The I.Pot in March 2017

I cut back last year’s growth on the I.Pot the other day and so I thought it was time to do an update on what’s been happening.


This year is the first time I have actually cut the grass (quaking-grass and meadow oat-grass) leaves back to the ground (scissors, for those wondering how, and yes, I did pretend I was a sheep when I was doing it. Come on, everybody does, right?), before I carefully only cut out all the dead leaves and flower stems. This year was much quicker.


The grasses were growing a bit too strongly last year, and also were hiding the Fritillaria uvavulpis (not native but I wanted to include a bulb in the pot and I thought it would do nicely) which I’m hoping to see flower this year as last they mainly keeled over and died when in bud for some reason (just possibly because the person in charge of watering the pot forgot *sigh*).


In other news, all three bee orchids are back and have been happily in leaf over the winter with no snails around to chomp them; and did I spot the seedling? Nope, not until I looked at the photos. To be fair, it is tiny at the moment, just under a centimetre long.


I’m not sure how quickly bee orchid seedlings grow but I’m pretty certain I didn’t see any leaves there last year. The first possible seed produced from the bee orchids growing in the pot would have been at the end of summer 2014, but they also flowered in 2015, so it could have germinated from either season. From memory I think it spends a year below ground after germinating before sending up any leaves. One thing I can say for certain is that bee orchids are definitely not monocarpic.


Comparing the I.Pot from March 2014 (left) to March 2017 (right) then, and you can see that there are a lot less species present now and in general it looks less full and the plants not as vigorous, as you would expect as I don’t feed it at all.

I finally cut back the thrift which died during the year – shame as I like that flower.


On the plus side, those little tiny seedlings are the eyebright which has done spectacularly well in the last two years and is a possible solution to conservation situations where yellow-rattle fails, as it did here. The skinny grass seedlings are silver hair-grass which I do like very much though I notice there are less of them this year. The grass-leaved vetchling (left) returns after a year’s absence, ditto common centaury (centre right), and nice to see the spring vetch (right) back and it did actually seed itself at the base of my doorstep though I doubt it will flower there before the soil dries out over the summer.

Also the pot now has three different mosses – all common, but nevertheless very welcome.




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The I. Pot so far in 2016


As the eyebright has just started to flower- it’s a late summer flowering species, no idea which one – and I haven’t written about my I.Pot for a while I thought I’d do a review of the year so far.

The thrift pretty much died at the beginning of the year…a final slow and steady decline. For whatever reason, I find thrift does not like being in a pot much more than a year. Here it is on the left (I still haven’t removed it) with some of the many eyebright seedlings.IMG_4420

Those eyebright seedlings have been pretty much that size since the end of May.


The tiny spring vetch flowered and is now setting seed.


Only one of the bee orchids flowered, but they self-pollinate


IMG_4421and so seed is forming now. The two other bee orchids that flowered for the last two years were just small leaf rosettes this year, one getting a bit chomped by a snail.


The small scabious is now flowering – the plant
has stayed small and is a bit spindly although the quaking grass and meadow oat-grass have bulked up and flowered well this year…perhaps the reason that other things have not done so well.


So far this year then, moments of interest but generally looking a bit scruffy and a steady decline in the number of species growing present. I think I can see the signs of adult vine weevils too which might affect things further, but we will see.

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A tale of two Globeflowers


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Way back in 1918 J. W. Heslop Harrison wrote a paper on a survey of the Lower Tees Marshes in which he describes the “Trollius Bog” at BMap from 1918illingham Bottoms.

This exciting marshy area contained such delights as Marsh Helleborine, Grass-of-Parnassus, and Meadow-rue (which is rare with us up north) alongside plentiful amounts of Globeflower. Heslop Harrison was intrigued by the globeflower growing at only ten feet above sea-level when normally it is found high up in the hills at the head of the River Tees and to the north in Scotland. His friend Bolam sent him some roots from 1000 feet and 1800 feet from near Alston and others from about 500 feet at Wark in Northumberland, all of which he grew with plants from the Tees Marshes. Side by side he immediately notices differences; the upland form has greenish flower buds, the lowland has reddish brown. The upland has a short and rarely branching flower spike, the lowland was the opposite… and so it continues with a list of morphological attributes (see at end of blog). So different are they that he proposes for the lowland plant the name relictus.

Would you be surprised to hear that the bog was filled in during 1955 and the area around it made into a golf-course in the 1960’s? There’s no Globeflower left there now.

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Then, in 1986, a small colony was discovered in a wet flush on the edge of a wood about 3.5miles (6km-ish) away to the west and on the same river system, at a height of 60mglobeflower in pot above sea level.

In 2003 a work colleague, Helen, went to visit the site, later collected seed and we grew it on into small plants. In 2006 she obtained a grant to start an introduction programme into the nearby woodland park owned by Stockton-on-Tees Council. We selected suitably marshy spots in which to plant it out but also so local people could easily see the plants as they walked around the park, and then we monitored the sites for a few years.


Ten years on and the plants are flowering in three of the six sites where we planted them, looking strong and healthy and flowering well in 2016. They don’t appear to be spreading – no obvious seedlings …but they are still there and seen by all who walk past.


