Six on Saturday – 7/7/2018

The hot weather continues and the ordeal of keeping everything watered with it. There’s lots happening and I keep changing my mind about what to include and what to leave out. My first tomatoes made it to the plate but not into the six. I nearly included a clematis but changed my mind. Improbably I have a ridiculously early Cyclamen hederifolium in flower, albeit just one bloom, but the picture was rubbish; out that went.

One.
Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’. Given to us by a gardening friend whose garden we visited yesterday. She grows it in a sunny and this year very dry border. We grow it in our filled in pond in soil that is still nice and moist. Ours is over a meter tall, hers less than half that. Ours shares the space with Astilbes, but grudgingly.
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Two.
Geranium pratense ‘Plenum Violaceum’. This came from the same gardening friend as the Filipendula. I didn’t get the camera angle right to show it but behind it is a yellow leaved Berberis which really sets it off.

Three.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Fuji no taki’. For a hydrangea this is tiny, I don’t see it ever getting to two feet tall. It has small double flowers which start cream with greenish centres, turns almost pure white except for a cream centre then starts to get pink tones as the flowers go over. In previous years it has been almost completely covered with flowers, there are fewer this year, mainly because of winter damage, rather than drought. This is a plant that has gone the other way to my aforementioned gardening friend.
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Four.
Dierama pulcherrimum. Another from the same gardening friend. Honestly, she’s a real person, not a euphemism for something shadier. I planted this in the rootzone of a large conifer which means it has to be fed and watered frequently and the conifer grabs 90% of it. It’s doing all right though, it was only planted in autumn last year.
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Five.
Campanula lactiflora cv. When I told Sue I was going to include this in my six this week because it was looking so good I was brusquely reminded that a few years ago I had tried to remove it but it has survived and regrown. It’s done very well this year, seems to like the hot weather, lovely soft blue colour. It can stay (mutter…. for now). Might be ‘Prichard’s Variety’, or might not.
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Six.
I don’t know whether Dahlia season has been officially declared open. They seemed to take forever to get going this year but except for a few stragglers have really come on in the last month. I think this red is ‘Garden Wonder’ but I’m not really sure. The purple was supposed to be ‘Amgard Rosie’, which it very definitely is not. I have three rows of Dahlias, grown from seed, on my allotment which are doing so well I am already planning an order for a load more next spring. There will be a Dahlia or more in my sixes for quite some time.
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Last week’s car boot with plants was deemed a success and we’re going again shortly. It’ll make a change from bringing in the harvest, which seems to have been the dominant activity this week. Peas, broad beans, blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries. I’m eating so much fresh fruit and veg I shall either live to be 120 or die of vitamin C poisoning.

For more similar, and very dissimilar fare, head to the comments section at The Propagator, where many portals to other parts of the gardening world will be found, disguised as links.

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Thoughts from two hours of shelling peas.

Water and the lack of it will be of concern to all gardeners while this hot weather continues. I’ve seen a couple of myths trotted out already and I haven’t really been looking.

Water droplets on foliage do not act as a lens causing scorching. This is nonsense and can be safely ignored. Not that watering the foliage is necessarily a good idea as it can damage the leaves of some plants and increases the risk of fungal disease in others.

I saw a recommendation to hoe the soil surface to create a dust mulch and break the capillary action bringing water to the surface. It seems unlikely that this would be effective. Once the top inch or two of soil is dry it will act as a mulch and there will be little or no movement of water upward through it. Besides, with good crop cover almost all the water loss will be by transpiration through the plants, with almost none lost by evaporation from the soil surface.

My own observation when we had about an inch of rain on Sunday after two weeks of hot dry weather was that recently cultivated soil retained the water and that undisturbed dry ground remained largely dry, having become rather water repellent. I took that to mean that the loose soil retained most of the rainfall at the surface where it quickly evaporated whereas elsewhere it made its way down through cracks and worm holes to a greater depth where it would be less likely to evaporate. It would have to go very deep indeed to become unavailable to plant roots, which will go down several feet.
By the same token, mulches that absorb moisture are going to be less effective than those, like pebbles, that let it all through into the soil.

