Storms Chiara, Dennis … Jorge and we’re only just in March

We will be going ahead with our work session this morning SUNDAY 1st MARCH 12.30-2.30: there will be the usual litter picking, cutting back, clearing as necessary and helping move one of the edible growing raised beds from the more sensitive easterly area.

If you join us, please do equip yourselves to deal with unpredictable weather, and as usual, gardening gloves and solid footwear. We are likely to finish early, given potentially cold, windy and wet conditions, though at the moment, it’s bright and clear.

The weather this last autumn and winter has been particularly tiresome. Storm Jorge is now passing over the UK, after storms Chiara (and Dennis?) put paid to our last workday. The weather has been particularly unpredictable with some bright blue skies and late winter sunshine (yey!) but very high winds, sudden rain and hail showers and some very cold temperatures (boo!).

How did we get to J within two months? Winds and rain have been battering the south coast since the beginning of the year (contrast that with last February when temperatures soared to over 20C!) but at least we’ve not suffered the terrible floods that have besieged other areas of the UK.

Who knows what the spring will bring? We’ve ‘suffered’ over the last few years from relatively dry springs and summers – not great for getting seeds growing in our chalky soil. In places I’ve noticed that the soil texture actually looks better now than in previous years because of the rain, but on Brighton Greenway, there’s also been water-logging of the path which we tried to deal with at our January session. We shall see … I don’t think there’s ever been a ‘predictable’ growing season.

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Stratifying yellow rattle seeds

No, I didn’t know what ‘seed stratification’ was until last Sunday. James turned up with pots of germinated seed of yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor). These had been in his fridge. How very counter-intuitive! I am constantly trying to find warm window sills to get seeds to germinate but apparently ‘stratification’ by placing seeds in a very cold environment is the way to go with some types of cold climate seed.

The idea is that you trick the seed into believing it has already experienced winter and is now ready to power out into spring. Cold climate plants cannot afford for seeds to germinate in the warm temperatures of late summer as the resulting plants might not survive long enough – due to winter frosts – to set seed themselves and continue nature’s cycle.

So the nearest thing to a ‘calendar’ to tell them when to germinate is temperature sensitivity; they won’t germinate until after a period of cold followed by warmth. Placing the seeds in the fridge aims to speed up the ‘cold’ period, and sure enough, the yellow rattle seeds had sprouted.

There was another pot with germinated seeds  in flour and water … We’ve planted both lots experimentally in two small rows among some of our other wildflower plantings. It’ll be interesting to see whether they are able to withstand the often harsh conditions of Brighton Greenway (principally the competition of dock, thistles and nettles due to over-rich soil, and disturbance by dogs).

Yellow rattle is a particularly useful wildflower. It is semi-parasitic feeding off the nutrients in the roots of grasses. In this way, it helps control the growth of grass that we don’t want in our ‘wildflower meadow’, leaving the way clear for the less brutish wildflowers to thrive. It’s an annual but its rattling seeds spread easily and should germinate easily (even without being placed in a fridge) thus establishing the plant in our wildflower area and hopefully, helping other wildflowers to thrive.

There was a lot of evidence this weekend of wildflowers coming up strongly: achillea, centaurea, campions, herb robert … It felt counter-intuitive again to cut back this growth but that is what needed to be done in order to weaken the competitors. We’ve cut back strongly along the Isetta strip where – despite our best efforts – a set of ‘specimen beds’ respectively of nettles, dock, thistles and grass seem to have established. Underneath there somewhere our wildflower seeds are trying their best to come up. Again counter-intuitively, it is the nutrient-richness of the soil on the Greenway that is enabling this growth of the plant ‘thugs’ (alternatively, plants super-well-adapted to their environment). Hence the value of seeding yellow rattle …

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Pocket parks? Could we benefit?

A government scheme supports ‘the transformation of (small) unloved areas’ into green spaces that can be enjoyed by all: the Pocket Park scheme.

