When I was a kid, the summer holidays meant many things, such as camping in the garden, long cycle rides and maybe a week in Wales finding Cowrie shells in the rockpools and Choughs in the mountains.
But another strong memory is of being sent out into the fields, tupperware boxes at the ready, to go blackberrying along the hedgerows. Me and my sister would come back with our fingers stained purple and with boxes (and bellies) full of the luscious fruit.
What is also clear to me now is what a top plant Bramble is for wildlife. Find a patch in flower right now and it is likely to be covered in all sorts of insects, and there is a very high chance that its visitors will include a butterfly or ten. It is an absolute winner; I can't praise it enough.
Over the last week, I've had the chance to go a couple of walks in the countryside, and here are some of the Bramble-lovers I've found:
This week I've also seen Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Peacock and Gatekeeper on Bramble flowers, not to mention a whole host of bumblebees, solitary bees, Honeybees and other pollinators.
Plus I've seen Blackcaps and Whitethroats, Robins and Blackbirds feeding there. And the foliage is food for a number of moth caterpillars including the Buff Arches and the Bramble Shoot Moth. Oh, and check this out for a stunner of a Bramble-lover, the amazing Peach Blossom (that I photographed at RSPB Pulborough Brooks a few years ago).
Then there's all the added wildlife value as those flowers turn into the Blackberries that birds (and indeed butterflies) will then feed on. If I don't get to them first.
So, if Bramble is that good for wildlife out in the countryside, why don't you see it promoted more widely as a top plant for gardens? Well, of course I think you know the multiple answers. There are those thorns, the flowers aren't particularly showy or colourful, but perhaps more than anything it grows thuggishly and unattractively. Yes, this is a plant with an image problem.
Now I'm fortunate to have a large garden in which I can afford the space to grow some Bramble, but I wonder if there is a solution many of us could consider - cultivated blackberries. There are varieties available that are thornless, and there are well established ways of training them between posts along wires, much the same set-up that you might use to grow raspberries (which are in the same family).
There is even a variety that you can grow in a hanging basket, which has got to be better for wildlife than all those typical trailing plants you can buy that are so colourful but - devoid of pollen and nectar - are so lifeless.
So, that's what I have decided to do. I'll be planting some cultivated Bramble plants (called canes) this autumn, and I'm intrigued to find out if they will have anything like the same wildlife success as those in the wild. I think it is well worth the try, and I'll let you know how I get on. And if you see me with purple fingers, you'll know why.
thanks Russell as ever for your thoughts and added value. And thanks, Eleanor - I've just spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes having a look around your website and blog about your inspiring Saxilby Nature Project
Heartily-agree with Adrian. I've planted a thornless cultivar in 2018 and it is great. It still needs space though as new growth likes to grow out at right-angles from the existing stem.I'll follow Eleanor's blog below too.
Great article, lovely photos thank you. We are currently re-wilding two fields (see saxilbynatureproject.wordpress.com for our blog) and have become aware of the variety of insects around the brambles.
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