I’m passionate about raw, artisanal honey. Which means that I’m fervent about forage provision. So Saturday was the day for some incremental planting in our edible (for bees and humans) Leathermarket Gardens project.
On our way to plant a couple of fine passion flowers (passiflora caerulea), we met three of our intrepid Southwark Council gardeners, who were just finishing extending our edible planting border against the wall and preparing the ground for a new bed where an acacia tree used to stand.
They explained enthusiastically their plan to transplant a mature lavender bush from Southwark Park to act as a “book-end” to the planting bed. And then they nodded at the wildflower strip. With narrowed eyes. “But we‘re leaving that to the grass“.
Good for them. I have never been a supporter of the “wildflower meadow in London” whimsy, so it was enlightening to hear a professional gardener disparaging the quaint conceit of the seed-pedlars. Yes, I’m treading on a few toes here (and quite a lot of vested interests, too!) by debunking the urban wildflower meadow fad.
The gardener told us about a wildflower patch in Bermondsey Spa Gardens: “The first year was fine. It looked good. But by the second year it was taken over by creeping thistle, and by the third year it was back to grass”. I know that place well. I pass it on the way to my allotment. I have observed it closely over these three years. Now look at it:
Wildflower meadows in London are like firework displays, flashy and ephemeral. Up like a rocket, as they say, and down like a stick. There’s a world of difference between and our sustainable, edible plantings in Leathermarket Gardens: we have apple trees, currant bushes, a variety of flowering herbs, honeysuckle, jasmine, quince and now passion fruit. These burst into leaf and blossom every year, providing free forage for bees and colourful fruits for local Bermondsey residents.
The message is clear. Dig holes. Plant proper, long-term forage. It takes time and effort – but it is worth it. Please do not sprinkle expensive, hyped-up seed-mixes on a patch of ground and hope for the best. It doesn’t work. Don’t take my word for it – the stalwart Southwark gardeners will tell you. There. I can climb down from my soap-box.
The good news is that there’s plenty of forage for bees in Leathermarket Gardens, once the weather warms up – here’s a small sample: crocus, malus and hebe.
Like our Leathermarket gardening, true passion is enduring, inspired and progressive – not just a Valentine’s card splash of colour: here today and gone tomorrow.