Going for Gold again

SOUTH & SOUTH EAST IN BLOOM – IDEAS FOR 2021 and what you can do

Last year, Balcombe won a Gold Award in the annual South and South East in Bloom competition, part of Britain in Bloom, when we were up against stiff competition; the Guerrilla Gardeners also won praise in the SSEIB event.

You can see our entry on the Balcombe.Community website here.

We are proud of everyone whose involvement in the village contributed to our award. However, 2020, as we all know, was a challenging year, and the SSEIB judges were unable to visit Balcombe. Instead, our Powerpoint presentation had to suffice, and we were able to include many things that may not be repeated in a more normal year.

As a result of our strong entry in 2020, we need some impressive material this year to win over the judges a second time. Hence, we have compiled a list of topics that we hope might provide food for thought for everyone who wants to be part of this year’s SSEIB entry. We also hope these suggestions will enhance and strengthen our community and environment, in line with the aims of SSEIB.

If anyone would like to suggest additional ideas, then please do so. We have created an email address balcombeinbloom@gmail.com for you to share your thoughts.

Make a Bug Hotel

A so-called ‘bug hotel’ can be whatever you want it to be, made out of whatever materials you find that will provide a home for wildlife and the creatures that live in our gardens. The latter include ladybirds, solitary bees, earwigs, beetles, centipedes, spiders and many others that are so vital to the ecosystem but which are threatened by human disturbance.

A bug hotel can be as simple as a pile of branches and hollow sticks interspersed with dry grass, moss, leaves, bark and broken pots. It can be structured with old bits of pallets, discarded house tiles, broken bricks, chicken wire, cardboard and what have you. It just needs to be constructed and placed on a well drained site where it will get warm sunlight and not too much wind.

The RSPB, The Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and many other organisations provide information on how to make a bug hotel. And if we all made a bug hotel in our gardens, the creatures that pollinate our flowers, enable our vegetables and fruits to form and control our ‘pests’ would be extremely grateful for the help.

Sussex Wildlife Trust also has a lot of information about wildlife and your garden here.

Make a wildflower garden

From what we have learned so far, getting wildflowers to grow is trickier than building a bug hotel. However, try we will if we can find suitable verges and gain the right permissions and support. We are consulting WSCC and Balcombe Parish Council to see if this is possible.

Planting wildflowers is also something each of us can do in our own gardens to encourage some of the UK’s staggering 1,500 species of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Key to getting the seeds to grow seems to be to start with bare soil so that these delicate plants are not out competed by the more vigorous weeds and grass. Shade and high fertility seem to be the killers.

  • Wildflower seeds can be planted from March to the end of May or mid August to mid October. Autumn is sometimes considered the best time as there is less competition from weeds.
  • The ground should be cleared or scarified if a lawn area, with the dead grass and unwanted plants completely removed.
  •  Loosening the soil surface is the only other preparation needed as wildflowers do best on poor soil.
  • The seeds should be chosen for your particular soil type i.e. sandy, clay, etc, and watering done to encourage germination.
  • It is best to buy seed mixes of native species.
  • Compact the soil after sowing by carefully treading over it.
  • Annuals may only take a couple of weeks to germinate, with biennials and perennials taking longer.
  • Ongoing maintenance of your wildflower area requires strimming or mowing, with the detritus removed, and that’s all.

People can find seed suppliers by searching online.

Like other sites, Landlife Wildflowers gives information about how to grow your wildflowers, recommending only 5g of annual and 1g for biennial and perennial mixes for 1m² of land. Sowing so few seeds requires a carrier such as sand to enable an even spread.

Landlife Wildflowers seems very comprehensive. Among their many options is a Butterfly and Bee Wildflower Mix, with the Royal Horticultural Society “perfect for pollinators” label. This option has a sowing rate of 3g per 1m², and costs £5 for 10g.

British Wildflower Seeds looks like another good supplier of native UK seeds and their site has lots of information on how to plant the seeds and get them to grow. They sell a Sussex Meadow Seed Mix and a Weald Meadow Seed Mix, a 20g packet starting at £8.50, plus others specified as bee and butterfly friendly.

Beebombs appears to be another interesting option. They sell their seeds packed into little “bombs” of clay that you just throw on a patch of ground, water liberally and wait. Beebombs tells you how to start and what to do to encourage your seeds, which, it warns, can take up to 2 years in some species. A Beebomb pack costs £7.99 and is enough for 2m²; 5 packs costs £29.99, while 10 costs £49.99. The more you buy, the cheaper they are.

Finally, people might like to look at FlowerScapes. According to their shop page, 5g of seeds starts at £3.50 with 100g costing £20.

Why not have a look at these and other suppliers and think about spending a few pounds to help give pollinators like bees and butterflies a helping hand in our highly pressurised environment.

The Soil Association has a lot of information about bees and how to help them on its website here.

You can also read about West Sussex County Council’s Pollinator Action plan here.

Litter picking

To support SSEIB, why not help out with Balcombe Parish Council’s litter picking efforts? BPC can help identify where litter has built up and needs removing, and it has sacks and litter pickers for people to borrow.

Litter picking can be done by families working together or a couple of friends as part of their daily exercise. Please be careful if you are near any roads or other hazards. Be careful of any ‘litter’ that looks hazardous and dispose of all rubbish safely. BPC has a dedicated bin for litter picking deposits outside Bramble Hall for use at the end of your collection.

Call or email the parish clerk for more information on 01444 811833 or parish.clerk@btconnect.com

Balcombe School Pond

Last year, some of us began restoring the school pond, which had become overgrown and silted up. The paths to the site were completely overgrown so that the children were unable to even reach the pond. One of the benches was rotten, and the sign explaining the pond environment had faded.

This year, we are continuing with the work, removing the overgrown plants from the water and cutting back those at the edges. The children visited the pond in the autumn term last year and we hope they will get more use out of it this year as we continue its restoration.

This is a fun and rewarding project to be involved in, and anyone who wants to help can email Rob McIntyre at RMcIntyre@balcombeschool.co.uk

Similarly with the garden next to the school hall entrance, where the bed and boxes have been cleared of overgrowth, ready for new planting and use by the children.

We are also hoping to get a working party of parents together to give the school grounds a tidy before the summer term when the children will be allowed to use the field again. Again, all hands welcome!

The Station Gardens and Village Planters

These are the bedrock of the communal gardening in the village, and the Guerrilla Gardeners intend to continue with the task of looking after these and enhancing them throughout the year.

Thameslink Govia has promised us another, larger planter on platform 1 plus some additional plants for the flowerbeds, and we hope these will arrive soon.

Each year, the planters in the village and on the platforms have to be refreshed in the autumn and summer with bulbs and annuals, and we hope people enjoy seeing these changing displays as the year progresses.

This year, we are thinking of doing more tidying at the top of the station steps, along the roadside and pavements and clearing brambles from the bridge area.

Again, anyone is welcome to join the Guerrilla Gardeners if they would like to help with these tasks, or if they have any further suggestions as to what they might like to see in the village.

The contact here is Rob McIntyre on 07970165991.