The Wildflower Meadows of the Abruzzo National Park

The Wildflower Meadows of the Abruzzo National Park

I am never happier than when I’m amongst flowers growing in their natural habitat – especially when it involves mountains – so for the last week I was very happy indeed.
wildflower meadows of the Abruuzzo

close up of alpines in Abruzzo National parkThe Abruzzo National Park is in the Apennine Mountains about three hours east of Rome and straddles the range that could be thought of the spine of Italy. We were based in the village of Pescasseroli – a ski resort in winter – and at this time of year, a perfect base for early morning walks exploring the surrounding meadows, for day trips higher into the mountains, as well as dawn and evening outings to watch for the endemic Marcasan bears, deer, chamois, wolves and wild boar.
deer roaming wildIt was a mixed interest trip that included birds, beasts, butterflies and botanising. I prefer this to pure botanising because it is less intense and you don’t spend the entire week on your hands and knees examining plants through a magnifying glass. I like to enjoy the rush of water, to look up and see the birds (including the golden eagles soaring above the peaks), to watch Swallowtail and Adonis Blue butterflies flitting amongst the wildflowers and join in the excitement of seeing thirteen wild boar sows and their forty-one stripy, spotty piglets foraging in a meadow.
adonis blue butterfly

wild boarsMountain weather can be very changeable, but we were incredibly lucky and the sun shone most of the time – we only lost an hour of exploring during a single heavy downpour. However the deciduous (mainly beech) woods had been dramatically damaged by hard late frosts that had browned the young emerging foliage – it was as if spring and autumn had collided – a most peculiar effect.

rainbow over valleys

blue skies and lush grassOur two Naturetrek (www.naturetrek.co.uk) guides, Jessica and Luca added immeasurably to the experience. They knew where the best wildlife watching places were, the nicest picnic spots (very important), could name every butterfly (Luca was a dab hand at netting them so we could see them close up) and Jessica enthusiastically satisfied my insatiable curiosity about every flower in every meadow. I came to think of her as the ‘Plant Whisperer’ – if I began to doubt my ability to climb a particularly steep slope, she would lure me onwards with the names of the treasures that were just a little higher. By this means I found myself reaching a mountain pass at 2000m one day. And she was quite right, it really was worth it – the views were spectacular and the flowers carpeting the meadows above the treeline and tucked amongst the crags at the top of the pass had me in a permanent state of delight.
abruzzo national park

Mountain Pansy - blue at altitude, yellow lower down

Mountain Pansy – blue at altitude, yellow lower down

Androsace

Androsace

Saxifrage

Saxifrage

view of the mountains

Daphne mezereum

Daphne mezereum

I can’t remember visiting anywhere in Europe with such a diversity and density of wild orchids. We counted twenty six varieties in all, from a rare and precious lady’s slipper orchid on the banks of a river, to the strange and not very attractive brown bird’s nest orchids beneath the beech trees and elderflower orchids and burnt orchids in such profusion that it was hard to know where to put your feet.

Lady’s Slipper Orchid

Lady’s Slipper Orchid

Bird’s Nest Orchid

Bird’s Nest Orchid

And here’s two colour variations of Elderflower orchid :
pink elderflower orchid

yellow elderflower orchid

Helleborine

Helleborine

Burnt Orchid

Burnt Orchid

I particularly enjoyed taking a close look at plants that I grow in my own garden and getting a better understanding of the conditions in which they thrive. For instance Star of Bethlehem grows prolifically in meadows, while Thalictrum (meadow rue) likes damp conditions, Daphne mezereum grows surprisingly high up, tucked in amongst rocks and Euphorbia myrsinites (there were many different euphorbias) prefers the free-draining rocky slopes. I was also reminded that auriculas naturally grow at high altitude beneath rocky outcrops, protected by snow all winter and coming into flower once the snow melts and trickles down to their roots. I’m not quite sure how I can emulate that in my snowless coastal garden. This may explain why most of my auriculas seldom live beyond a couple of years despite being cossetted in a north facing corner, kept dryish in winter and generally being symbolic of the triumph of hope over experience. But such is the nature of gardening. More posts to come about the plants, but I need to get outside and put some lessons into practice.

