular on the Exmouth Hamilton Lane wildlife garden? In March and April, the plants that have had the most pollinators are:

Red-tailed bumble bee on Vinca major

Buff or white-tailed bumble bee on Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’.

Something unidentified yet on the grape hyacinth








  • Vinca major – this has been full of a range of bumble bees and other pollinators (Western bee-fly) and yet is not a plant on any of the lists!
  • Skimmia japonica – this plant hums with pollinators every time you walk past it and smells delicious
  • Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’ – this is a member of the comfrey family and drips with pollinators in both the sun and semi-shade. Again, this particular type of comfrey does not appear on the lists.
  • Grape hyacinths for pollinators other than bumble bees


April 4

Climate and weather

Module 5 of the online permaculture course is all about climate. It’s important because climate helps to refine a design. But how does it do this?

Knowledge of climate can help us:

  • choose the correct techniques, e.g. raised beds or beds dug into the soil that can be flooded
  • choose the right sort of plants and animals
  • choose the right sort of materials to use and whether we want to insulate or build in thermal mass, e.g. greenhouses in cold climates with insulating walls, the amount of ventilation needed in a house.

It is often said that Britain doesn’t have a climate, it has weather. Friends of mine from the centre of France only understood why the British were so interested in the weather when they lived here. In France where they lived, the weather was fairly consistent from day to day and over the seasons. In fact, the weather used to be set for day after day after day whereas here we can have rain, shine, snow and a storm all in one day.

So, what determines climate?  There are seven factors which affect climate: Latitude, ocean currents, elevation, topography, near by water, prevailing wind and vegetation.


The nearer to the equator the the more sun  because the sun hits the equator more directly and in a more concentrated manor. The earth is tilted 23.5 degrees on its axis and this means that for half the year the north is tilted towards the sun and then away from the sun (and vice versa for the south) so the rays hit the earth at a different angle and intensity than they do at the equator. The latitude of the equator is 0° and for the Britain 50°  (Cornwall) to 60°  (Shetland Isles). Exmouth is 50.6°N.

Ocean currents

Ocean currents are a very important element for the climate of Britain. As a small island, in comparison with Europe, we are very affected by them. A line drawn from London around the globe would pass through southern Siberia and near Hudson Bay in Canada yet London is much milder in winter. The reason for this is the ocean current, specifically the Gulf Stream which brings warm water from the Caribbean.

Devon has the longest coastline of any region in the UK, having coastline on the north and south of the county.


In general, for every 100m that you go up, the temperature drops by 1°. Air is less dense at altitude, the molecules are more dispersed than at sea level. As a result of this the molecules do not bump into each other so much and therefore produce less heat. In Exmouth we are at sea level so there is no reduction in the temperature due altitude.


Topography is how the geography of the place affects the weather and ultimately the climate. Hills or mountains can create rain and the weather can be different on the windward or leeward side. There can be a funneling of winds due to the shape of the land and a large body of water such as a lake or reservoir can also create milder temperatures.

The west of the UK is higher than the east through plate movements many, many years ago. The prevailing winds are south westerly and this means that there is a lot more rain in the west compared with the east. However, Exmouth is in the rain shadow of Dartmoor as evidenced by the comparison rainfall chart for Princetown on Dartmoor , windward side of the moor and Exmouth (leeward side of the moor). Our rainfall is about half or less of that in Princetown.

Princetown in mm 219 169 162 109 120 116 112 133 156
Exmouth in mm 88 69 62 63 64 61 59 67 60

We are in a temperate climate with cool, wet winters and warm, wet summers but that is not the same for the whole country. The south east is cold and dry in the winter and warm and dry in the summer. The north west has mild winters and cool summers with heavy rain all year round and the north east has cold winters and warm summers with steady rain all year.

The nearest place to Exmouth with a different climate is Gran Canaria which has a sub tropical climate with hot summers and mild winters and is a place many people from the UK visit in the winter.

The Koppen-Geiger Classification

This is a climate classification system based on the vegetation that grows in a place because plants depend on temperature and precipitation to grow. There are 5 climates – A. tropical, B. Dry, C. Temperate, D. Continental and E. Polar.  These are then divided into sub-categories according to level of precipitation and then the level of heat. The UK is Cfb which is temperate (or ocean), the f stands for no dry season and the b is the temperature of each of four warmest months 10 °C or above but warmest month less than 22 °C. Using maps based on this system from 1901 to 2010 it can be seen that there is an increase in aridity across the world and a decrease in polar regions.

The USDA hardiness zones are used world wide to denote the type of plants that will grow in that region. Most of the UK is zone 8 but here in Exmouth we are in zone 9 meaning that the lowest average temperature is -6.7°C.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has its own hardiness classification but applies it to plants rather than locations. It works on the theory that we all have microclimates in our gardens and therefore can place a wider range of plants than one overall rate of hardiness might suggest.