Video – People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove

I’m not quite sure why we were invited to join the hosts of local TV station community spot ‘The People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove’, but on a very hot day back in August and under even hotter lights, I got interviewed about Brighton Greenway. It’s lovely to know there’s interest out there … and thanks to Andy Cheng for helping us publicise what we do.

You can view the video here. It’s episode 42 – the first invitee was Ali from Queenspark talking about Active Archives (very interesting project, this maybe something people are interested in with relation to parks, greenspaces and the Loco Works). For the segment on Brighton Greenway, scroll through to minute 11. (I’ll try and get a more accurate click-though soon :).

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Our ‘Grow Wild’ seed story

Wildflowers on the strip’ above Isetta Square, June 2017

Growing wldflowers is not as easy as you think … when thistles, dock leaf and nettles decide to colonise your planting area. These are big brutish plants and while all of them have wildlife value, they’re not exactly er … eye-catching.

Back in 2016, we applied to the wonderful Grow Wild project for packs of wildflower seeds to bring some colour into Brighton Greenway. We sowed several packs along the strip above Isetta Square and in that wonderfully random mannner that seeds have a habit of adopting, some came up in 2016, some came up in 2017 (above) and some just didn’t.

Our ‘fine tilth’

We had some packs of seeds left over, so in 2017, with the help of volunteers from Network Rail, we cleared a small but significant patch from thistles, dock, nettles, brambles and buddleja. It was hard physical work. We were able to rake the soil to a ‘fine tilth’ (the gardener’s dream) and sowed our seed. But then we did’t have much rain between April and June. We had some show from poppies, cornflowers and field marigolds but they were quickly trampled by thistles, dock, nettles and brambles. Dogs had also loved the ‘fine tilth’.

Our seedlings ready for planting, May 2018

Our seedlings planted, May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2018, with a few packs of seeds left, we decided to try the labour intensive approach to seeding: sow in compost in seed trays, cosseting in a greenhouse, careful transplanting and potting on of seedlings. We worked out this would be the only way the wildflowers would have a chance against the dogs, thistles, docks, nettles and brambles. The seeds came up quickly in early March and survived our sudden very cold spells. They grew on well in a cold frame in April. We worked again on clearing the perennial thugs and preparing the soil at our April work day and finally the seedlings were ready for planting out in early May.

Several of us kept an eye on them in May, watering as often as we could. We don’t have water immediately on site. We have to trundle watering cans to and from a water source several minutes away. I call it working with weights – far more productive than the similar exercise in a gym. The seedlings held their own …

And then Brighton turned into the Mediterranean for June and much of July. We had little rain for three months. Everything grew very fast initially and then ran out of steam, parched, dried. Everything, that is, except the thistles, dock, nettles and brambles. By mid July, you could just about spot some bedraggled cornflowers, poppies and marigolds.

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Grow Wild wildflowers, June 2018

Thankfully, someone had taken lovely photos back in early June when our little wildflower bed was at its best. Looking at them in August, as we yet again cut back thistles, dock, nettles and brambles, restored some optimism … Nature does what nature will, and I have faith that the plants from our Grow Wild seeds will have themselves seeded, and somewhere in the soil are the little time-bombs for colourful cornflowers, daisies, poppies and marigolds. Next year, the year after … Meanwhile, we try various tactics to discourage the thistles, dock, nettles and brambles from taking over, but they are after all wildflowers too.

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Grow Wild daisies with Achillea ‘Paprika’, June 2018

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Summertime 2018

It’s been an extraordinarily hot summer in Brighton with temperatures in June and July soaring to the high 20s and even over 30C. As I came down the New England Rd embankment steps today, a passer-by recognised the respite provided by the lush tree canopy. Several people were sitting out on the benches and Brighton Greenway felt … er … ‘green’ while in contrast, many of Brighton’s other ‘green’ spaces look brown and parched.

We’ve had our problems trying to keep delicate wildflower seedlings going in the heat. It’s not been the best year for a sustained display of flowers, but look carefully and there is a wide range of flowers and now, seed-heads to observe. The Crimson Glory Vine climbing up the walls is a lush green and the hawthorns and buddleia are doing well. I also noticed that our Woodland Trust plantings from March 2017 are holding their own, despite the drought.

Back in early July, a bio-survey of invertebrates was undertaken on Brighton Greenway. There really is a lot of insect and bird life happening up there; little that is particularly rare, perhaps, but Brighton Greenway is serving to sustain ‘common’ wildlife which is becoming increasingly ‘uncommon’ in urban areas. Take a look (under our Wildlife pages) if only to marvel at the Latin names of all the ‘bugs’ that were spotted and delight in the fact that nine different types of butterfly were observed, including a beautiful ‘Peacock’ butterfly.

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Spring cleaning and planting

We had a good work session yesterday despite unpredictable April weather: lots of rubbish clearance and quite a bit of planting and renewing of our ‘ornamental beds’ around the central seating area. The lavenders, rosemaries and Verbena bonariensis which we thought would tolerate the fairly tough conditions have succumbed to the cold and wet of the winter.