I have often read that little and often is the worst way to water, wetting only the soil surface and encouraging roots to be shallow and very vulnerable if the watering stops. I agree. I think I would add that if a plant is allowed to become a little stressed between waterings that it will toughen it up and make it less susceptible to drought. A plant that is always kept well watered will grow lush with big soft leaves and will be susceptible to drought whether or not it has been watered correctly. Some things, like cucumbers, hate being dry and may well die if allowed to get to wilting point.

When I water plants in the ground I do so with a watering can without a rose, watering just at the base of the plant or at most in a narrow line along the row. I pour sufficiently slowly that the water penetrates and doesn’t go running off away from the plant. Sometimes that means pouring a little, stopping until the water has gone, pouring a little more, waiting until it’s gone and so on. Sinking a cut off bottle or pipe into the soil and watering into it would be even better but is not practical on an allotment.

I harvested my peas today. Second sweep, I did the first two days ago. I’ve never been able to get them picked and cleared in so short a time, they normally come ready over a couple of weeks meaning if you do it too early many are not ready and if too late a lot are hard, dry and mealy. This year almost all were spot on.

I suspect that up country, where the mid summer climate is more reliably dry and warm, that what I have this year is the norm, with the occasional cool damp summer leading to what is the norm in Cornwall. The trouble with gardening books and online advice is that they usually reflect average conditions, not marginal conditions. This year it would be easy to get a second crop in after the peas, in a cooler year it would be pushed back by a couple of weeks and it would be likely that it would not have enough growing season left to succeed. It depends what you try to grow, I hear you say.

Well yes, which is why I have just planted lettuce (that’ll work) and beetroot (that may not) and have Purple Sprouting broccoli, cabbages and kale still to go in.

Six on Saturday – 30/6/2018

We chucked a few plants in the car this morning and did a car boot sale. £60 for a couple of hours seemed Ok. Might do that again. We’ve trying growing fewer plants and that didn’t work.

Great as it is to have lots of overseas contributors to this meme, it does have a down-side. When it comes to us poms whingeing about the weather, it rather cramps our style when what we think of as extreme turns out to be very ordinary indeed. I want to whinge about the weather but I don’t want to seem ungrateful.

Suffice it to say that I am heartily sick of watering. Actually, that doesn’t suffice. The plants are as unused to this hot stuff as we humans and some things are starting to suffer. If it goes on for a long time, and I’m told Farming Today said it will last until September, there will be long term consequences. The effects of the 1976 drought were felt for several years afterwards, especially by trees. Right, I feel better to have gotten that off my chest. What’s in Pandora’s box this week?

One.
Maianthemum flexuosum BSWJ9150. Well, that’s what the label says. Obviously that’s wrong and you don’t need an intimate knowledge of the flora of the Guatemalan rainforest to see it.
I think I know what happened. I went to the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Shopw last year and admired a plant on Crûg’s stand. “Why, that is a beauty” I declared, “I shall purchase it dreckly”. “Righto sir, do you want me to put it down here for you to collect later”, “Yes please, that would be splendid”. I then remembered that I had come to the show on my motorbike and that getting it home presented difficulties. “Fret not” said my horticultural colleague, “I have my van, fill your boots, I’ll drop them off for you”.
Then when he turned up at my place later in the day, it was with a different plant because they’d managed to sell my plant a second time to someone else and had found another one in their van. Which wasn’t flowering, and didn’t, until about five weeks ago, when a couple of shoots produced a couple of dull purplish flowers. Shortly afterwards the rest of the shoots started to develop flower heads and it’s taken until now for the flowers to open. It appears that I got two for the price of one, both Maianthemum species, with almost identical foliage and very different flowers. The earlier one may be what the label says it is, I think the other is Maianthemum paniculatum. Must send them a photo and see what they say.

