Living Field Garden
The Living Field Garden was designed and built in 2004 as a place for the enjoyment and study of wild and cultivated plants from Scotland's lowland, agricultural landscapes. People are welcome to visit the garden at any time via the Invergowrie path network. For directions, please follow this link.
The entrance to the garden is by the wooden gate to the right of the main notice board. The photograph below, looking south, shows the garden from the air in 2006, two years after it was built. The first part of the garden, to the left or east in the photograph, holds the living displays and demonstrates some of the the habitats of farmland - hedge, meadow, arable field, pond, ditch and wood. The second part, to the west or right, was added in 2006. This west part now contains the observatory, polytunnel for all -weather activities, wild areas, and plots where community groups grow vegetables.
Aerial photograph (above) of the Living Field garden at the Institute's Mylnefield site in 2006, showing the entrance gate (E), and to the left the main or east section containing the reference collection (R) and habitats - pond and ditch (P), tree (T), arable (A), and meadow (M); and to the right, the west section (W), a part of which in 2006 was used to grow rare local species for their seed (S). Above the garden across the farm road are cereal plots and below it lie the met site and soft fruit plots.
The garden was built to display habitats that represent cropped field, fallow, meadow, woodland, hedge and wetland areas such as pond and ditch. An arable-plant reference collection contains some of the rarer plant species of cropland. This collection of habitats in a small area forms an 'oasis' of biodiversity. The range of higher plants, probably more than 200 species, draws in many other life forms, especially during the summer when the meadow is heaving with sound and colour.
Large poster boards give some notes on the habitats, seedbank and soils. The habitats board (above right) is sited next to the two wooden picnic tables.
Hedges were planted around the garden in 2004, just inside the wire fence that was erected around the perimeter. The fence was rabbit- and hare-proof, so the saplings struck well and grew without the needs for tree guards. Species include blackthorn, hawthorn, wild rose (shown to the right in fruit), elder, alder, hazel and field maple.
Within three or four years, they had grown enough to temper the full blast of the south-west wind off the Carse and offered a refuge and source of food for many organisms. After only 6 years, in 2010, the hedges display a diversity of shape, texture, scent and colour that makes visitors feel at ease. The Living Field hedges now form a protective boundary for the many plant species that grown within the garden.
The small area planted with trees covers little more than 20 square metres. The tree species are mostly silver birch, rowan and alder, and though they number hardly more than 10 individuals in total, they have changed the micro-environment within their influence and have fostered a distinct group of plants and small-animal life.
There are other trees on the farm: ash and willow, for example - and at one time great elm - but these few silver birch and rowan in the garden filter the environment at a height that human visitors can appreciate. Should there be other species? Gean, bird cherry and uncut blackthorn would fit, but there isn't the room.
Pond and ditch
When the garden was being prepared, a short, wet ditch was constructed at the south boundary with the aid of an impermeable membrane, leading into a pond of just a couple of square metres in area. Plant species such as ragged robin and Scrophularia aquatica inhabit the ditch while marsh marigold, water forget-me-not and bulrush sustain themselves in the pond. Amphibians like frog and toad have found their way to this small scantuary and now reproduce each year.
A plot of land is used permanently to support a four-stage rotation of three crops and fallow (i.e. no crop). The crops are potato, brassica (cabbage family) and a cereal (e.g. wheat or barley). The aim of this rotation is not to mimic any actual cropping sequence but to provide each year varied material for observation and study. In 2010, for example, the plot held a selection of potato varieties, some brassica including SCRI's own swede and the oil crop abyssinian mustard, 9 types of cereal crop and an unsown fallow in which weeds emerged from the soil seedbank.
Each year a selection of the less common plants of the maritime croplands is grown in the northernmost (but south facing) part of the garden. Few people, including those who work on the land, now know or even recognise these declining species, yet they are a part of the rural heritage and have many potential uses to man. Seed is kept from these plants to replenish the Living Field's seed store. In 2011, the reference collection will be extended to include medicinal and dye plants that were grown in 2010. Many of the plants, including the black mullein and agrimony growing together at the north west corner of the first garden, now reappear every year without assistance.
The photograph above shows black mullein (yellow flower) and agrimony in a self sustaining perennial community.
One of the garden's most popular features is the meadow. It was sown in 2004 as a mix of mainly annuals and biennials with some grasses, but has since developed in a kind of 'succession' to a complex and diverse community of perennials, most of which were not sown. Among the first plants to emerge in 2004 were poppy, cornflower, corn marigold, oxeye daisy and viper's bugloss. In 2010 the commonest plants were red clover and other perennial legumes such Lotus species, and also wild carrot, lady's bedstraw, mallow species, yarrow and field scabious.
