I would have given you flowers

The daffodils are out in my local park and they’ve fair lifted my flagging spirits on these cold mornings we’ve been having recently. I can’t help noticing though the number of broken ones and wonder whether this is because of dogs or children running unsupervised through them. The squashed heads on the paths have clearly come from deliberate acts of sabotage; I wouldn’t mind so much if the odd few were picked to take home but wanton destruction I cannot thole.

I’ve written about the power of flowers before in The flowers of the forests and the fields and the hills and in both “Seems it never rains in Southern California” and in part 4 of A varity I was bemoaning the way that some folk can spoil what so many of us love when the first flowers appear.

In December, I spotted a hopeful article on the Guardian website by the well-named Patrick Greenfield: “Wildflower meadows to line England’s new roads in boost for biodiversity” (1 December 2020). He tells us that Highways England intend to promote the growth of wildflowers along “new large-scale road projects”. Contractors will have to “create conditions for species-rich grasslands to thrive using low fertility soils” and “The verges will then be allowed to regenerate naturally or be seeded with wildflowers.” This low-maintenance approach is very different from spreading topsoil which encourages the growth of grass, nettles, dockens etc which then have to be continually hacked back.

Another Patrick writing about flowers on the Guardian website is Patrick Barkham who produced: “Flower power! The movement to bring back Britain’s beautiful meadows” (28 January 2021) in which he considers the needs of plants and insects versus the demand for more food-producing fields. In the 20th century, he tells us that “more than 97% of Britain’s wildflower meadows were destroyed” with the loss not just of their flowers but of their insects too. The charity Plantlife is spearheading a re-creation of meadowland by stripping off the top layer of grass and spreading an area with hay and a mix of local wildflower seeds. The area is cut just once a year after the flowers have set their seed and the grass cuttings are removed to discourage regrowth of grass, leaving more space for flowers. Prince Charles is a big supporter of this initiative and contributed 90 acres to mark the 60th anniversary of his mother’s coronation – as a Scottish republican, all I can say is good on him.

Barkham explains that eating meadowgrass is beneficial for livestock as “they take in natural herbal medicines, such as bird’s foot trefoil, which reduces gut parasites”. He describes initiatives (in England) such as planting on garden strips to playing fields to creating woodmeadows – these are a “mosaic of grass and woodland that was once widespread in ancient Britain and still occurs in Scandinavia and eastern Europe”.

He ends his article with tips on how to create your own wildflower area or join a local group to support a community initiative. I’m going to experiment in my back by only cutting a few strips for walking on my ‘lawn’ and then see what happens; I’ve already transplanted a few self-sown primroses from in between flagstones and the speedwell which I took last year from a bit of waste ground near my house looks as if it’s prospering. (I only took a wee bit and there was lots left.) Monty Don of Gardeners World says we should stop cutting and obsessing about lawns and he’s right though he’s taking a fair bit of flak. If I could be bothered, I’d be sending flak to the BBC for the absurd cancellation of his programme on Friday night there!

In and around Barcelona last year, the lockdown gave nature a helping hand. The city parks were shut so no gardening went on and they had more rain than usual which resulted in increased plantgrowth, more insects and more birds. Stephen Burgen was writing about this in The Observer on 31 January: “Wild at heart: Barcelona welcomes nature back into the urban jungle“. The city has a biodiversity programme and its head is quoted as saying they’d had pre-pandemic plans to bring more natural life into the area; she feels that the inhabitants will now be more welcoming of the changes they’re making. They’re “creating 783,300 sq metres of green open space, including an area around the landmark Sagrada Familia basilica, and 49,000 sq metres of “greened” streets”; nesting towers, beehives and insect hotels will be there too. Roof gardens are being made, one on an old block near the port, the roof of which has been planted “with 10,000 native perennials that are pollinator friendly and drought resistant, to provide flowers all year round, as well as feeding and nesting places for birds.”

