Every little bit counts when it comes to greening our city and helping wildlife, says Jane Moore
Talk about Bath and everyone always exclaims about the city’s beauty thinking primarily of the architecture, secondly of its place in various novels and films. But one of the things that makes it so lovely to my mind is all the green and natural spaces.
Weaving through the city are the green veins of the Kennet and Avon canal and the River Avon, with the wildlife and touch of wilderness that they bring in. High above the hills are thick with fields and woodlands. At the heart are the parks: Royal Victoria Park, Henrietta Park, Sydney Gardens and Parade Gardens to name a few. And the council still puts on a good floral show every summer on roundabouts and lampposts throughout the city despite the cutbacks. But we can all do our bit and my occasional stints at judging for Bath in Bloom always remind me just how much people already do.
Great and Small
Whether it’s a handful of hanging baskets on a pub or a whopper of a window box in front of a shop window – The Star pub on the Paragon and Bath Retro Store in Abbey Green spring immediately to mind but there are many, many others – it all creates an impression.
But we can’t just leave it to the businesses of Bath to make a good show; it is down to us individually to make an effort where we can. It doesn’t need to be a big show – a pot of pelargoniums makes an unmissable splash of colour in a front garden or on a doorstep. Although my house opens straight onto the street I’ve wedged a window box of trailing pelargoniums in rich shades of pink onto my kitchen windowsill. It might be small but it really brightens up all the tarmac and stone.
GREENING BEGINS AT HOME
In the past year or two the Royal Horticultural Society has run a campaign to improve Britain’s front gardens especially but also cityscapes in general with their Greening Grey Britain initiative. This aims to get everyone thinking and doing more to ‘green up’ their gardens. It doesn’t mean you need to turn into Monty Don, it just means putting a bit more thought and planting in place. Don’t forget that improving your garden also adds value to your house so it’s by no means a waste of time or money. You can find ideas for small planting schemes and how to sign up to pledge to help green grey Britain in 2017 on the rhs website (rhs.org.uk).
PARKING AND PLANTING
With the pressures of parking in Bath I’ve watched many front gardens turn into barren wastelands of paving for parking. Plant a few undemanding little things in between the tracks for the wheels to add colour and interest, instead of just having a boring paved driveway.
Stonecrops and sedums, hardy geraniums and creepers such as the golden creeping Jenny are all easy going and look great growing in gravel. Lots of herbs such as dwarf lavender, marjoram and thymes tend to thrive in drier spots and have the added benefit of being brilliant food plants for bees and butterflies.
BRING IN THE WILDLIFE
Even small urban gardens produce a ‘green corridor’ effect which is hugely beneficial to wildlife. Smaller creatures such as birds, bees and butterflies often don’t travel far and will live their entire lives in one or two gardens. Sir David Attenborough has been urging people to take part in the 2017 Big Butterfly Count – the largest survey of butterflies and moths – which runs until 6 August. Sign up at bigbutterflycount.org and pledge to take 15 minutes recording the species of butterflies that you can see in your garden, or a wild space such as a meadow. This has been organised in response to the news that 75% of butterfly species are in decline in the UK, and loss of habitat is a major contributory factor.
Planting a handful of beneficial plants such as buddleia, ornamental elderberry and even bedding annuals such as cosmos and marigolds can prove a major draw to wildlife in no time at all. Add a bird table and a pond if you’re so inclined and you’ll be positively inundated with wildlife.
Besides the immediately obvious, there are considerable other benefits to making a bit more effort with your garden which are perhaps less blatant. Greening urban areas makes a huge difference to storm water run off after heavy rain, reducing urban flooding. It’s plain to gardeners that plants and soft ground will absorb a great deal of excess water whereas it just runs straight off hard surfaces such as paving and tarmac filling storm drains, rivers and then adding to flooding problems.
Plants also help to improve air quality acting as natural filters as well as improving air cooling, making it more bearable in towns and cities in hot weather, not to mention providing some welcome shade.
There’s also some evidence that garden vegetation helps to insulate buildings by reducing the heating and cooling of brickwork. Certainly wall grown plants such as wisteria and roses make great nesting spots for birds and provide essential cover for little birds to hop about in while feeding. Green roofs are great but probably require a bit more effort than most of us can be bothered with, but we can all manage a couple of hanging baskets and a window box and it all helps to soften the stonework.
I know I’m preaching to the converted, but there is no doubt that gardening keeps you healthy and happy. Not only do you get physical with all the stretching bending and lifting – not too much though – but it’s also good for your mental wellbeing to spend time outdoors and that leads to improved health for people who garden. The natural world and a good dose of sunshine and fresh air does wonders for a weary soul and that’s one benefit to greening the city that I think we’ll all heartily approve of. Happy planting.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Follow her on Twitter: @janethegardener.