As the years passed, the number of legumes in the meadow - those plants that fix atmospheric nitrogen from the air and provide this essential, major nutrient to other plants via the soil - has increased from none to around 10 species. The meadow has not received any fertiliser during this time, and it is now likely that these legumes are fixing much of the nitrogen that all the other plants use.
How these legume species, or the other perennials in the meadow, came to be here is not known. Some might have been present in the soil seedbank at the beginning before the meadow was created (see next section) while others might have been carried into the meadow by wild animals or as impurities in soil or seed sown in other parts of the garden. The article on legumes in the 5000 years project lists the species now growing here. Anyone wanting to know more about the role of legumes might try the article on biological nitrogen fixation in the science section of this web site, which includes a tutorial for Advanced Higher level students.
The photograph above shows a part of the meadow in summer 2010 where perennial legumes - notably red clover Trifolium pratense and the yellow-flowered Lotus pedunculatus - cohabit with grasses and other broadleaf plants in a rich community.
Seedbank - balancing the weed burden and biodiversity
The garden highlights the science of the seedbank-based food web of the maritime croplands along Scotland's east coast. Seedbanks are reserves of living seeds in the soil. Some seedbank species are a burden, as weeds or reservoirs of crop pests. Other species benefit farmland wildlife, support natural predators, stabilise the soil and reduce loss of nutrients. Species that are most damaging to crops tend to be the least useful in other ways. We need to find ways to sustain the beneficial species and suppress the damaging ones.
Many plants of the cropped landscape are on decline in the UK. Every year, species from SCRI’s arable reference collection are grown to provide new seed. In the months of May and August, you will find many arable plants in flower that are now on the ‘declining’ or ‘endangered’ lists of UK flora. There are now usually about 200 plant species growing in and around the garden.
We grow these plants to provide living material for training and to understand their biology. More on the common weeds can be found on the weeds page in the 5000 years project.
Two new projects began in the garden this year.
We set up a demonstration area this year for dye plants, including woad, weld, madder, dyer's coreopsis, alkanet and dyer's chamomile. Young plants were grown in a raised bed and will be transferred to a permanent location in the garden later in the year. Dye plants have never been major crops in Scotland, and are now rarely found in cultivation due to the preference of commercial dyers for tropical dyes such as indigo and for manufactured dyes. Dyestuffs can also be got from several wild species such lady's bedstraw, types of lichen, hazel and also some cultivated plants such as rhubarb. Natural dyes are making a come-back among craftworkers and specialist paper makers. They are a fascinating group of plants, many of which also have medicinal properties.
A hands-on exhibit on plant dyes was one of the most popular events at LEAF Open farm Sunday, 13 June 2010. The collection of dye plants in the garden is linked to the dye plants page of the 5000 years project.
The above photograph shows dyer's coreopsis Coreopsis tinctoria in bud and flower in late summer 2010 growing in the part of the garden exhibiting dye plants.
Modern and heritage cereals
A small collection of modern and heritage cereals was grown this year again linked with the 5000 years project. Spelt wheat, emmer wheat and modern bread wheat; bere and modern barley; black oat and modern oat were grown in the 'cereals' part of the cropped area. They all germinated quickly, grew well and reached maturity in August when seed was harvested for future projects. The emmer, spelt, bere and black oat all had longer and less rigid stems than the modern counterparts. The photograph to the right shows a modern barley variety and the taller bere just after ear-emergence, with the meadow behind.
Thanks to the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College for providing seed of spelt, emmer and black oat.
Dundee Astronomical Society's observatory was relocated to the Garden in 2010. The observatory and telescope, left to the Society by the late Dr Sandy Mackenzie, 'will be used by members of DAS for various projects relating to the Moon, planets, Sun and deep sky imaging as well as for the general pleasure of simply looking at celestial objects with a fairly large telescope.' Mrs Janet Mackenzie performed the opening on Saturday 19 June 2010 in the presence of about 40 people from DAS and SCRI. The presence of the observatory and telescope, and not least the expertise and enthusiasm of DAS, are a most welcome addition to the Living Field, extending the range of local knowledge well beyond our current ability to measure and interpret of the sun's incoming energy and wavelengths.
The Society sent the Living Field some photographs of the sun (e.g. image above right) which can be viewed on the DAS page of this web site. The Dundee Astronomical Society's web pages show many pictures of the sun, moon, planets and galaxies.
There are three webcams in the Living Field Garden: one looking down from the bird table at the bird feeder; another sited outside the polytunnel looking south towards the Tay; and the third looking at the pond.
The photograph above shows part of the meadow in summer 2010 supporting a highly diverse community including musk mallow, Lotus species, field scabious and several grasses.
The following organisations have contributed to the Living Field garden:
SITA Tayside Biodiversity Action Fund
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council ( BBSRC)
ADT Security Services, Inc.
Advanta Seeds UK
Forestry Commission (Tay Forest District)
PCC Scotland Ltd
[Page last updated: 16 February 2011]
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