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Nurturing Nature

The garden will be a tiny oasis for insect and other wildlife in a corner of the roughly 190- acre school grounds. It slopes from NNW to SSE and, through years of inappropriate use and neglect, its soil is currently too poor for successful planting. A large part of it has therefore been allowed to lie fallow for the past 6 years, mulched with its grass cuttings, to enable it to recover. This spring we will speed up this process by sowing red clover to deliver nitrogen and bring balance to the acidic soil. There is bamboo halfway down to absorb water and help with soil retention on the sloping ground as well as a French drain to ensure adequate drainage. While the ground itself recovers we have installed raised beds in which to grow a variety of plants and vegetables and demonstrate a full range of horticultural techniques.

Raised sensory beds containing rosemary, lavender, heather, thyme and wallflowers line the pathway at the entrance, with marigolds and nasturtiums protecting against predatory bugs. Near the site for the polytunnel, easy to propagate and shallow rooting savannah grass – loved by late season bees – marigolds and stock act as companion plantings to deep rooting parsnips and beetroot. Three mature buddleia plants act as a magnet for insects, particularly for butterflies. In the summer of 2021 we planted an experimental wild flower border against the east wall near the workshop. To our delight, amongst a host of common butterflies, bees and other insects, it was visited by a blue butterfly which might possibly have been a Big Blue. Previously extinct in the UK, the species was successfully reintroduced a few years ago to the West Country and it would be nice to think that it is extending its range southwards and might select the walled garden for its future foraging ground. We had no camera to hand, so a visit from a Big Blue might just be wishful thinking. However, we are extending the wild flower border to run from the polytunnel site to the sensory beds near the entrance to provide a habitat for more insect life. The garden could serve both as a permanent habitat and as a transit point in wildlife movement from the Cliffden gardens to the north-east to the Shaldon Botanical Gardens in the south-west.

Demonstrations of the use of companion plants, shallow rooting pollinators alongside, for example, deep rooting vegetables, plantings to deter pest infestations, preferences for full sun and partial shade, etc. enable trainees and volunteers not only to use the knowledge gained in small spaces of their own, but also to pass on this knowledge within the community as a whole. This is potentially particularly useful to residents in many new-build properties where small gardens are notorious for poor soil quality. There, often the only solution is to have grass unless a fortune is to be spent on soil improvement, whereas we are able to demonstrate that there are a variety of alternative, easy, eco-friendly and aesthetically attractive solutions.

Installation of a polytunnel is in progress and, funding permitting, we plan to install a gravity-driven drip irrigation system by the end of the year. This water catchment system will have a rainwater collection point behind the workshop with water pumped, using a solar pump, up to a delivery catchment bowser high on the west wall above the seedling hardening shelter. Once this is in place, mains water will only be needed in prolonged spells of drought and for washing.