22nd September 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Leave roadsides as wild as my garden

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What utterly fabulous, occasionally stupefying hot weather we have been treated to lately.

However frantically busy or stressed out you are, do try to find at least half an hour on one of these sun soaked, blazing blue-sky days and just let it wash right through you.

If you can (and if you are lucky enough still to be able to confident that you can clamber to your feet again afterwards) lie down on a grassy bank or under some tree shade and close your eyes.

Birds are calling constantly; skeins of silvery wren song, shiver­ing cascades of larksong, plaints of redshank and shalder and richer phonic embroidery from blackbirds. Stare up at the blue vasts and watch the curious fallings of curlews as they flutter up high, then sink, dangl­ing on fixed wings, long bill and head hanging, looking as if they are really short billed birds descending backwards towards the ground on long, pointed legs. Why do they do this I wonder?

On days like these, you can almost hear the plants growing. When I walk up to the hill grind, hedging shrubs that were coaxed gently into greening up not long ago, are now shoving green, slow-motion fists at each other and brushing my head from both sides as I walk between them along the path.

Did you hear Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4 recently? It had me dancing a jig. The presenter gave vent to a rant about tidy gardens. I was delighted and horrified all at the same time, expecting the audience to storm the stage and lynch him, but his tour de force was so fluent, magnificent and hilarious that they applauded in­stead. I wish I could get hold of a copy of his text.

The burden of his diatribe was the tidy gardeners’ lack of thought for wildlife, and the absence in mani­cured gardens with monoculture, shaven lawns and places for insects. In particular he pleaded for far more spaces for bees to breed and forage. At this time especially, when the plight of bees worldwide is frequ­ently in the news, bee care should come first on gardeners’ lists. But there are very many gardens where bees don’t stand a chance.

Civic bee care might be a good place to start. Roadside verge cutting is in full swing just now, but I’m not quite sure why it has to be so savage. Yes, vehicles definitely need clear sightlines, but at our Sundibanks junction with the East Voe road, energetic, masked and gowned young chaps were hard at work last week, slicing through heather, speed­­wells, clover and a dozen other brink-of-flowering species comple­tely out of sight of the access visibility areas.

Presumably they were being paid a good wage for their trouble too and I thought that Shetland was trying to save money. Maybe they were sup­posed to be attacking demon “nox­ious weeds” like dockens. If so, spot weeding would have been cheap­er, quicker and more effective.

Wholesale strimming of the area was wasteful and disfiguring into the bargain, as well as being environ­mentally damaging. Still, there may have been a reason that I was un­aware of. Instead of destroying their habi­tats, how about some serious bee care ideas. A reward for indepen­dently verified bee-friendly gardens or stretches of grass could be avail­able. A photo competition for pic­tures of bees actually nesting in your garden, or even just feeding from your flowers could be set up. How about awards for biodiverse lawns and wild gardens? Why does “bald, bare and boring” have to be the only acceptable kind of green space?

A mini Shetland hay meadow once blew gently in the breeze in Lerwick, facing the main road south out of town. For a few beautiful years it swayed in the breeze, glitter­ing with a rainbow of different wild flowering species in summer, before being cut and the resulting hay dried and used. Now it’s just another slab of parched, crew cut slime green. Barely a single daisy dares show its head.

The Gardeners’ Question Time presenter, I believe, would have loved our garden, even if it will never qualify for the “open gardens” entries in summer competitions. We have hedgehog hibernaculae by the dozen, long grass corners, damp, mini jungles, species rich grassy spaces, cut on the long side, if at all and lots of piles of old prunings, rotting fence posts and wild corners. We can watch wild mice playing in the sand pit, bees burrowing into banks, butterfly caterpillars carving crescents off nettles and ancient Shetland kale leaves.

Wild flowers are increasing by the year. Red clover is about to burst into bloom in the border alongside geraniums, primuli and wallflowers. Self heal has self sown from last year and I have enough to transplant to other borders. Some violets began to come up in trays of vege­table seedlings and I have managed to settle them into some patio trays, where they are thriving, spreading and now seeding.

Kidney vetch has established itself in a corner of a narrow edging bed and persistent grass pulling is enticing primroses to spread across a patch of grass above some steps. Silverweed tried to get the upper hand last year, but I have grazed it back to a more manageable level and, probably shocked by my assault, it is now flowering furiously in revenge alongside the driveway. Cuckoo flower or lady’s smock loves the dampish grass beneath the washing line and heath spotted orchid has appeared there too this year. But try as I may, I can’t yet get heath milkwort to grow at all.

Jill Slee Blackadder