This sounds like the kind of thing that could benefit Brighton Greenway: the government documents refer to the importance of green spaces in providing “a wealth of opportunities to get closer to nature, meet up with friends, play, take physical exercise, walk the dog or even just have some quiet time in the fresh air with a cup of coffee from their local high street.”

Do you have any ideas about what we could do under this scheme to improve use and enjoyment of Brighton Greenway? Do get in touch: our email is




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‘Pigeon poo’ bridge

It’s so sad that New England Bridge, which was built in 1839-40 in the style of a triumphal arch to celebrate the arrival of the railway, is now known to locals as ‘Pigeon Poo bridge’. But thanks to initiative by Prestonville Community Association, Brighton & Hove City Council and Network Rail have recognised just how unpleasant New England Bridge has become, particularly for pedestrians. And moves are afoot to try to improve the area, starting with a mural on the bridge wall, which has become very badly tagged in the last year or so.

This area, just before the entrance to Brighton Greenway up the embankment, is probably one of the most disagreeable places in Brighton for pedestrians: the pavements are covered in pigeon droppings, damp drips down the brick walls of the bridge, it’s dark and dank and notoriously polluted as traffic slows and idles at the traffic lights. Years ago, Friends of Brighton Greenway tried to get Network Rail to do something about the pigeons nesting on the bridge, but we were told this would require huge investment and was not a priority.

Thankfully, Prestonville Community Association took up the cudgels again last year and succeeded, with the help of our MP, in getting Network Rail to fit new netting. Cityclean also say they are jet-cleaning weekly.

To deter tagging, a mural is proposed for the bridge wall. There’ll be more discussion on this at our forthcoming AGM on 3rd November 2pm (see ‘Our meetings’), led by Katy Beinart from School of Architecture, University of Brighton. Come along with your ideas!

We also suggested developing ‘green’ walls up the side of the bridge, again to deter tagging, and wondered how the area underneath the bridge and the small borders either side of the turning to the Old Shoreham Rd could be made more attractive. They were planted with trees and shrubs at one point, but these have now become badly overgrown.

Hopefully, working with other community groups, with Network Rail and the Council, we can drum up some energy to improve this area.

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Brighton and Hove Green Spaces Forum

It is so useful to share problems and solutions, and just get together with others doing similar things. Two of us from Friends of Brighton Greenway went along to one of Brighton & Hove Green Spaces Forum’s regular networking meetings last week. It was heartening to hear about all kinds of different initiatives across the town where local people are getting together to look after parks, set up community gardens, organise tree planting and oversee composting. We exchanged ideas and commiserated over the inevitable challenges and set-backs. We heard about the work of the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership and the importance of trees in urban areas. The Forum has a wealth of information on its site about gardening/greening groups in the city – and of particular interest were the slides from Prof. Dave Goulson’s recent talk on Gardening to Save the Planet. It’s what we’re trying to do up on Brighton Greenway – in a very, very small way. But our recent audits show a good diversity of wildflowers and insects in an urban area – every little helps, and you can help too: see details of our next workdays. Come and join us on Brighton Greenway!


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Sunday 13th October – cancelled but … creative workshops!

Sadly, the weather forecast is showing a high likelihood of heavy rain just when we were planning to have our clear up tomorrow, followed by our AGM. We have to cancel tomorrow’s session.

Our next session is planned for SUNDAY 3rd NOVEMBER from midday, and we will hold our AGM after that, between 2pm and 3pm.

But other things going on … CREATIVE WORKSHOPS to transform ‘Pigeon Poo’ Bridge … Taking place indoors tomorrow afternoon SUNDAY 13th and SUNDAY 20th 2-4pm are two creative workshops as part of a street art project to create a mural to improve the miserable New England Bridge area. They will take place at St. Luke’s Prestonville with local artist Katy Beinart. Do go along with your ideas for the New England Bridge area …

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Reviewing our year – Annual General Meeting 13th October

Our next workday is SUNDAY 13th October from midday and we’re going to add our Annual General Meeting on to the end of it – rather than try and organise another meeting – between 2pm and 3.30pm.

