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GOING NATIVE Elly West encourages a low-maintenance, natural eco-system and explores a secret Stapleton haven
’m always so pleased when clients say that they want to grow native species in their gardens. They tend to be low maintenance, wildlife friendly, and they can also be very beautiful. One of my latest projects is to create a garden surrounding a new-build eco-house, with a minimal carbon footprint, and the garden needs to reflect the same ethos. Part of the brief, therefore, is to include native species where possible. Native plants are those that have evolved in the area, and so are uniquely suited to the growing conditions. They will have adapted to your climate and soil, and need less in the way of supplementary fertiliser, spraying or winter mulching. Local wildlife, including birds and butterflies, are also going to have a good relationship with your chosen natives. Many modern flowers are bred for their size and colour, and may not be as attractive to pollinators such as hoverflies and bees. Many hybrids are sterile and don’t actually have any sustenance for wildlife. But if you choose native flowers, you’ll be encouraging a natural eco-system, with a balance of pests and predators, which is all good in terms of making your plot more healthy and therefore lower maintenance. Wildlife-friendly gardens can also be extremely attractive, albeit perhaps in a more subtle way than some of the big, blowsy hybrid plants on the market. Gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in recent years have showcased the trend towards more natural looking spaces, recreating wild landscape and terrain. And, after all, gardening has always been about taming nature. One Bristol project, Feed Bristol, has spent the last five years working with nature and promoting wildflowers. Based in Stapleton, it was set up by the Avon Wildlife Trust as a community food-growing project, using disused land near the M32. The six-acre site now supports several businesses, including its Wildflower Nursery. Although only a stone’s throw from the city centre, this secret haven has an almost magical feel, with winding paths 94 THE BRISTOL MAGAZINE
that take you through and around its many treasures including vegetable beds, medicinal herb crops, meadow flowers, trees and wildlife ponds, all managed organically. It’s a sanctuary – at this time of year, alive with bees and butterflies – really proving just how wildlife can thrive in an urban setting. Project manager Matt Cracknell is passionate about his work and the support it gives to local people through its volunteering programme. The volunteers, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are central to Feed Bristol, and for Matt, the social impact is really important – he stresses the benefits people gain from being part of a team, working with nature and learning new skills. All are welcome, and the atmosphere is friendly and supportive. “The value of nature for health and wellbeing shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says. “I think it’s rare to find such a positive setting with motivated people, and that’s inspiring. We’re giving people skills and personal development, confidence and self-esteem, often helping them into employment or independent living. There are so many case studies, with people saying this has changed their lives.” The site had been left unused for 15 years prior to Feed Bristol moving in, although the soil was rich and had been cultivated previously. The infrastructure had to be built from scratch, and it was important for the project to generate its own revenue. Now there are regular workshops and courses, events, corporate volunteering days and, of course, the nursery, helping to make the site sustainable. The Wildflower Nursery is at the heart of the project, and stocks more than 200 plant varieties, all of local origin – sourced sustainably from Avon Wildlife Trust nature reserves, of which there are 30 in the region. Everything is grown from collected seeds or propagated on site from cuttings, and it’s open to the public on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, as well as the first Saturday of the month from 11am to 5pm. The nursery is also open to trade customers and those undertaking
Above: Temptations on offer at the Feed Bristol Wildflower Nursery include field scabious Opposite page: Find everything from veg beds to medicinal herb crops at Feed Bristol. Also pictured: project manager Matt Cracknell
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