Two.
Daphne x transatlantica Eternal Fragrance = ‘Blafra’ and for good measure, Daphne x transatlantica Pink Fragrance = ‘Blapink’.
Daphne’s have a reputation as difficult plants, with the possible exception of Daphne odora. Robin White, as British plant breeder, raised a couple of seedling from a cross of D. caucasica x D. collina and came up with this pair. I planted both as sturdy liners just beside my greenhouse. They’ve never looked back. Both are at the edge of a low brick wall, high enough for the drainage to be excellent, but enough water makes its way out from the greenhouse that they are never short. The scent, especially on these warm evenings, is fabulous.

Three.
Hemerocallis ‘Bela Lugosi’. I’m not mad about day lilies but I do have a few. This bloom, which I confess didn’t happen on Saturday, it happened on Thursday, has more than its normal complement of petals, 10 instead of 6. It’s that “me, me, put me in your six” showing off thing again. They get really dark just before they start to shrivel up. Or maybe it was the camera settings. Or perhaps I have more varieties than I thought.

Four.
Hydrangea serrata Tiara’. I like Hydrangea serrata for its generally less coarse demeanour when compared with H. macrophylla. They don’t seem as robust though and this one is always the first to suffer if it turns dry. A fortnight back it looked set to be the best ever, now it’s a struggle to keep it alive.
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Five.
Eryngium giganteum. This is never more than a biennial for me, but seeds about enough that most years I have a plant or two somewhere. If I was organised, I’d collect and sow the seed so I could have more of them, and where I want them too.

Six.
Cucumber. The variety is Carmen. Last year I started with about five and ended up with one. This year I have watered them and it’s really worked, I started with four and I still have four. One is absolutely as many as we need, the number of developing cucumbers on four plants is a little unnerving. Next door have children who recognize green stuff as food, they’ll take some. Cucumber sandwiches anyone?
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I may have spent too much time in the sun this week. It’s at times like these that the gnat’s piss strength Australian beers come into their own. 5.5% alcohol is a tad on the strong side for thirst quenching. It can be dangerous; it’s inclined to send me to sleep, not a good idea if you’re out in the sun.

Right, need to get this done and do some watering. The magic wardrobe into the world of six on Saturday is in The Propagators back bedroom. Through the door labelled ‘Comments’.

 

 

Watering plants in pots.

You can’t say it’s not topical.

I just potted on some of my tomatoes from 10 litre pots into 20’s. I should probably have done all of them, but I thought if I did alternate plants, then stopped the ones in the smaller pots while letting the others grow on, it should even itself out.

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I have been watering them twice a day for the last week or two, the combination of rapid growth and drying weather making it an absolute necessity. They’re looking a bit stressed, as am I.

It set me thinking about what advice I would give to a beginner about watering plants in pots. It might go something like this.

1) Try and anticipate how much growth a plant will make and aim to get it into a big enough pot to need watering no more than once a day.

2) Bear in mind that different composts will hold different amounts of water when saturated.

3) Water when a plant is dry and before it starts to wilt. Do not wait for evening, or any other time.

4) Ideally you want to apply enough water to bring the compost to field capacity (holding as much as it can against gravity) and not a drop more, run-off being wasted water as well as carrying away soluble nutrients. It’s impossible, get as close as you can. Don’t apply less; if you repeatedly give small amounts the roots lower in the pot will dry out and die.

5) Whatever amount of liquid feed you include in your watering will be better parcelled out into small amounts with every watering. Plants in pots will need more feed than the same plant in the ground; having a much smaller root system.

6) Dry compost is very hard to wet and often shrinks so that water runs down the sides of the rootball and out of the bottom. It helps to have the top of the compost dead level and it may be possible to wet the rootball by applying small amounts of water and repeating several times as soon as it has been absorbed. If that doesn’t work, stand the pot in water overnight, preferably submerged in a bucket. Next time don’t let it get that dry in the first place.

7) When planting out into the ground the plant will need much the same amount of water until its roots get out into the surrounding soil, a bit less because the root ball is surrounded by moist soil and a lot less after a few weeks.