Dearest to my heart though, is their pilot scheme called Alcorques Vivos “which plants wildflowers at the base of trees in the streets, rather than surrounding them with pavement or grating”. I thought I’d found an image which wasn’t copyrighted but although I had it in my downloads, I got an incomprehensible message about why I couldn’t add it here. So Google Alcorques Vivos images and imagine them transferred to Glasgow’s poor old Sauchiehall Street or the newly pedestrianised George Street in Edinburgh – renamed George Mackay Brown Street.

Here in not always so bonnie Scotland, Scottish National Heritage produced an 86-page report in 2013 on “The management of roadside verges for biodiversity”. Plantlife Scotland estimate that there are 556 species of wild plants on road verges in Scotland, which represents about half of all our wildflowers. There’s a petition to send to your Local Authority at https://www.plantlife.org.uk/roadvergecampaign . I’ve seen some evidence of local authority wildflower planting on a local roundabout which is covered with daffodils at the moment and last summer was smothered with poppies and cornflowers; in fact I was going to drive round it several times to identify what else was on it but resisted the temptation in the interests of others’ safety. Many roadsides have natural plantlife on them which just needs conservation. This is the second spring in a row I haven’t seen the primroses along the north bank of the A837 in the woods near Innis nan Lion but I know they are there.

There are wildflower projects that I know of in Stirling and on Islay. For more information, see https://www.onthevergestirling.com and there was an article in the Oban Times a year or so ago about the Islay initiative – https://www.obantimes.co.uk/2019/12/1/islays-roadside-verges-set-for-floral-enhancement . There’s lots more good stuff at https://scottishpollinators.wordpress.com .

Last month I spotted an item on the BBC Wales news site: “Mother’s Day: How sustainable are the flowers you buy?” by Caitlin Arlow on 14 March. She wrote about Shannon Thomas, a young florist with a business in Pontypridd who “aims to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint”. 90% of the flowers we import into the UK come from the Netherlands where they grow in heated greenhouses, before being transported here in huge refrigerated lorries; more and more are being flown in from Kenya involving eyewatering airmiles and concerns about workers being unprotected from the use of pesticides. Ms Thomas is quoted as saying: “People don’t really know that traditional flowers aren’t sustainable and they are quite oblivious to the impact they have on the environment. They see fresh flowers available all year round and they’re not really aware of the mass production involved in getting them to the stores.” She grows flowers on an allotment and tries to use seasonal UK flowers so this involves educating her customers about the way that weather impacts on availability and the customers’ need to be flexible in their ‘demands’. (The other day I saw mixed bunches of roses and tulips – what in the name of the wee man is that about? No wonder supermarkets have so many of us confused about what’s available and when.) She also wants to move away from single-use plastic and floral foam neither of which can be recycled or composted. She suggests that customers re-use items such as vases and wreath bases and she designs using willow or material that can be recycled. I’m not surprised to read that Shannon Thomas won a Young Innovators Award this year.

There are points of light here too. Briar Rose Design, a flower company in Glasgow, will do “wild wedding flowers” and “natural funeral flowers”; they’re happy to gather plant material from the family garden to use in their floral tribute. Mayfield Flowers, based in Stewarton, also offer to cut and arrange flowers from the deceased’s garden as appropriate. Scottish Cut Flowers in Perthshire, set up in 2017, is run by a young couple who believe that locally grown flowers have a low carbon footprint, support birds and bees and can be grown without the use of toxic chemicals. On top of all that, they are fresher so last longer and they smell like flowers should do. The business based in Errol also has two dogs on the staff with responsibility for “garden reception, mischief, comic relief, companionship and distraction”; they dabble in “obedience, vermin control, and digging holes” but unfortunately can struggle “to stay awake for their entire 8-hour shift”.

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2 thoughts on “I would have given you flowers

  1. Pingback: A mixter-maxter – Splendid, Bella!

  2. Pingback: The Queen is Dead – Splendid, Bella!

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