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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Things have been happening …

… it’s just been hard keeping up. Friends of Brighton Greenway met in July and in August to clear litter, weed and tidy up different areas of Brighton Greenway. It’s been a bit of a strange growing year: very dry in the spring, very hot during early summer, then very high winds and a cool, grey August. This meant that wildflower seeds we sowed in April had a tough time, given the recurrent dry spells. The perennial weeds (oops, sorry, ‘other’ wildflowers) such as thistle, nettle and dock somewhat took over. We’ve ended up with very strong-growing thistle beds. But this is a wildlife corridor, and wildlife of various kinds appreciates thistles, nettle and dock. We’ve seen various butterflies, bees and birds enjoying the area.

It’s great that it’s been possible to move some of Jon Mill’s giant railway tools to the brick pillars nearer the Boston Street entrance. They were getting covered in ivy on some of the pillars further back. Ivy is fantastic for supporting wildlife, not least bees, during the autumn months when the bright flowers of summer have died back, so we didn’t want to strip back the ivy: moving the pillars, though it required some logistical planning, proved to be a better idea.

And at our last session, at the beginning of August, we managed to clear the wildflowers and weeds from around our tree seedlings from the Woodland Trust, planted back in March. I feared that they might have succumbed to being crowded out by all the thistles, but we managed to uncover most of the seedlings planted. They are doing surprisingly well. Clearly the other plants had protected the seedlings from the strong sun, and prevented the soil around them from being completely parched. The majority are growing well.

Our next challenge is going to be cutting back the spent wildflowers in the ‘strip’ and trying to minimise the seed from all those thuggish plants we’ve got there. It’s going to be a war of attrition.

Meanwhile the ornamentals we planted around the central seating area seem to have taken well: lavender, rosemary, verbena bonariensis, chives, thyme, marjoram are growing quite strongly. And the buddleja along the path that we hacked during the winter is now a bit more under control.

Things are rather more jungle-like at the north end of Brighton Greenway where the trees on the New England embankment have been growing strongly and now form a dense leaf canopy. Nettles are now also encroaching on the path, hiding even the tough old rubus cockburnianus. There’s work there for our next session on Saturday 9th September 2.30-5.00. Then the retaining timbers are badly graffitied and the wooden hand rail and cycle rail are both in poor repair, as is the fence on the bridge. We’ve talked to Network Rail and to Brighton & Hove City Council about this, but it’s taking a long time to get anywhere.

 

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A day of surprises in June

Another lovely work day up on Brighton Greenway yesterday – full of surprises, human and floral.

Somewhat to our surprise, our wildflower strip above Isetta Square is looking great, dotted with blood-red poppies, blue cornflowers, yellow corn marigolds and white daisies – all of these from previous year’s seedings. There’s also pink campion mixed in there and a delicate white love-in-the-mist. OK, so the bullies of the wildflower world have also established their presence: thistles, dock and nettles, along with the less easily recognisable Artemisia, but we’ve decided to stand back and see what happens …

What’s interesting is how groups of plants have established themselves in different places, so do go and admire the ‘drift’ of dock leaves, against the tall border of nettles and our architectural thistles. Weeds? No, just plants we have yet to appreciate. Our aim now is to keep cutting back and seeding regularly to try to keep some of the thugs under control (that’s why there’s a low growing section in the middle where we strimmed dock, thistle and nettle back in May) and build up the diversity of wildflowers. Some lovely person planted blue borage plants at various points along the strip. These have taken and should self-seed for next year. And all of this supports lots of buzzing insect life.

In the more northern area, the wildflowers are less visible for the moment. The area is more shaded, and also more trampled on. But there are lots of good signs that seeds are coming up and a good diversity of plants. We’ve got lovely purple sage (Salvia nemerosa) which has strayed in from somewhere, looking beautiful against the red valerian (Centranthus ruber), yellow dandelions, daisies and field buttercups. We spotted some more plants to add to our wildflower tally: rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) rather than the Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) which was well established last year, and a yellow vetch/pea-like plant I have yet to identify.