We’ve been able to do some replanting, though. We inherited several trays of plants from the Council’s Stanmer Nurseries, which – very sadly – has closed. Among these were some beautiful cowslips (Primula vera) which we’ve planted underneath the birch trees at the Boston Street entrance to Brighton Greenway.

We also had other plants most of which we were unable to identify from their leaves. We think there was some wild marjarom (Origanum vulgare), some red campion (Silene dioica) and … well, we’ve planted everything in and around the central bench, so we’ll just have to wait for the summer to bring up the flowers and ease the identification task. Below are some of the plants: if you recognise them, let us know.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, we’ve (well, Jon, single-handedly) cleared the nettles, dock leaves and thistles from the small area opposite the central seating. I now have to get this covered with black sheeting to stop these hugely successful plants from taking over again. We want to try planting wildflower seedlings here in May. Back in March, I sowed some of our remaining seeds from GrowWild in trays. The seedlings are now ready for potting up – something of mammoth task for delicate fingers – and growing on ready for planting (and identification?) at our next session on May 6th. You can find our proposed dates for work days this year on our Work Day page.

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The fickle weather

We’ve postponed our Action Day for Sunday 4th March to Sunday 18th March 12-3pm

Just as we were preparing to get active for the new growing season, snow, ice and bitingly cold wind hit the UK. On Thursday 1st March, the start of ‘meteorological spring’, the temperatures were below freezing most of the day and Brighton Greenway was very still under a powdering of snow. However, the forecast for Sunday suggested a thaw and by Friday, it looked liked we’d dodged the threatened Storm Emma in this part of the south-east.

We thought we would be able to manage some litter-picking at our Sunday session even if the ground was frozen solid. But as temperatures have become a bit more seasonal today (Saturday) and the snow has all but disappeared, the forecast for Sunday is now showing heavy rain from midday. A combination of heavy rain, relative cold and hard ground is not a great one for a community gardening session, so we’ve postponed it until mid-Spring when we may have better conditions and should be able to get more done.

 

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“The North wind doth blow …”

… and we shall have snow/And what will poor robin do then?”: so goes the rhyme I remember from childhood. With a fierce North wind blowing today, it was bitterly cold up on Brighton Greenway. By this time in the year, we’ve lost the sun, low in the sky, and so we felt the full force of the wind. All the same, seven of us turned up for the monthly clear-up, perhaps fooled by the bright sunshine elsewhere: we were mainly litter-picking and cutting back overhanging branches and weeds.

We tidied the mid-way seating area, cutting back the woody herbs to ensure that they don’t rot during the likely wet of the winter. We cut back brambles, buddleja and nettles in the area opposite where we’d tried to sow wildflower seeds. We cleared the litter and some of us had a go at cutting back vegetation encroaching on the path: our old friend, buddleja, but also nettles and thistles. The vine Vitis coignetiae is beautiful in its autumn foliage but messy and destructive in its rambling habit. Its aim in life seems to be to smother other plants …

We also looked at possible protective planting in front of the seven low arches at the north end of the Greenway:  blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), wild roses (Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ and ‘Rubra’, Rosa moyesii Geranium, Rosa canina) and Pyracantha coccinea (‘Orange Glow’). These plants should certainly be colourful – perhaps not quite as glaringly colourful as the current tagging – and also fragrant in summer while providing beautiful rosehips – aka food for wildlife – in the autumn. They will need to be very strong, spiny and grow to 1-2m.  We will need to train them up the wall.

Who knows what the weather will do between now and our next clear-up session on Sunday 3rd December. Will it go really cold? Will it be wet and mild? Either way, the wild areas we’ve left untouched should provide food and shelter for a range of bugs and birds.

And if you’ve been concerned, as some of us have, that humans have had to seek shelter on Brighton Greenway, then, as the weather gets colder, do the right thing: make a donation to one of the charities supporting homeless people in our area: Shelter, Brighton Housing Trust, St Mungo’s

 

 

 

 

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Some late wildflowers

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanis)

Corn marigold (Gelbionis segetum) and Bristly oxtongue (Helminthotheca echioides)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The growing year has been a bit unpredictable this year. We had a very dry and warm spring, probably too dry for some of our wildflower seeds. Then we had a cool-ish, grey-ish, wet-ish late summer and an early autumn with leaves starting to turn, and then stopping …

At the beginning of October, I noticed some more wildflowers up on Brighton Greenway, perhaps having a second flowering or perhaps coming through once the big brutes – the thistles, the docks, the nettles – were dying back. It’s not been a great year for the range of wildflowers we saw last year …perhaps because of the dominance of the perennial ‘weeds’. We are trying to encourage the range of colourful wildflowers by scything back the ‘weeds’ and hoping that this gives a chance to the less ‘brutish’ wildflowers … but then thistles, nettles and dock are wildflowers too!

Red campion (Silene dioica)

Borage (Borago officinalis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage (Salvia nemerosa)

Musk Mallow (Malva alcea)

 

 

 

 

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