Derek – Friday 24th July 2020

We re-opened the Garden to the public last Sunday morning. Cautiously, just 10 am to 12 noon, one morning a week. Our protocol is set. There’s gel at the door to make sure visitors come in with clean hands, and a signing-in book. After the welcome, we ask our guests to maintain social distancing. Basic rules. Sunday, though, was drizzly and cool, so just a few visitors to test our preparation. We have begun, and will learn as we go. From the first of August, the Garden will open on Fridays too.

I walk the crop, like a farmer calculating the yield. The emmer wheat is nearly ripe. In a week or two, the stems, leaves, and ears will be a bleached yellow. All green gone, the plant will be dead but for the seeds in the ears of wheat. Our cereals are annuals, which means they germinate, mature and die in one season. August and September are the traditional harvest months in the UK.

Plant breeders are working to create perennial cereals. These would grow, like grass on a lawn, without needing to be sown every year. A perennial crop could stabilise the soil, reduce weeds, improve water retention, use soil nutrients more efficiently, be sustainable on marginal land and be better for wildlife. Sounds like the next revolution? Well, there’s a downside. Perennial cereals would encourage pests, have larger root systems at the expense of the seed heads resulting in lower yields, and retaining water in large fields would lower the water table and river levels. I’d surmise that perennial grains might be better for smallholders than for large growers.

All the cereals we planted in March (the three wheats, barley, oats, and rye) are within a few weeks of ‘harvest’. We won’t be hiring a combine, nor even borrowing a scythe. We’ll snip off a few ears with the secateurs for our harvest.

The May sowings are behind, but coming on. The dwarf maize has fattening cobs. Its big brother, the sweetcorn, has male flowers, but no female as yet. The teff, an unruly tuft of grass, has a single flower which I almost miss, as it is small and green in the greenery. The rice shows no sign of flowering, though it’s a healthy clump of soggy grass.

We borrow two watering cans from the Garden and head for the drinking trough by the Forest Tavern. The trough has a tap, miracle of miracles. I haven’t got over the four years of the Garden not having one, and still regard them as holy. We water the plants by the trough, planted by the WI, and then the plants outside the station and those at Sebert market. The traffic is annoying; we spend a lot of time waiting at the lights to cross back and forth. Plants are always thirsty in this weather, so please take a moment to water our public displays when passing by. It should be easier now that the tap is here.

I hear, more than see, sparrows in the buddleia. I try to photograph them, but they either fly off too quickly or I end up with tiny pictures of them. I spot a couple of chaffinch on top of the jungle, but they are some way off, so I wouldn’t swear to their ID. Definitely not sparrows.

We have a few corn cockles (Agrostemma githago) in the wildflower bed. A delightful, 5 petalled pink flower, single on a slim stalk with thin leaves. I have never seen one on my country walks. Certainly not in cornfields. As we lose nature, wild flowers, rare in the wild, are grown in nurseries for those of us who have wildflower areas in our gardens. An oddity. I am not saying we shouldn’t be growing them, but that farming should be less ruthless.

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