8) Putting a potted plant into shade will reduce the amount of water it needs a great deal.

9) Don’t be complacent about watering, it is easily the most important part of looking after a plant in a pot. Pay attention while you’re doing it, it’s an opportunity to give every plant a quick check over. If you’re bored rigid because you’re spending hours every day watering you probably need an irrigation system.

Six on Saturday – 23/6/2018

 

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There have been times when finding six things was a challenge; this week twenty six would be inadequate. What to put in, what to leave out; that is the question.

One.
Astelia chathamica. Aka Astelia ‘Silver Spear’. This is a large plant in a prominent position that has come through at least fifteen winters without turning a hair. Not this time. The damage has only become apparent over the last month, but large chunks have been slowly turning yellowy and collapsing. A few days ago I saw new shoots coming up amongst the ruins, so I cut away all the dead shoots and I’m hoping for a slow but complete recovery. I might end up cutting down the rest of it so that it’s all at the same stage of growth; I think it might look better. Someone is bound to ask why there is a rhubarb pot there.

Two.
One of the spin offs of SoS is that because you’ve chosen to go public with something, it seems wise to appear to know what you’re talking about. Occasionally a book will be referred to for the first time in years, more often it’s the Google/Wikipedia double act. I have a couple of low growing and spreading Campanulas. I had a couple of names rattling around in my head but were they the right ones and which was which. I now know that one is the Serbian Bellflower, Campanula poscharskyana, a rampant spreader by runners and seed. It has never flowered as well as this year. The other is the Dalmation bellflower, from the Dalmatian Mountains in Croatia. It is a deeper blue, flowers a week or two earlier, is much less aggressive but still manages to grow out of hairline cracks in a seemingly solid brick wall. There are Dalmatian Islands too. I just didn’t know, I thought it was just dogs.

Three.
Geranium ‘Nimbus’. As featured in the post by the host with the most just last week, this was looking so good I thought I’d turf out some lesser item and stick it in instead. I was just looking it up in Bob Brown’s Encyclopaedia and he gives it 7.5, which is good for a Geranium and mentions that the leaves are gold when young. I can’t say I’ve noticed that. It doesn’t carry on flowering like some do, but is lovely none the less.

Four.
The humble Fuchsia is by no means in the doldrums to the extent that conifers are, but the specialist growers seem to be a dwindling group, making it difficult to get hold of anything other than the same couple of dozen stocked by every garden centre. We have around 90 varieties and struggle to keep them all going. This one is ‘Black Prince’, which is probably widely available. It deserves to be, it’s a cracker. It’s hardy for us.
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Five.
Talking of good doers, what about Sweet Williams. I’ve rediscovered them after a gap of at least fifty years and I love them. They’re happy in poor soil and part shade, have an infinite variety of white, pink and red colouring, last for ages, are good for cutting and should have scent though mine don’t have much.

 

Six.
Lathyrus grandiflorus. Number six is where the final decisions are made about what is not going in. Ironic then that Daphne, Philadelphus and Trachelospermum, all beautifully fragrant, get muscled aside by a scentless sweet pea. Not that anyone calls it sweet, it’s the two-flowered everlasting pea. This was given me at least three years ago and has finally got itself established and flowered. Like much else it struggles to get past the stage where the slugs keep pace with new growth. It also spreads by suckers; I have yet to find out how quickly.
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Hypericum calycinum didn’t make it in. Or Iris ensata, Dianthus deltoides and Erodium. Stipa gigantea sneaked in unannounced. Another time maybe. Perhaps I should have included my watering can, we’ve covered some miles together this week. One day I’ll do six vegetables.
I’ve had a quick look at host The Propagator’s six for this week and they are mighty fine. And the links to other sixes are pouring in. Another weekend of virtual garden visiting. Good thing I can do it in the evenings, daytime is for watering.

 

Allotment update 18/6/2018

It’s a day under four weeks since my last allotment blog and it was the comparison in the pictures above that prompted me to do an update. The growth rate in the last few weeks has been something to behold. I am now harvesting quite a range of crops and a few more are very nearly there.

