A week in and out of the garden
After a few non-gardening days last week with family coming to stay, I returned to volunteer at Osterley, to find that an interloper had arrived in the vegetable bed in the Tudor Walled Garden that we had thoroughly weeded a week earlier. Numerous substantial seedlings of gallant soldier had pioneered their way along the aubergine and chilli pepper rows. Gallant soldier is a corruption of this plant’s scientific name Galinsoga parviflora, a member of the daisy family which bears very small white flowers amidst serrated oval leaves.
I’ve got a new plant identifier app on my phone, Flora incognita, which swiftly identified the vigorous invader. Subsequent reading reveals other common names for this fast reproducing plant: quickweed, potato weed and (my favourite) galloping soldier. It was originally collected in its native Peru in 1796 and brought to Kew Gardens, from whence it escaped, earning the moniker the Kew weed! There’s a delicious description in William Edmondes’ ‘Weeds Weeding (& Darwin): The Gardener’s Guide‘, my weed bible, of the prolific Galinsoga parviflora being brought to Kew Gardens and ‘almost immediately galloping away down the street and all over London’. This conjures a vision of it heading north along Kew Road and marching across Kew Bridge to Brentford, with a breakaway battalion hopping onto the District Line to spread across the city.
We made short shrift of the energetic soldiers after some careful weeding around the precious crops. However, I’m expecting to see them back on duty this Friday after several days of heavy showers and relatively mild temperatures.
Every day’s a school day, as they say, and my education continued last Friday with an excellent butterfly talk and walk at Pensford Field, led by Ruth from Kew Gardens, who oversees the wildlife in Kew’s Natural Area (formerly the Conservation area). She began by listing the several benefits of butterflies: as pollinators, by spreading pollen from plant to plant while drinking nectar; as part of the food chain in the form of caterpillars which feed wild birds and even wasps; as an indicator species to signal the health of an environment as well as inspiring people to take an interest in the natural world. There’s a huge amount to learn about these fascinating creatures. For example that butterflies detect smell through their antennae which means that in polluted areas their numbers can be reduced because it’s harder for them to detect sources of food. It’s a blessing that places like Pensford Field and the surrounding gardens exist to support butterfly and moth populations, given the proximity of the Field to the South Circular Road.
Other key facts that Ruth shared with us: purple flowers attract butterflies; grow nasturtiums near brassicas as a sacrificial plant to prevent large and small white butterflies from feeding on the crop; stinging nettles are a vital food source for tortoiseshell caterpillars; always site a wilder area of the garden in a sunny spot; treat brambles as a beneficial plant because they provide shelter when other habitats are not available, perhaps during droughts; when you see two butterflies ‘dancing’ in the air, they might be mating or two males fighting! Species with darker wings such as the ringlet which has charcoal coloured wings are more tolerant of shade and can be found in woodland.
Ruth’s talk coincided with the Big Butterfly Count which runs until this Sunday 6 August. I sat in the sun in my garden at the weekend and spied a day flying moth (the Jersey tiger), a holly blue and what I think was a large white.
Although I did no gardening whilst my niece and three great nephews stayed last week, we did spend time in the garden when the weather improved mid week and I introduced the two older boys (aged 7 and 9) to ‘sun printing’. Earlier this year I attended a day course on cyanotype printing at London’s City Lit in March which I reported upon in a blog post. We collected some fallen leaves during a visit to Kew Gardens earlier in their visit and I had been collecting and drying some flowers and fern fronds for a few months in anticipation of their visit. The boys enjoyed the whole process starts with treating the paper with the light sensitive chemicals, drying it the paper with the hairdrier then carefully placing their finds onto the paper. They got really excited when they saw the change in colour of the background of the images once they were exposed to the sun. We dried the washed images on the clothes line and all agreed they weren’t bad for beginners!
Kew Gardens, 3 August 2023