And apart from our wildflower areas, we worked hard on the more ornamental planting around the central fossil benches, clearing the weeds and the rubbish, mulching around the planting, which finally was looking lovely. There we met various people who, unexpectedly, chatted and helped. I confess I was wary of the pet snake who visited with its owner, but others were more sanguine and were happy to stroke the scaly back of the creature. Meanwhile, Matthew showed up with orange juice and ice for us, and then, heroically, walked back and forth to the tap to fill our now single watering can.

The FOBG watering can is rather sad: its partner has mysteriously disappeared. Why anybody would want to nick a green plastic watering can, or indeed, spend energy kicking in the plastic of the remaining one is quite beyond me, but hey, humans do strange things. But humans also seek friendly interaction, and several of us had a lovely chat with a Polish man who shyly shared his unpronounceable name, and smiled tolerantly at our mangling of it. “I sound like Jeremy Corbin”, he said, having talked about the importance of getting involved with a community: “something more than money”, as he put it. Alleluja! Do join us again … SUNDAY 16 July

Ox-eye daisies, Great burdock and red achillea, with lavender in the background.

Purple sage (from Market Florists in the Open Market) along with pink campion and fennel.

 

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May workday

Our May workday last week was a beautiful sunny day – the kind to lift your spirits. And Brighton Greenway was looking fresh, green and pleasant. Most of our work focused on the ornamental beds around the central fossil bench. It’s been quite hard to maintain the plants there and protect them from being trampled on or dug up, presumably by dogs, but also possibly by other animals such as squirrels. Sadly, some of the lavender and rosemary plants – normally extremely hardy – have given up the ghost after losing branches and being flattened. But others that had been a little sulky in the winter were springing back to life.

A surprising success has been the golden oregano (above) which is definitely holding its own behind the fossil bench. Some of the wild flower seedlings which looked like they had disappeared have come around and flowered. And amazingly, the hebe at the back of the bed – a left-over from the original planting in 2008-9 – has come back with lovely flowers this year. I’ve been promising to plant Verbena bonariensis  – a perfect pollinator plant – in these beds for some time. We extracted seedlings last autumn from between the bricks on the forecourt of London Rd Station, and they’ve been growing on in my greenhouse. We planted around 10. Hopefully, they’ll establish and self-seed in this area.


 

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So much happening …

IMG_7266We’re well into the growing year of 2017 with very warm temperatures now in May, but thankfully some rain today. It’s been hard to keep up with all the things we’ve been doing up on Brighton Greenway, but in an effort to catch up, here’s an update.

March Action Day

We planted our 30 tiny trees from the Woodland Trust: 6 each of hazel, hawthorn, holly, dog rose and dogwood. We used the holly to reinforce the planting along the east fence and we planted diagonal ‘strips’ comprising 6 tree-lets, a mixture of hazel, hawthorn, dog rose and dogwood, at equal points along the border above Isetta Square.

It was a rather miserable day, I remember, but enlivened by a visit from Pete West – founder member of Friends of Brighton Greenway, one of our ward Councillors and back in March, still Mayor of Brighton & Hove – together with his son and the official mayor’s ‘minder’. Pete and his entourage arrived in the official mayoral vehicle complete with shiny new litter pickers. They were heading off afterwards to do some more litter-picking on Brighton beach. We cleared a lot of litter and planted our baby trees on the Isetta strip.

Later, we planted polyanthus with one of our youngest visitors. We also had 24 more young trees donated by Brighton’s specialist community tree nursery, the aptly named Special Branch: twelve each of spindle and guelder rose, which we’ve been planning to plant for some time. These have been planted wherever there is space, along both west and east sides. And we added some wildflower seedlings – foxgloves, red campion and ox-eye daisies – to the ornamental beds by the fossil seating.

April Action Day

With cowslips out and the cornus showing red stems and lime green leaves, we dug over the bed which had been cleared by volunteers from Network Rail back in March and sow some more wildflower seeds from GrowWild. It had only taken a month for nettles to come back, so it needed quite a bit of work. We wanted to enhance the view from the central fossil bench and allow Jon Mill’s lovely ‘tool fence’ to be seen, as well as the vista over Vantage Point towards Round Hill.

Our biggest challenge since then has been drought: this was one of the driest Aprils on record. As we have to water using watering cans carried from Isetta Square, getting enough moisture in the ground if it doesn’t rain is challenging. Thank goodness May has seen some pretty solid downpours.

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