At the end of 2010, six of us formed a planting sub-committee to decide what to plant in Grapes Hill Community Garden in Norwich.
We selected our favourite plants and Lara Hall, the Landscape Architect who designed the garden’s hard landscaping made some suggestions too, some of which we adopted. I borrowed Fran Ellington’s notes from a visit her and her husband Pete made to the Agroforestry Research Trust in Totnes in Devon and I used some of my gardening books, as well as my own experience of growing edible and ornamental plants for around forty years in a number of gardens.
Plants in the garden were chosen for a variety of reasons.
Edibility – plants as human food.
We mixed well known and obscure varieties of edible plants, so that people could start with something familiar and then explore something entirely new.
We took a similar approach with fruit. The six apple trees were chosen to be a mix of nationally well known varieties, such as “Bramley”, and less well known local varieties like “Norfolk Royal Russet”. As well as Apples, Pears, Cherries and Plums we chose less well known fruits like Medlar, Blue Honeysuckle and Japanese Wineberry.
I chose as many plants with edible flowers or leaves as I could. Many of us ate Day Lily (Hemerocallis) flowers for the first time and sampled the flowers from many different herbs. We ate the leaves and flowers of Garlic Chives and the fishy-tasting red, cream and green leaves of Houttuynia cordata (used as a leaf vegetable in Vietnam and a root vegetable in south-west China).
Jekka McVicar’s book “Good Enough To Eat” helped me choose plants with edible flowers and her “Complete Herb Book” was a great source of advice on herb growing.
Attractiveness to wildlife
Plants were chosen for their attractiveness to beneficial insects such as bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies. In particular we planted nectar rich plants to flower throughout a long season. When there was a choice of varieties we rejected fancy double flowers in favour of open pollinated varieties, which are more attractive to insects.
Within days or even hours of planting, local bees found our flowers and now that the garden is more established, birds are using the garden as a source of food.
Part of the garden’s remit is to teach people about edible plants, growing food and wildlife gardening. We are providing an example of a low input garden managed on organic gardening prin-ciples, with no peat, herbicides or pesticides.
The raised beds provide the chance for people to grow their own vegetables, often for the first time.
Attractiveness and interest to human visitors
The garden has to be attractive to visitors from the local community and further afield.
We have scored highly in the Anglia In Bloom competition and have helped Mancroft Ward and Norwich do well in both Anglia In Bloom and Britain In Bloom, so I think this has been achieved!
Right Plant, Right Place
The four ash trees are very thirsty and we have had to use drought-tolerant and shade-tolerant plants next to them. In spite of this, we have lost plants in summer droughts but overall the garden manages to recover every year and stay green.
Beside the business units, spring woodland flowers such as Dog Violets, Primroses, Woodruff and Wood Anemones thrive beneath the ash trees by flowering before the trees come into leaf. Further up the garden, Wild Strawberries and Sweet Cicely are almost bulletproof and simply shrug off shade, drought and competition from the ash roots.
We did lose some plants: the Alpine Strawberries hated the drought, the slugs and snails ate the lovely Plume Thistles (Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’) in the winter of 2012 – 2013, just months after they were planted. The Thymes rotted over the first two winters in the damp and the cold, dry winds of spring 2013 did our lovely pyramidal Bay Trees no good at all.
But other plants, like the Golden Hops, Teasels, Honeysuckles, Babington’s Leeks and Blackcurrant Sage (Salvia microphylla) have thrived and most visitors to the garden probably don’t notice the plants that have gone.
The garden has been designed to be low maintenance, with lots of hardy perennials, bulbs and shrubs that need little attention. (The hardy perennials need to be divided every few years to maintain their vigour.)
The fruit trees and bushes need attention just once a year and the borders are cut back in spring, after they’ve provided shelter for overwintering insect life. Other than regular weeding, the garden is very simple to look after.
This blog piece is adapted from an article in Grapes Hill Community Garden Group Newsletter No. 10, February 2014.