Gardening: Churchyards and silver linings

27 March 2020

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AMID the global crisis, early signs indicate that the environment, at least, is benefiting: emissions and pollution are falling. Before our lives were changed, our church signed up to Eco Church, an A Rocha UK initiative that helps us to become greener. Church grounds often contain important habitats, and churchyards are increasingly important to Britain’s wild flora and fauna.

Around our church, the soil be­­tween graves has been left undis­turbed for many years. In the past, sheep grazed the grass and this will have helped to prevent coarse grasses’ swamping wild flowers. The church grounds have never been en­­riched with artificial fertilisers, and it is the current policy not to use weed­killers, which further encour­ages biodiversity. The PCC is formal­ising the existing mowing regime to suit people and wildlife.

Longer areas of grass allow wild plants to reach flowering point, and this, in turn, benefits pollinating in­­sects. To encourage parishioners, we are planning an Eco Sunday, starting with a short country ramble for the able-bodied followed by an environ­mentally themed service. In the after­­­­noon, we hope to attract non-churchgoers to wild­life spotting, med­­i­­ta­­tion, and, of course, tea and cake in the church grounds.

We have turned to the project Car­­ing for God’s Acre for help. It runs training sessions in wildlife identification and recording in Eng­land and Wales, besides publishing “in the field” guide ma­­terials. We will add the species list generated by our Eco-Sunday to the National Bio­diversity Network Data­­base, to build further the nation­wide picture of bio­­diversity linked with places of worship.

The Eco Church initiative covers all aspects of a church’s life, not just any land that it is responsible for, and flowers in church have come under scrutiny. Floral foam is a non-biodegrad­able and currently non-recyclable plastic. The Royal Horti­cultural So­­ci­ety is phasing it out from its shows and encouraging exhibitors to trial other methods of sup­porting flowers. The floral decor­ator and author Simon Lycett recalls his child­hood when, as a budding flor­ist, he could rarely afford to buy blocks of green foam. He found that small vases and vessels could be used au naturel, and that “scrunched-up balls of chicken wire and lethal-looking miniature beds of nails” were ideal supports for many styles of decoration. The old techniques are being rediscovered. Pin-holders, which, I learnt recently, go by the delightful name of “flower frogs”, are available from florists. Chicken wire (two-inch mesh) is sold by many hardware shops, as well as on­­line.

Lycett also steers “clients to ex­­plore and exploit the seasonal British grown foliage and flowers”. He sup­ports Flowers From the Farm, a co-operative of small independ­ent flower farmer/growers (www.flowersfromthefarm.co.uk).

www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk

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