The idea is that we find a quiet café or other space and enjoy a cup of coffee and a bite to eat together, while reviewing the year and thinking about things we do in the forthcoming year. The AGM also means electing our Committee – so if you’d like to get involved and if you’ve got ideas for what we can do up on Brighton Greenway, come along!

We’ll be having our usual work session clearing litter and cutting back growth between 12 and 2pm, and then departing from Brighton Greenway (the entrance from Boston Street just behind the Church of Christ the King) – at 2pm. The exact venue for our AGM will be announced – check here nearer the time. You can find the Agenda and Minutes of last year’s AGM under the ‘Our Meetings’ tab and here: FOBG Agenda 19.10.19 AGM FOBG Minutes AGM 11.9.18

All are welcome!

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The edible planters experiment

Back in June, we worked with residents from Stroudley Road to set up a couple of experimental planters for growing edible crops on Brighton Greenway. We used wooden boxes and pallets kindly donated by The Wood Store.

Residents purchased compost and we planted up the planters with a range of bought and sown edible seedlings from cavalo nero to courgettes and sweet corn.

The planters have worked well, thanks to dedicated watering and feeding with tomato feed. It’s been dry for much of the summer so this really has been a commitment. But now there have been good crops and the planters look good.

We’ve talked about experimenting with further planters on this west side space to allow other residents and members of Friends of Brighton Greenway to grow edibles.

Edible growing was among ideas originally mooted for Brighton Greenway. However, given that it is a post-industrial site, planting directly in the soil is not feasible. But the raised planters have been a success – easy to construct and maintain, even if watering is the major challenge. Below photos of them bountiful at the end of July looking!

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Coming into summer … wildflowers

The weather has been very unpredictable this year – when isn’t it? – and a dry May has led now to a wet June. The wildflowers on Brighton Greenway in May have not been so visible as in some previous years, but they are there, and in some places and at some times, looking very beautiful.

At our last work day, we delighted in the ‘meadow’ that has grown up on the west side of the bridge. There are ox-eye daisies, red valerian, buttercups, herb robert and … on close inspection, delicate pink grass vetchlings (Lathyrus nissolia). Impossible to photograph them with my mobile phone: they are small very delicate bright pink bobbing flowers on long stalks.

In other places, nettles and dock have come to dominate, but there are well established patches of knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) and lots and lots of pink campion (Silene dioca) and ox-eye daisies. The poppies and cornflowers we’ve sown in previous years appear here and there, and borage is now in evidence after somebody planted some borage seedlings a year or so ago.

We’ve updated Wildflowers on Brighton Greenway 5.19. There may not be any rare species but there’s a good range of plants growing up there.


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Into the spring … 31st March

We had a great work day on Sunday 13th January with fifteen volunteers working up on Brighton Greenway, picking litter, cutting back the vegetation by the ‘tool’ fence overlooking Boston Street and cutting back on the Isetta strip. Our next work day is going to be SUNDAY 31st March.

We’re not meeting in February – there’s likely to be maintenance work going on with scaffolding on the west wall. The broken down wooden fence on the east wall is also in the process of being repaired. The railings on the steps up the New England Embankment have already been replaced; with metal rather than wood, which is not as attractive, but this is likely to be more durable. Arrangements are also being made for the cycle track for pushing bikes up the embankment to be replaced.

Do come along on March 31st – from midday until 3pm. Wear solid shoes and bring gardening gloves if you can. We’re a friendly bunch, so do come and join us for whatever time you can spare. And what will we be doing? The usual jobs of litter-picking, weeding, cutting back dead vegetation and … depending on the weather … maybe some planting or seed sowing.

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