Strawberries have been good, almost untouched by slugs, meaning I’ve been able to let them ripen properly. Jam has been made. Lettuce, carrots, sorrel, spinach, spinach beet, rhubarb, beetroot, spring onions and courgettes have made it to the table. Early potatoes and peas will start this week. The only real disaster is that my garlic has rust.

For some strange reason the plots to either side of mine have had their peas ravaged by pigeons, while mine are completely untouched. I was a little earlier than they were but that seems to me the only difference. Not that I’m complaining.

I have mentioned before that I have real problems getting plants going from seed sown directly on the plot, almost everything being brought on in cell trays and planted out when an inch or two tall. Leeks, needing to be planted deeper, I did differently. I sowed them in a one litre pot then pricked them out about an inch apart in a ten litre pot when they were about 2 inches tall. They were then grown on until they were big enough to plant out. They are in the top right picture, beside the spinach beet at the far left.

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The top half of the plot here still has brassicas covered with mesh to stop root fly. The cover will need to come off those on the right very soon. From left to right I have celeriac, first time I’ve grown it, seems to be doing OK. Above that is sorrel, a perennial I grew from seed last year. It is great in mixed leaf salads. Annual spinach serves the same purpose, along with lettuce. The very dark lettuce is Oakleaf Navara, a great success, the lighter one is Lollo Rosso. Green Salad Bowl was in the earlier picture. Between the lettuces is beetroot, a golden form called Boldor. This cooks far quicker than Boltardy and is sweet and tender. I’ll grow it again.

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To the right of my windbreak are onions. Furthest on are Rumba, grown from sets started in cells in mid February and planted out in April. They’re planted quite close, we find medium sized onions more practical. I did two sowings of onion Armstrong, the later ones in early March, planted out in May, have caught up with the experimental earlier ones. They look fine but are way behind Rumba. Red onion Red Baron are at the same stage as Armstrong though they have suffered more slug damage. You can see my rusty garlic, Provence, with four good sized elephant garlics in the foreground.

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Lettuce ‘Oakleaf Navara’ and Onion ‘Rumba’

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In the top half of that section are courgettes, potatoes, sweet corn and runner beans. I sowed all the courgettes in the packet, they all germinated and they were all planted out. I figured to get up to speed quickly then remove plants when the glut kicks in. I’ve only grown first early Charlotte spuds this year. In the four years I’ve had the plot I’ve had one decent crop of maincrops, every other year blight has flattened them. I’ll start harvesting any day now.

I’ve grown two varieties of sweet corn, sowing them about four weeks apart. I’m hoping for a longer picking season. They’re closer than it said on the packet but I figured on a wide open south facing slope I’d get away with it. I run the beans along the top of this section, same place every year, because they are not throwing shade over any part of the plot. I haven’t seen much difference between north and south side of the bean row. The beans are Firestorm, with six odd ones given me by another plot holder who got them in France. A week after he gave them to me, he apologised because his own sowing of them had failed completely so he’d realised they were duff seeds. I sowed 20 and 19 germinated. He wasn’t very happy when I told him, he’d gone out and bought plants. I suspect he’d used poor compost, or had them at too low a temperature, but you never really know.

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Runner beans ‘Firestorm’, Courgette ‘Ambassador’, Carrots ‘Romance’ and ‘Autumn King’

Carrots I have continued to successionally sow in one litre deep pots, planting out as a clump as soon as the compost will hold together. Germination is faultless, fairly slow but always around 100%. Slugs are the enemy, I have had pots of seedlings razed overnight by a single slug in the glasshouse and one clump disappeared overnight just after planting out. The tricky bit is sowing them thick enough to have the roots hold the rootball together for planting but thin enough that they grow to a decent size. I aim for about twenty in the pot, but it’s usually more.