The flower stems are branched and tall, some of the buds a bit reddish brown and so could well be the same genetics as Heslop Harrison’s lowland form, but then some are more greenish…though still with branched flower stems.


On the same day I went to visit the site of the small colony discovered in 1986 but there were no flowers to be seen; I had to hunt hard to find any plants and those were few and small. Why the change? Well, at some point in the 1990s more trees were planted on the valley side and they have now grown so large that their roots perhaps dry out the soil in the summer, or maybe the shade is now simply too oppressive.

Character. Upland Form. Lowland Form.
Flower Buds. Greenish. Reddish brown.
Colour of flowers. Yellow. Slightly deeper.
Bracts. Not so leaflike and few. Leaflike and many.
Flowering Spike. Short and rarely, if ever, branching. Long and branching frequently enough.
Seedpods. Rich deep purple in colour. Only very faintly so.
Leaves. Much more compact owing to the closeness of the segments; on average not so long. Freer in growth in all these characters.

Heslop Harrison’s table of the main differences between the two extremes of Globeflower.

Postscript:a week after writing the above I went to visit the garden at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust at Margrove where two years ago I transplanted a few large Globeflower plants from the recently shut plant nursery which grew the above Globeflowers (so they are of the same genetic stock). You can see how much they resemble the Upland form, which makes me wonder if it was the transplanting that made them grow like that…


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What garden writers say…interpreted


I love reading about plants and gardens but sometimes, just sometimes, the same words get used a bit too often or there is a phrase that catches my eye and I wonder what the writer really meant, so I thought I’d write about that.

“Exquisite”  – really small flowers and fantastic detail, but I forgot my reading glasses so couldn’t see them properly enough to accurately describe them.

“Intuitive hybridiser” – seriously, I have never seen anyone so badly organized make such random scatty decisions and they are, quite frankly, very very lucky to have such a good end result.

“Innovative” – it looked completely bonkers; I’d be amazed if the owner understood what they were doing let alone me in the two seconds that I saw it between being offered cake, weak milky tea, and listening to stories, that I couldn’t possibly repeat, of that cruise they went on in 1976 with Alan Titchmarsh.


“It is probably…” – I’m about to make a really big sweeping statement to start this article and if you know anything about the subject I’m writing you’ll be able to pull it to shreds which is why I used the word probably. Thankfully most of you reading this have not got a clue and care slightly less, because let’s face it you only bought this magazine to look at the photos.

“My favourite is…” – hoping to get this sent to me as a freebie.

“We must garden with a freedom and ease that comes with a deep absorption and close affinity with the place” – what did you say the word count of the article had to be again?

“…romantic yet practical, experimental but traditional; an emotional experience, a garden of timeless quality…”-  As far as I can tell they are desperate for as many visitors as they can cram in, so I’m doing my best in this article to make sure no-one feels excluded.


“undulating topography” – I wrote “a bit bumpy”  earlier and the editor hates it if you repeat phrases in the same article, so this is what the synonyms feature of Word came up with.

“Planning a border is a little like organising a meal…” – except if you go to the supermarket for a ready meal it really isn’t, but I’m trying to make out that you are all amazing chefs preparing everything from scratch including growing your own vanilla pods (all my friends’ head gardeners do this), because there are some recipes to create attractively photographed food later on in the magazine.

“My column this month is rather unusual…” – I thought I’d point it out at the beginning in case you don’t notice.


I should really have been working rather than typing this; it’s a good job it’s a worthwhile contribution to garden writing otherwise it would have been a complete waste of a Sunday afternoon.

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The Bee Orchids Flowered Again

The bee orchids flowered again; two out of the three plants, just like last year. It’s always exciting to see such a complex looking flower, more so when it’s sitting in a pot next to your door. They seeded and died down as usual and only the non-flowering one releafed again last autumn…at least at first….the other two finally made an appearance, but look small. Anyway, they definitely don’t always die after flowering which is interesting.


After 2014’s stunning failure to grow yellow-rattle, I scattered the seed of some eyebright I’d found in a car-park a few years back and it germinated, sat there quietly all summer 2015 and then suddenly was absolutely charming and full of flower towards the end of the year. Fingers crossed it has reseeded itself for 2016.


Some white clover germinated  – don’t know where the seed came from – but I decided to let it grow and grow it did. And grow and grow. It tumbled down the pot, flowered, the bees visited and I got cold feet about it and decided it was unbalancing everything; its leaves were so numerous that it dried the pot out quickly and it dominated so. I cut its top growth off to kill it, but left the roots in the compost so everything else wasn’t disrupted. They’ll rot off soon enough.

Other than that…mixed bag really. The silver hair-grass was much smaller this year, but the meadow oat-grass is gaining steadily and the quaking grass looked well. The thrift is gradually browning and dieing – not sure why, but they tend not to like being in a pot for any length of time. The small scabious flowered…just.

My Fritilaria uva-vulpis appeared and then all but one looked poorly and failed to grow or open properly. I’m not really expecting to see them this year; I wonder whether they caught a rot or just that they dried out at a crucial point – I’m not the most consistent waterer.


