Hooray for nettles, thistles and docks

and because of them hooray for ever more butterflies.

This summer I have seen more butterfly species in the garden than in any previous year.  Whilst none of them are rare I am delighted by each sighting.   Counting actual butterfly numbers is not something I would attempt, save to say that my perception is that there are also more individuals as well as more species.  At times there have been lots!

From the table below it is clear that they must have the (often unpopular) wild plants such as nettles for caterpillar food in order to complete their life cycles.  I no longer allow nettles to grow in the polyculture beds – because I don’t want the grandchildren to get stung – but there are plenty in the hedge.  I do let docks grow everywhere and there are a few thistles too.

This table shows the butterflies that I have seen this year.  The new ones – for here – are painted lady, holly blue, small copper and comma.

Name and Latin name Over wintering and larval food plant Habitat
Orange tip

Anthocharis cardamines



Damp meadows, woodland rides, flowery roadside verges, gardens
Red admiral

Vanessa atalanta


Nettle and hop

Flowery meadows and other flowery habitats
Small tortoiseshell

Nymphalis urticae



Open areas often in vicinity of nettles

Nmyphalis io


Nettle and hop

Woodland rides and glades
Painted lady

Vanessa cardui



Sunny and open with thistles
Holly blue

Celastrina argiolis


Holly and ivy

Diverse habitats with larval food plants
Small white

Pieris rapae



Open clearings, flowery meadows
Large white

Pieris brassicae



Open clearings, flowery meadows
Small copper

Iycaena phlaeas


Common sorrel, sheep’s sorrel, dock

Flowery pastures, heathland

Maniola tithonius



Hedgerows, grassy areas, woodland

Nymphalis c-album


Nettle, hops, elms, currants

Woodland rides and glades

I haven’t been taking photos much this summer so didn’t actually capture any images, so here is one from 2017:

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Love that lasts forever my partner’s new book!

I am thrilled to announce that my partner – Pat Barrow – has her first novel published next week!

Pat is retired from work now but spent decades working in the family courts with families enmeshed in high conflict private law cases about post separation arrangements for children.  In the course of that work she met many, many people – children and adults – who were very damaged and even heartbroken by their experiences.

Pat had an incredibly effective way of working with these families and was often able to find ways through seemingly intractable difficulties enabling parents and children to have an ongoing relationship that at one time looked most unlikely.

Love that lasts forever is a fictional tale based upon the work that Pat did and it shows some of the behaviour patterns that individuals can fall into when they are in dispute over their children.  Pat was always very aware that a child’s age and developmental stage plays a crucial role in their understanding of their family’s dynamics and whether or not they are able to cope with what is happening to them.  As the narrator of the story looks back over her young life she recognises that as a young child she was utterly inequipped to cope and reflects on the consequences of being forced into experiencing an anguishing conflict of loyalties between her parents.

This book is for anyone who has experienced this type of painful family breakdown whether as an adult or as a child, or anyone who has watched helplessly from the sidelines as their friends or loved ones go through such pain.  It is also for any of us who care about how families work and would like to have some idea of how to help when they don’t.

It is available in paperback and ebook format and if you want to buy a copy it is available through Austin Macauley the publisher (who at the moment have the best price, much better than that well known online giant) and also through Waterstones in the UK and Barnes and Noble in the US.

Love That Lasts Forever

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A Thoughtful Guide to Planting Trees and Saving the Earth — Blog – The Food Forest Project

Here’s a post from ‘The Food Forest Project’ blog – one with which I heartily concur:

Climate breakdown is unfolding before our eyes, the planet is losing species faster than at any other time in human history, and people are panicking. We are right to panic. As individuals we feel that there is only so much we can do; stop eating meat, stop flying, pressure our governments to take action on…

via A Thoughtful Guide to Planting Trees and Saving the Earth — Blog – The Food Forest Project

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summer trees

I have been away on holiday and missed the last two months for posting my tree following.  They are all in their summer glory right now and I thought I would add something about the context they are growing in.

Whitebeam in Old St Chad’s Churchyard, Shrewsbury

This is a lovely quiet spot just off the main shopping streets and a few hundred yards down the road from the apartment my partner and I have in the town centre.  The whitebeam shares the peace with chestnuts, acers and others, and of course the silently ‘slumbering’ deceased of years gone by.   Shrewsbury has several lovely old churches in the heart of the town, this one fell into disrepair and was replaced by a glorious circular building on the Town Walls, but I love the tranquility of this often overlooked corner.

Old St Chad’s Churchyard

Old St Chad’s Church

Apple Trwyn Mochyn

This is one of several apples I have planted in our Welsh garden.  It is part of a polyculture of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs and as you can see sometimes the exuberance of the polyculture’s growth climbs up to and into the apple tree.

The picture above was before summer pruning and below is after – and I have also removed the plants growing very close to the tree.

Silver Birch, in South Shropshire semi ancient woodland

This is one of quite a few silver birch growing in this corner of the woodland.  It is a damp site and although silver birch readily colonise the site, they don’t live all that long on it.  Further down the slope where more moisture accumulates two (or perhaps three) have fallen in the last year and some are rotting where they stand, prior to falling – maybe this winter?

On a sunny summer’s afternoon there is nowhere quite as serene and uplifting as being in the woods.


