On the 6th June two mysterious piles of gravel appeared in our car park. These are part of our plans to green up the space and make it more welcoming, and each pile was lightly raked and sown with flower seeds on the same day.
These beds are part of an innovative two year soil-less trial planting which aims to increase biodiversity in the pub’s green spaces, whilst enhancing what has been a dusty and rather blank space since we took the pub on. We’d previously tried to green the carpark with a few barrels, but it would take many tonnes of imported soil and hundreds of plants to make any impact. Then I remembered meeting horticulturalist John Little a long time ago, in his amazing Essex garden full of gravel, rubble, flowers and insects! It turns out he has been leading a mini revolution in British gardening (much influencing this year’s Chelsea Flower Show) showing that growing the right choice of plants from seed, in the most difficult conditions actually enhances biodiversity. The tough plants that can survive in gravel, sand and rubble, are the very ones that insects love, and where insects come, birds and invertebrates follow, so it’s a win win. If we are going to work out how we can make gardens and support our wildlife amidst climate change (it’s barely rained in over a month here now) then we must adapt how and what we grow, and our car park garden is a public experiment in this.
The lighter coloured gravel on the South end of the car park is from Pennington’s in Kendal (about 22 miles way) and is 100% limestone. The other darker pile of gravel is from Burlingtons Slate Quarry just 4 miles from the pub. These distances are important, as we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and source local materials at all times.
Limestone is common in the South Lakes and supports very distinctive wildflowers that are crucial food sources for many insects, both common and endangered. We hope that by introducing it here we may find that some of those insects are found in our garden later this summer. Within the gravel there are a few jars of water and bottles on their sides to provide shelter and water to small creatures and insects. There’s no soil mixed in to the gravel at all. Both piles have exactly the same seeds sown into them, so part of the experiment is to watch for differences.
I have chosen seeds from plants thriving in gravelly habitats all over the world, including UK wildflowers. Some names you might recognise include mullein, musk mallow, corncockle, flax and cornflower. The pub’s gardener Grace and I have sown 50 varieties of these seeds directly into the gravel, and most of the varieties will return next summer as well as flowering late this summer too. We will expect to see tiny green seedlings appear within 2 weeks if we keep watering! Flowering should start in mid August, but as this is an experiment, this is just a guess. We should see many insects, moths and butterflies too.
The plants that will grow in the gravel will be very unlikely to seed into the fields or hedgerows around the pub – they like utterly different growing conditions – so we are not risking introducing thugs into the wild!
In winter, the flower seed heads will be left to seed around into the gravel again and to feed birds, but we will need to do some tidying up too. Then in March 2024 or so we’ll see new growth and seedlings appear again. Summer 2024’s flowering will be significantly more spectacular as lots of the plants need two seasons to mature.
Watering the gardens in the early stages will be crucial to get the seeds going, so you’ll see us doing a lot of that in the next month, but afterwards the young plants will be increasingly self sufficient. John Little and others have proven that allowing the weather to impact these kinds of gardens is the best — and the only sustainable — way to maintain them.
For supporting our gardens we thank Kirkby Moor Windfarm Fund via Cumbria Community Fund and the Friends of the Lake District.
We hope to programme some talks around the garden in late summer — see our Events Listings for details
See more about John Little’s work
Karen Guthrie (Artist / Gardener)