Tuesday, 15 January 2013

WILD PRIMROSE (primula vulgaris)

The Wild Primrose is a cheerful little wildflower, like a little splash of sunshine in a bleak wintry world, often flowering as early in winter as December.

Hardy perennial. Pretty pale yellow flowers with orange-yellow centres on short stems and a rosette of fat, wrinkled leaves. Its name derives from the Latin for “First Rose”. The plant was used in ancient times to treat paralysis and gout and was believed to be a flower originating in Paradise. The flowers can be made into jam and wine. The five petals represent birth, initiation, consummation, repose and death. A six-petalled Primrose is said to bring luck in love and marriage.

Primrose flowers are of two kinds – pin-eyed, with the style above the stamens; and thrum-eyed, with the style below the stamens. For successful pollination, pollen from a pin-eye plant must reach the style of a thrum-eyed plant, or vice-versa.

Primroses are also favoured by butterflies and moths. Particular food plant of the Pearl Bordered Yellow Underwing, Double Square Pot, Green Arches and Triple-spotted Clary moths. Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves. Ants are attracted by the sticky seeds and aid their dispersal.

Primroses are pollinated at night by moths attracted by the bright petal colours. Hundreds of years ago, these plants were grown for their medicinal and sweetening qualities, for example, it was believed that stem juice rubbed onto the face removed spots! Legend says that Primroses sprang from the body of Paralisos (the Primrose’s ancient name) after he died of a broken heart. It was also alleged that if children ate the flowers they would see the fairy folk! It was lucky to bring 13 Primroses indoors but unlucky to bring in only 1. Indeed, to bring indoors less than a handful would surely endanger one’s ducklings!! Victorians used to plant Primroses on the graves of children, and herbalists used to use the root to make an expectorant. If you keep chickens and see a single primrose, dance round it three times in order to avert ill omens – otherwise a single Primrose will lead to bad egg laying.

There is a lot of Primrose folklore attached to the ability of Primroses to let people see fairies. If you touched a fairy rock with the right number of Primroses in a posy you will be shown the way to fairyland. The wrong number would lead to certain doom. A German legend tells of a little girl who found a doorway covered in flowers and touched it with a Primrose – it opened up into an enchanted castle. Children used to eat the flowers in the belief that this would enable them to see fairies. Posies would be left on doorsteps so that fairies would bless the house and the people in it. As well, scatter Primroses outside doors to keep fairies away as they won’t cross this barrier. Don’t let Primroses die as they are popular with fairies. Carry a Primrose flower and peer over the petals in order to see fairies. Leave a Primrose on the doorstep on May Day eve to prevent witches entering.

In Ireland on May Day, Primrose balls were hung on cows’ tails to deter witches. In Hampshire, woodmen boiled Primroses in lard to make an ointment to treat injuries. Bunches of Primroses would be left in cowsheds so that fairies would not steal the milk. Primroses can be made into a tincture for restlessness and insomnia. For animals, Primroses can treat fits, paralysis, rheumatism and worms.

Primroses can be planted in sun or partial shade in rich, moist soil. They will do well beneath trees, shrubs or hedges. Divide every three years after flowering. Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering.

If you are sowing Primrose seeds, be prepared to be patient! The seeds need to have a period of cold before they will germinate so it is a good idea to sow the seeds in a small plastic bag of moist (not wet) peat-free compost or vermiculite. Place the bag in the fridge for 6 weeks. After that time, sow the seeds on to a tray of compost and press in, no need to cover with more compost. Protect from mice and place outside to get all that the cold weather can throw at it. The seeds will germinate in spring.

(The above provided for information only and is in no way a prescription for use. Please seek the advice of a qualified herbalist before using)

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Monday, 7 January 2013


(Guest blog by Stuart Mabbutt Gardening Ltd)

Look out into even the tiniest of gardens and most will have a hedge of some description. They can be the perfect shelter and even a food source for many forms of wild creatures.

Best planted between early October and early April, its best to choose plants that happily grow wild in the area within which your garden is situated. When finalising the choice of plants, go for a mixture which will attract more life that just one type of plant.

Dig a big trench and fill with apply quantities of garden compost. The hedge will be there for a long time so you need to give those hungry young plants the best start possible. Planting a double row if you can will provide a much denser hedge in the end.

For the initial 3 years after planting the new hedge line will be susceptible to wind rock and invasion of competing plants. As the plants grow, layer more compost and lawn mowings around them to counteract these ongoing threats.

When the hedge is well established, try planting some climbers to grow amongst it, brambles and honeysuckles are ideal.

Planting the old small tree along the hedge line will work wonders to, for example Crab Apples give extra height and fruit during autumn and winter. Your hedge doesn’t have to be totally level, so the odd tree is great.

Hedges are ideal sources of nectar if planted correctly, so have a go at growing a native mixed hedge and watch the bee’s move in.

Stuart Mabbutt

Wildlife Gardening Specialist
01865 747243

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Denge Woods, New Year's Day 2013

Today we went for a stroll through the lovely Denge Woods, near Canterbury. Dating back to at least 1600, Denge Wood is part of a semi-natural ancient wood complex on the North Downs.

Mainly sweet chestnut coppice, it stands alongside an area of former chalk grassland, known as The Warren, and this combination provides an interesting wildlife habitat, particularly for the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly, a butterfly that has seen a sharp decline in numbers over the last 20 years. As it particularly loves woodlands with sunny coppiced clearings and grassy areas, Denge Woods is ideal habitat and the butterfly exists in three separate colonies in the wood,
jointly owned by the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust
and a private individual. These individuals have set up a special project to help the butterfly thrive in the woods through a targeted forestry management plan. The
creation of a ‘wildlife corridor’ will link the colonies, ensuring the butterfly's
survival. Plans include the creation of a strategic wildlife corridor measuring 1km by 40m to link three isolated colonies of the Duke of Burgundy; woodland corridor and track-side coppicing, and clearance of invading scrub; more wildflowers including primrose (primula veris),
the Duke of Burgundy’s principal foodplant, and locally/nationally rare orchids.

There are a number of entrances where you can park up and wander into the woods. We went to an area that we hadn't been to before and were pleasantly pleased by what we saw! Wide paths enabled easy walking through swathes of trees, both upright and fallen many years ago, covered in moss.
We walked through muddy tracks as well and eventually stumbled upon a group of twitchers armed with binoculars and scopes. Questioning them revealed that they were waiting for Hawfinches to arrive and come to roost atop the trees. They had seen 4 the day before but today the hawfinches were a bit late in arriving! Hawfinches are endangered and have reached the RSPB's red level of conservation importance meaning their populations have decreased severely over the last 25 years and they are now globally threatened. Unfortunately I have no hawfinch photo of my own to post here! However, a Google search will reveal all, a lovely little colourful bird.

The woods were very mossy in places, lending a lush green splash of colour to the rather drab brown of the bare trees. The photo below is sphagnum moss, and very pretty it is too!

Our meanderings led us to what can only be described as an avenue of broom! This was a lush oasis with both sides of the path swathed in broom plants. When in flower, these plants produce masses of yellow pea-like flowers loved by bees. I must remember to come back here when they are in flower, I am sure the sight will be spectacular and humming with bees.

There were also attractive dead seed heads of Willowherb and Foxgloves, which created interest amongst the other plants.

The sun was out all afternoon and at one point struck a lovely old gnarled tree and lit it up.

We returned back to the car a bit muddy but full of further love for these wonderful woods.