So, out of 26 species planted and another 11 that were either sown or turned up, I now have 16 left although there may be some hiding as seeds yet to germinate.


Verdict so far: I’m enjoying it…the decisions you make are similar to those in a real garden and it’s not been much hassle to maintain, although I think you would say it was more interesting than decorative…bit like its owner then.

Also I would like to point out that if I lived somewhere hot that peeling paint on the doorstep would be like totally fabulously shabby-chic and anyone reading this would be all…”I sooo love that doorstep in the south of France” rather than being completely judgemental about my lack of doorstep painting ability.

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Telling Wildflower Stories

This summer I’ve been taking local people out and about along the Cleveland Coast looking for wildflowers on the beaches with the Tees Valley Wildlife at south gare photo by SueAnd up cliffs (It’s just like plant hunting that adventurers go on in foreign places, except that you get home in time for tea). More on the Cleveland Coast Project here.IMG_20150704_143827We held 14 different walks on mornings, afternoons and evenings, and yes…at the weekends too so everyone had the opportunity to join in, and we had 257 participants.

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What we tried to do was to take people out to the plants (which were spectacular) and then talk about how the habitat they are living in is intertwined with the actions of local people both now and in the past.

Let me give you an example – Purple milk-vetch – nationally classed as endangered  due to habitat loss – stunningly beautiful, and all over the back of some dunes at South Gare where it grows near masses of Harebells.

IMG_2579And in that picture of Harebells is your clue – that’s the local (Redcar) steelworks, the one that’s been in the news because it has just been shut down. Well…the spot where all these plants are growing didn’t exist as dry land before 1860 (it was sea and mudflats) when a two and a half mile Gare protecting the south side of the mouth of the River Tees was started. They used slag, the calcareous waste product of the local steel industry (there was a lot more of it in those days) plus a bit of concrete and officially opened in 1888.

IMG_2623Since that time sand has been slowly accumulating….by the 1920’s it was one of the flattest stretches of beach in the country and the land speed record was attempted several times. And more and more sand has accumulated since then until that ‘Goldilocks’ moment when the conditions were just right for Purple Milk-vetch to grow; which is now. Imagine that… dumping of industrial waste creates a perfect habitat for Purple Milk-vetch after 150 years. Not every action has a predictable outcome.

IMG_2361IMG_2330IMG_2634We’ve also been asking people to upload photographs they’ve taken of coastal wildflowers to our website and then I’ve been naming them.  751 photographs by over 40 people are now available to view (see here and click on a thumbnail), so even local people who can’t get out much can see what we were privileged to enjoy over the summer.IMG_1123 - Copy

Until 18th November there is a photograph exhibition at the Palace Hub Gallery in Redcar showcasing some of the best from the project competition we held – I wrote about the opening evening here.

Did the project work? Yes, but we need more small local projects like this. Why not ask your Wildlife Trust if they will apply for a grant to run one in your area?

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How do you get people to look at their local flora?

There has been much written about the disconnect for people between the modern digital world and the natural world – how we all need to get out more because it is good for our health, both mentally and physically. In my patch, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust have been thinking about that problem a lot and this year have been awarded a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to try and engage people with the flora of their local coastline; I’m involved in that project.

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We don’t have anything particularly rare growing here but we do have plants (not always native) with interesting stories behind them, set amongst both natural and man-made habitats, and all with a spectacular scenic backdrop.

So why don’t people notice them?

They do notice sometimes, but I think they often don’t differentiate between the different wildflowers. My brother does this….all trees come with the label ‘tree’ attached; he’s aware vaguely that they are different in some way but he’d be hard pushed to tell you the differences. In his everyday life I’m sure he doesn’t notice them except as background and I think that’s the same for someone walking their dog on the beach front – they see flowers and think they are nice and, well, ‘wildflowers’. Or they don’t look because they don’t know what to look for and the flowers go unseen.

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We are creatures of selective attention: Buy a red car and all of a sudden you are amazed at the number of red cars that are everywhere. Give something a name, or have some personal involvement, and you are more likely to look for and notice it in the future.

So if you notice it more when you know the name, how can we get people to learn the names of plants – to see that there are different types of ‘wildflower’?

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That’s where modern technology helps. Most people, when out for a walk, now have either a phone with a camera or a small pocket camera that they carry for snapshots.  See something you don’t know, take a photograph of it and then… you need to find someone to give you a name for it. This year local people can upload their photo to our website , let us know which stretch of coast they found the flower and I will name it for them. We’re gradually going to build up a visual library of the plants that people have noticed – have you seen what other people have spotted? – and even if you are housebound you can still have a look at the wildflower photos and enjoy them from home.


I’m running four photography workshops (looking at how we can record a plant clearly, as well as more artistic interpretations) and running a series of gentle ambles where we wander along and I point out interesting wildflowers and tell a funny story, and (yes there’s more) also some longer walks which give us time to talk about why different plants grow where they grow and the social history of those habitats. There’s even a fun photography competition with an exhibition in a local art gallery at the end of the year.

If it all goes well, then maybe we can get funding to focus on birds next year, or fossils, or snails or …

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