On my other plot (I’m greedy, I have two) I am growing Dahlias, Sweet Peas and Butternut Squash. (There are strawberries there too but I can hardly claim to be growing them). The ground is poor and very weedy. Several months of being covered with Mypex failed to kill nettles and buttercup. I sprayed part of it. The Sweet Peas and Squash are struggling but the Dahlias are doing rather well. I have three rows, all grown from seed collected from my own ‘Orange Cushion’ (rows 1 & 2) and ‘Veritable’. The middle row are from a 2016 sowing, the others from 11th March this year. I’m pretty chuffed to have flower buds forming even on some of those. I’m expecting most if not all to flower this year. I’ll keep you posted.

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Dahlias among the weeds. I started weeding after I took the picture, honest.

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Buds on plants sown 11/3/2018

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Sweet Peas and Butternut Squash. I have high hopes.

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In the last few days I’ve found time to take in a bit of the natural world.  On Saturday I walked up Brown Willy, the highest point in Cornwall, coming in from a lane that runs north from Jamaica Inn in the middle of Bodmin Moor.
Wild-02Yesterday I went along the A38 to visit a site where, within a few feet of the roadside is a fine stand of Southern March Orchids, then later in the day back up to the moors to another stand of orchids, this time Heath Spotted Orchids. At least that’s what I think they are, I’m no expert and the Dactylorhiza species are tricky.


Large tracts of Bodmin Moor are covered in Molinia caerulea, purple moor grass, a variety of which I have in the garden, one called ‘Heidebraut’. I don’t really know what distinguishes it as a variety but a handful of seeds from the moorland plants would have given me a lot of equally ornamental plants. On the verges of the lane in are patches of white flowered Geranium pratense from which I did take a little seed a few years back.
The orchids were of course stunning and I have a couple of close relatives of them growing in the garden. The moorland ones were growing in boggy ground along with sundews, cotton grass and bog asphodel.
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I do have a few more wild flowers in the garden too, primroses, foxgloves and wood anemones. My garden bluebells are hybrids and my native Geraniums are selections of wild forms, close enough.
In the main though, I have garden plants. A good few will be wild plants somewhere else in the world, the rest are the creation of plant breeders.
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The Wild versus The Garden then. Our native flora is rather limited, with only a handful of plants that are widely deemed garden worthy. Most flower in late winter or spring and by summer the grasses take over while the seeds ripen on the rest. Our native plants are tough; they have to be to hold their own in plant communities where only the strong survive. Even the few I do grow remind me constantly of their capacity to take over if not kept in check.
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Some are niche plants, adapted to survive on dry rocky outcrops, in boggy ground or by the sea. Competition from other plants is less but such plants are often so highly adapted that they will tolerate only slight deviations from their required conditions. Others choose a niche in time, perhaps coming up, flowering and dying away in a short period, often late winter, before trees come into leaf and before much else is taking over the space.


How much poorer my garden would be without all the non native plants. No Dahlias, Fuchsias or Hydrangeas. No Heleniums or Hedychiums, no Camellias. It’s hard to believe that insects would find more to feed on in late summer if the garden was a meadow. It would all be seed heads awaiting cutting. Heleniums, Fuchsias, single Dahlias and much else are busy with insects in my “exotic” garden.
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On the whole I would say leave the wild stuff in the wild and conserve it robustly. Be proactive in creating good new habitat out of highway verges, railway embankments, the fringes of industrial areas and so on. Suitable areas have a scale, connectedness and absence of disturbance that our gardens cannot provide.

I don’t see my garden as at all hostile to wildlife; I have an abundance of insects gathering nectar and pollen; hedgehogs, newts, frogs and slow worms finding enough to eat. I seldom use chemicals and I’m not fastidious about tidiness.
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I often see scenes in the wild (not that there’s much natural about it in the UK) that could be packed off to Chelsea Flower show and be assured of a medal. An old Cornish granite hedge, covered in lichens, ferns, grasses and flowers;  a ruined mediaeval farmhouse out on the moor, a flower meadow overlooking the sea. For a week it could be a garden but in the wild it is the product of hundreds, maybe thousands of years of competition for survival in harsh conditions. It might look like a garden but it is really something else entirely.