Farmland has been losing its wet habitat for decades through over-zealous tidying and pollution by fertiliser and pesticide. Yet even small ditches and ponds give refuge to plants and animals found nowhere else in the croplands.
Are everyday countryside ditches and ponds a thing of the past? It seems they are rare – the garden’s 10 metres of wet ditch running into a small pond no more than two square metres in area have been visitors’ favourites since they were created in 2004. Children see tadpoles and frogs here for the first time.
Here are some of the plants of ‘pond and ditch’, mostly native, all perennials, leaving nothing but dead leaf and stem for the winter but reappearing bright and green in spring.
Marsh marigold Caltha palustris one of the buttercup family, a perennial planted between ditch and pond, one of the first plants to flower, the brightest of yellow against a dark, deep green, as the poster above; this plant descending from one rescued from a northern farm bank and planted here ten years ago. More on the Marsh marigold page.
Ragged robin Lychnis flos-cuculi is a deceptively resilient plant, related to the corncockle and the campions, putting out its few stems and flowering heads each year i the ditch where the grass is not too thick.
Bulrush Typha latifolia planted in the pond, sending out its tall spiked clubs every year; when the plants got too big and had to be removed, many frogs were found over-wintering deep in the safety of the roots.
Marsh woundwort Stachys palustris appeared one year in rank grass near the pond; without the foetid smell of the the hedge woundwort, and putting out its pinkish flower spikes, not planted but probably arriving by its own efforts.
Water-cress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum planted in the ditch most years.
Yellow flag Iris pseudacorus overwinters as thick rhizomes, from which its green blades emerge as early as March, pushing out bright yellow flowers in summer, turning into seed bearing capsules that split in late autumn to show bright shiny brown seeds (images above).
Bistort Persicaria bistorta from the same family as the annual persicaria weeds, but sedentary here, putting out its fleshy-looking leaves and pink flower spikes; not common in the croplands, this plant descending from one found in a east Perthshire hedge more than 15 years ago.
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria in the ditch, bringing the sweet smell of its blooms in summer; perhaps the first source of ‘aspirin’ before the drug was extracted.
Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum a resilient perennial living alongside the meadowsweet, possibly planted ten years ago (see the page on Bee plants for photographs of its flowering heads).
Wild garlic or ramsons Allium ursinum was planted a few years ago on the bank above the ditch, and under the trees. The plants were ‘rescued’ and now are happily established. It put out leaf early in the year and flowers late April and May.
The pond and ditch were constructed at the south-west of the east section, in a corner bounded by mixed-species hedges and sheltered to the north by trees. Every five years of so, the vegetation needs to be cleared out. The hedge, one metre away to the south needs to be cut also every few years to give the plants some light.
Most of the species were planted, some individuals ‘rescued’ from areas being cleared. A few, such as the marsh woundwort, found their way in; there are no other plants of this species in the surrounding farm. Not much else is done to pond and ditch, except in very dry years, water from the tap has to be flooded in every few weeks.
Uses of the plants
Most farmland plants of wet habitat have been invaluable for thousands of years as food, garnish or medicinal.
Water cress is a nutritious salad vegetable, once harvested from the wild and sold. Wild garlic is a natural garnish, not as strong as the cultivated but still used in some restaurants.
Meadowsweet, valerian, and yellow iris are all ancient medicinals. The woundworts do what they say, staunch and heal wounds.