Not the most beautiful area at Chartwell…
…but perhaps just as interesting and important?
This week I’m going to talk about an area here at Chartwell that is never seen by any of our thousands of visitors. The two pictures above show a scrubby bank that runs alongside the main tool shed in the gardeners’ yard. We walk past this bank every day as we make our way down to the bothy for tea and sarnies and in previous years we probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance. That is because we used to strim this area to give us access to various storage zones (aka places to put bits of junk we don’t know what else to do with!) This year however, we have let it grow and the amount of wildflowers that have popped their heads up is astounding.
As well as providing a beautiful, traditional British landscape to enjoy, wildflowers are of great biodiversity importance. Plants are known as primary producers within an ecosystem, which means that they provide food for all of the creatures within in it, either directly or indirectly. Grasses and native wild flowers provide nectar and pollen for a huge community of bees, butterflies and many other insects. Native plant species are best for attracting the widest variety of native wildlife. Insects will in turn attract insectivores such as birds, bats, frogs, toads, voles, shrews and hedgehogs as well as their predators such as owls and kestrels to create a healthy ecosystem.
Now although the pictures at the top of this post may not look particularly interesting, the selection below will hopefully go some to showing you some of the hidden delights within this small area of wild, unkempt scrub…
This Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) is much loved by many insects including hoverflies for the easily accessible nectar. The small purple flower in the centre has evolved to attract other insects to the plant!
This Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is named after the distinctive swelling behind the flower. It is an important nectar source for butterflies and food source for frog hoppers.
Possibly one of the prettiest plants on our bank is this Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis). It’s a great nectar plant for bumblebees and also a food plant for the Wood White butterfly.
The Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) in popular with butterflies and moths to mate upon, but can also be eaten as a salad (tasting of cucumber) or to flavour beer!
This Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) is so loved by bees and butterflies that they virtually queue up to drink from its rich nectar source!
Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) was once popular for filling mattresses but here at Chartwell it is available to attract a wide range of butterflies as well as being a food source for the Hummingbird Hawk Moth.
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) has to be one of the best wild plants for attracting wildlife. In Summer the tiny pink flowers attract many types of bee, butterfly and even beetle. Later in the year the large seed heads provide a great food source for birds such as Goldfinches. Plus, structurally it looks magnificent!
Mason bees and hoverflies are amongst the insects that flock to Oxeye Daisy plants (Leucanthemum vulgare) but beware as they are prolific self-seeders that can colonize sunny areas quickly.
Thistles (Cirsium sp.) may not be a gardener’s favourite plant but these ones look great in the sunshine! They are also important nectar sources for many types of butterfly, including Painted Lady and Peacock, and food sources for birds via their seedheads.
Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) provides nectar for bees and butterflies alike, as well as the little chap in this picture! They also offer seeds for birds if left to stand.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) may be considered a weed in a fine lawn, but it is much loved by many moths as well greefly-devouring ladybirds and hoverflies.
As you can see, a small, seemingly insignificant scrap of grassland might very well contain a myriad of attractive flowering plants that can provide enough food for a whole army of bees, butterflies, birds and much more besides. Other hidden beauties along this stretch of wild bank include the following:
This sweetly scented Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)…
…these gorgeous bright red poppies (Papaver sp.)…
…and even these sweet little bramble (Rubus sp.) flowers!
While you may not get to see this particular selection of wild flowers here at Chartwell (unless you start to volunteer with the garden team!) there are plenty of other areas around the gardens and the wider estate where you can spot many more wildflowers and other plants much loved by our native fauna. And who knows, maybe this blog post might even persuade you to leave an area of your garden to be colonized by your very own wildlife-supporting plants?