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

Thalictrum

Thalictrum

Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinites

primula auricula

primula

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Straw Bale Gardening

Straw Bale Gardening

Rebuilding the vegetable garden happened to coincide with the arrival of a book about straw bale gardens, so when I found myself with a bed lacking in sufficient soil it seemed an ideal opportunity to experiment with the technique. The plan is to get a crop off the bales and come next autumn they will have decomposed down and the bed will be filled with lovely friable ex-straw bale. In my innocence I thought that you simply put them in place, gave them a bit of a water, let them start the process of composting and hey presto they could be planted. Turns out they need ‘curing’ over 2 weeks, so don’t plan to go away during this time as daily action is required.

raised beds

straw bale gardening
I bought the straw bales from a local feed merchant in early April and put them in place but then covered them with a tarpaulin as I didn’t want them to start composting before it was warm enough to plant them.straw bales tarpaulin over bales

At the beginning of May I started the ‘curing’ by soaking the bales on one day and ‘feeding’ them with fish, blood and bonemeal on the second day, repeating this process for 10 days, after which I gave a final feed of a high potash organic fertiliser.soaking the bales wetting the straw

By this time it was beginning to heat up, peaking as you can see at a rather impressive 143deg F. I kept it covered with cardboard until the temperature had started to drop and when it got to 80deg. I planted my courgettes and squashes. I will update you on how it goes – so far the plants look very happy and don’t appear to be cooking!temperature showing 143 fahrenheitcourgettes planted

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Snapshots from Chelsea

Snapshots from Chelsea

Copper bowl echoing a Fibonacci number in the Beauty of Mathematics Garden

Copper bowl echoing a Fibonacci number in the Beauty of Mathematics Garden

A bowl of hepaticas from Ashwood Nurseries stand in the Grand Pavilion

A bowl of hepaticas from Ashwood Nurseries stand in the Grand Pavilion

The hidden garden within the granite cube

The hidden garden within the granite cube

More willow, here woven with flowers in the ‘Garden Bed’

More willow, here woven with flowers in the ‘Garden Bed’

Shoes left outside as the team put the finishing touches to the Senri-Sentei garden

Shoes left outside as the team put the finishing touches to the Senri-Sentei garden

Column detail from Tom Hoblyn’s Tamil Nadu organic garden in the Discovery section of the Grand Pavilion.

Column detail from Tom Hoblyn’s Tamil Nadu organic garden in the Discovery section of the Grand Pavilion.

Woven willow balls under the trees next to the Artisan Gardens

Woven willow balls under the trees next to the Artisan Gardens

 

 

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Naturally Inspired

Naturally Inspired

If you love to walk in the woods and like wild places, there is much to please you at this year’s show. Multi-stemmed trees casting dappled shade, dry habitats with plants emerging from between rough rocks, trickling watercourses, pines (unseen for many years in the main show gardens) and a corner of Provence seemingly picked up and transported undisturbed to SW1 – it’s all there. And of course much, much more. Some bonkers, some challenging, but as television does such a great job of taking you around the show and uncovering the stories behind the gardens, I’ll just do a quick trip around my top picks of the show gardens that I’m sure are destined for Gold:

Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary Garden – an atmospheric and gorgeously planted meditative and healing herb garden that is destined to be rebuilt at a hospice

Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary Garden – an atmospheric and gorgeously planted meditative and healing herb garden that is destined to be rebuilt at a hospice

Nick Bailey’s magnificent Beauty of Mathematics – a tribute to natural symmetries within the kingdom of plants

Nick Bailey’s magnificent Beauty of Mathematics – a tribute to natural symmetries within the kingdom of plants

Andy Sturgeon’s dramatic Telegraph Garden where the bronze fins represent mountains within arid setting

Andy Sturgeon’s dramatic Telegraph Garden where the bronze fins represent mountains within arid setting

James Basson’s L’Occitane Garden in which he has recreated yet another corner of Provence so realistic that I almost expected to hear the cicadas

James Basson’s L’Occitane Garden in which he has recreated yet another corner of Provence so realistic that I almost expected to hear the cicadas

 Cleve West’s M&G Garden that recalls the Exmoor of his youth with stunted oaks, craggy rocks and a gentle palette of ferns and flowers

Cleve West’s M&G Garden that recalls the Exmoor of his youth with stunted oaks, craggy rocks and a gentle palette of ferns and flowers

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