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Song of Water

Song of Water is a blog post written by James McGowan for the Dark Mountain website which I am re-blogging here.  It beautifully illustrates the depth of the relationship with nature that most humans have lost a long time ago, but towards which we all need to turn now.



Posted in Indigenous wisdom and practice, Relationship with nature | Tagged | 2 Comments

re-interpreting the garden

Q:        When I walk out into my garden this afternoon what is the most helpful ‘thing’ I can take outside with me?

A:        A different attitude of heart and mind.  A mind that is prepared to give up control and to embrace trust and a heart that can love everything equally within the garden.

The conventional garden mind is about control and subjugation – which characterise just about all our human relationships with the natural world.  This attitude has had calamitous effects and I keep reading and hearing that as we contemplate the catastrophic consequences of our way of life we need a new way of relating to the natural world.

If we can but start to see with different eyes, if we can pause and give our hearts time to catch up, we can discover that our gardens are offering us the chance to learn and embody a completely different relationship with the world around us.  A relationship that has abandoned control and embraced trust, that is founded upon mutual reciprocity and equality and which challenges us to the core of our beings to embrace radically different ways of thinking, feeling and (most importantly) behaving.

For me this means understanding first in my head and then in my heart that my garden needs to be created and to function as a mini ecosystem; that is nested within larger neighbouring ecosystems and ultimately that it is inextricably linked to every other place on the planet.  And for this to be the case my garden has to find a dynamic balance between all the living beings that live in it or that visit it – a balance of which I am part.  And that means re-evaluating what I can see happening in front of me.  I am pledged to do the minimum in the garden and to learn by experience as I let nature get on with finding the way forward.  Amongst other things this means that I don’t take any action at all to guard against or to remove any living beings, whether they are considered to be ‘pests’ or not.  And this is one of the points where the conventional gardening mind can start to go into panic mode.

Yesterday I saw these lily beetles mating.

Looking them up on gardening websites etc gives plenty of scope for being horrified as in this piece from The Telegraph which describes them thus:

“Lily beetles, the scarlet-coated horrors that (with their equally destructive grubs), do so much damage to lilies and close relations, hibernate in the top inch or two of soil, sometimes but not always close to lilies, and also in other undisturbed garden debris.”

No single plant is of supreme importance in my garden, everything is there because it contributes its own unique qualities to the overall garden.  The lilies are in this polyculture bed, which is about as diverse as it could possibly be, with fruits, onions, root vegetables, herbs, ornamental shrubs and plants and wild flowers.  The lilies are just one element of the overall complexity but they do have significance for me because I was given them by someone I love.

Either way, it is not for me to interfere and certainly not for me to abhor these little creatures.  Lily beetles eat lilies (which is a natural thing to do because all herbivores are busy converting vegetable matter into animal matter).  And something else will eat lily beetles.  And something else will eat whatever it is that eats lily beetles.  And so on.  That is how nature is.  And I leave it to nature to fill in the gaps.  I think we all need to learn how to leave this to nature.*

There has been a great deal of publicity and concern recently about the massive declines in insect numbers overall, like this piece in The Guardian.  And this looming insect apocalypse begs many questions.  Are our flower beds really more important than global ecology?  Are we going to persist in labelling some of Earth’s valuable and vulnerable creatures as ‘pests’ whilst lauding others as ‘beneficials’?  We must each make our choices whilst our gardens and all of nature wait to see what they will be.

*My forthcoming book explains how and why this can be done (in detail).

Posted in Borderland Garden, ecosystem, Polycultures, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Waiting, Watching | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Massive perennial kales

Perennial kales were one of the first perennial vegetables I tried to acquire and from that time to this they have always been a mainstay of my garden.  This year they have surpassed themselves in growing even more massive than ever before.  Firstly there is the green Daubenton’s kale pictured below – I haven’t measured it but it is at least the span of my outstretched arms across this (single) plant.

Then there is the plant I had from seed labelled ‘wild’ kale.  It doesn’t look like wild kale and I am not sure what it actually is.  There are several plants in this picture and each one of them is large!  It is reliably perennial – ie it lasts for several years even though it flowers profusely.  I have saved the seeds of these to propagate when they eventually die and also propagated them from cuttings, but because the leaves are so big this means of propagation is not all that easy.  You can’t see the bees in the picture, but they are there buzzing around like mad, in seeming ecstasy.  The flowers taste nice to eat too and look pretty on top of a salad.  I will save seeds from these plants later in the year so please get in touch if you would like some.

And finally there is the lovely Taunton Deane kale.  This plant is even bigger than the other two.  I picked a huge armful of medium sized leaves the other day – the largest ones and stalks were discarded (back to the garden as part of the mulch layer).  The medium sized leaves were lightly tossed in oil and crushed dried garlic and then put onto three baking sheets to dry at 50 degrees celsius in the oven for several hours until crispy.  They made two jars full of crushed up dried loveliness because this is an incredibly delicious way of eating kale.  And the small leaves were steamed to go with our meal.  This kale doesn’t flower and is easily propagated from cuttings. Most of what is visible in this picture is a single massive plant and part is a smaller plant propagated last year.


These kales used to be tricky to find, but there are more and more suppliers all the time now.  I recommend Incredible Vegetables and the Backyard Larder.

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