Be a Bluebell champion

Bluebells are Britain’s favourite wildflower and particularly fine carpets attract visitors to well-known sites such as Kew Gardens in London. The appearance of vivid bluebell carpets in British woodlands is a sure and spectacular sign of spring.

The native English bluebell is mostly seen in woodland settings and the larger Spanish bluebell is mostly found in gardens but there is a problem.  Bees will go to both species of bluebell.

Spanish bluebells can hybridise with the native form endangering the survival of the English bluebell.

English bluebells are certainly worth treasuring. It is estimated that Britain is home to half the world’s population of the “English” bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and with its unique scent and the very delicate form and structure of the flowers, it is an extremely special flower. But they are now threatened by the introduction of the related Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), leading to hybridisation and loss of the native, delicate, nodding bluebell. 
There are Spanish bluebells on our allotments and in local gardens.  We can do our bit to help English bluebells by removing their Spanish cousins.  It is best to dig out Spanish bluebells while they are in leaf, as the bulbs are almost impossible to find when the plants are dormant:

  • Loosen soil around the bulbs to a good depth and remove all the bulbs and underground runners 
  • Where shoots appear from underground runners among clumps of low-growing garden plants, carefully insert a garden fork to its full depth close to the shoot. Work the handle of the fork to loosen the bulb then, grasping the shoot, gently ease the bulb out of the earth 
  • Choose moist soil conditions to carry this out and firm in disturbed garden plants

Caution: do not dispose of bulbs by adding them to the garden compost heap and never discard unwanted bulbs in the countryside. Consign them to a black plastic sack and leave for a year before composting.
ref:  RHS website.

Interesting fact:
Bluebells also form carpets without a wooded canopy – for example, on Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire – and point to the locations of ancient forests, long after the trees themselves have vanished. This is because, unlike trees, bluebells have most of their biomass and reproductive organs (the bulb) below ground where they are better protected.

Please do remove Spanish bluebells if you have them on your plot!

How can I tell whether bluebells are native ones or Spanish ones?
The Spanish Bluebell, commonly grown in our gardens, is more vigorous than our native species and can crossbreed with the native to create a fertile hybrid. 

This is a problem, as crossbreeding dilutes the unique characteristics of our native Bluebell.
In a recent study, conducted by Plantlife volunteers across the UK, one in six broadleaved woodlands surveyed were found to contain the hybrid or Spanish Bluebell.
Noticeable differences between the two are as follows: 
Native bluebells…

  • have narrow leaves, usually about 1cm or 1.5cm (about half an inch) wide, 
  • have deep blue (sometimes white, rarely pink), narrow, tube-like flowers, with the very tips curled right back. 
  • have flowers mostly on one side of the stem only, and distinctly drooping, or nodding, at the top
  • have a distinct, sweetish scent
  • Inside the flowers, the anthers with the pollen are usually cream.

Spanish bluebells… 

  • have broad leaves often 3cm (over an inch) wide
  • have paler blue (quite often pink and white ones too), conical or bell-shaped flowers that have spread-out tips. 
  • have flowers all round the upright stem
  • have almost no scent. 
  • Inside the flowers, the anthers with the pollen usually blue (although this may vary a little). 

Hybrids between these two are very common, with a whole range of intermediate characters. The hybrids are often abundant in gardens and in woods near to urban areas.
Ref: Plantlife

Dealing with weeds

Follow plot holder Janet Bostock has shared her tips on dealing with weeds at the plot.

“The old adage, “a plant in the wrong place” is true. Whether native or a plant from another country, pretty and attractive to pollinators, if they spread too easily and are difficult to control then they become a problem.

You can save time by knowing them and removing them BEFORE they have settled in!

Why might that pretty plant become a problem?

Because it is difficult to control and difficult to remove once established.

Because the plant readily spreads across your plot, to neighbouring plots, gardens or over the fence into the wild.

Some examples:

Plants with deep roots (dandelions, blackberry, horse radish, green alkanet, ash, oak). Many arrive as seedlings which are easy to remove while small.

Plants with runners above or below ground (ground ivy, bindweed, nettles)

Plants seeding and spreading easily (dandelions, euphorbias, pendulous sedge)

Plants with bulbs, increasing both by seed and new bulbs (garlics, oxalis, Spanish bluebells)

Removing “weeds” when small, before they establish, is much easier than waiting till they become a problem.

Monty Don’s advice.

I haven’t mentioned horsetails. Just a nightmare of an invasive weed!

There are others that appear, foxgloves or forget me not for example, which are easy to pull up if in the way so can be enjoyed or moved to a convenient place.

Some can be eaten and enjoyed – Three cornered leek, all of the plant can be eaten, treated as a small leek.  Young nettle leaves make a delicious nettle soup.

Enjoy your gardening.

Janet Bostock”

How to beat tomato blight: last year was one of the worst years on all our sites

Thanks to plot holder Fiona Heath for putting together this useful guide on tomato blight.

Last year was one of the worst for tomato blight on all our sites. It’s a disease caused by an airborne fungus-like organism that spreads rapidly in the foliage and fruit of tomatoes in wet weather. Its spores can stay in the soil for up to 4 years.

Symptoms of blight:-

  • Leaves shrivel and turn brown.
  • Brown lesions appear on the stem.
  • Brown patches appear on green and red fruit, more mature fruit will decay rapidly.
  • The whole of an infected plant must be removed from site; roots, stem and fallen tomatoes. Do not compost or dig into the soil.

There is no cure, but prevention is the best control measure:-

  • Rotate your crops.  Don’t plant in the same spot as last year’s tomatoes or potatoes.
  • Give your plants some space. Plants should be at least 24 inches apart to allow adequate air circulation among leaves to keep them dry.
  • Water the soil around your plants.  Avoid overhead watering.
  • Mulch around the base.  Fungus can spread up from the soil.  Remove lower leaves.
  • Try using disease resistant varieties.

Hopefully, if we’re vigilant, we can prevent the spread of blight and have a bountiful crop of tomatoes.