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GREENING GREY BRITAIN FOR HUMANS

Working closely with Altrincham’s BID team (Altrincham Unlimited) we have begun a programme of greening up the town centre using self-watering planters.

Though expensive to buy and install, they will provide Altrincham with years of service and an all-year-round display.  Altrincham Unlimited have so far invested in ten railing planters for the entrances to Altrincham Interchange which have been planted and maintained by Southfield Nurseries with a predominantly red theme to mark Altrincham Festival’s Ruby Anniversary. They are also going to maintain a series of lamp post planters which Altrincham In Bloom are project managing. The first set of 12 are being installed as we go to press and have been funded through the corporate sponsorship of a luxury housing developer, Real Estate Investment Partnerships. They will be on The Downs, Ashley Road, Oxford Road and Lloyd Street. Corporate sponsorship is crucial if we are to achieve our goals of installing planters throughout the town centre. This year we had to buy ready-grown plants (predominantly red again) and bring them on in our newly acquired poly-tunnel. Next year if we can acquire the space and facilities, we would like to start growing from seed.

Since REIP’s sponsorship was announced we have received enquiries from other companies and also a grant from Trafford Partnership for another dozen lamp post planters. These are to be installed along Regent Road and Stamford New Road this Summer.  Again, these planters will have to be filled this Summer with nursery-bought plants.

In addition to grants and corporate sponsorship, we have launched a crowdfunding page on JustGiving.com.  This is a great way of harnessing online donations as we find that people are not carrying cash around so often these days.

       
THE FOUR SEASONS WALKWAY

We began the transformation of this busy town centre walkway in 2014 when it was barren and overgrown with weeds.

Three years later, it is our most regularly appreciated project and this year, under the project leadership of Val Hutchinson, has improved leaps and bounds.

Biodiversity and sustainability are at the forefront of this perennial and evergreen walkway. The walkway requires regular weeding and hoeing but is well worth the effort. We have carefully selected plants so that there are always points of interest throughout the year and we regularly add perennials which have served a temporary purpose elsewhere or are going cheap! There is always new planting, division and transplanting going on here.

The walkway is a haven for wildlife and is home to two carefully secreted hedgehog houses. It is always buzzing with insect and pollinator activity and brings so many smiles to people’s faces.

We hold fairly regular volunteer events on the walkway where we hope for assistance in maintaining it.  Sometimes nobody turns up, sometimes a few families and individuals do and we have  very productive session. Watering is dry conditions is a challenge here too.  Our plans for the next 12 months are to adopt another section of the walkway border in front of Tivoli House as it has been neglected by the building’s management company. We have already started improving it in fact.

       
COMMUNITY PLANTER SCHEME
As ever, our award-winning Community Planter Custodians (22 businesses and community groups) have worked hard all year round to create and maintain dynamic and colourful displays in our town centre. The colours bursting forth in Spring have brightened up our days and kept the town on an upward keel. This Summer’s planting theme is ‘Sense-sation’ so we are looking forward to enjoying a host of innovative and imaginative designs with all of our senses. As with virtually every project, our planters receive an unfair and regular battering from alcohol-fuelled revellers, often receiving donations of bottles, glasses and cigarette stubs. Maintenance is a constant pressure though vandalism and theft seem to have become a little less prevalent this year.  The Summer is not yet over though so perhaps we should not count our chickens just yet!! Watering in times of drought can also be very challenging as we are such a small team and full water carts are heavy and difficult to push over uneven paving.  Access to water is also an issue we are trying to resolve. We are looking to win funding in the next 12 months for an electric van to transport all our mucky equipment and plants around and to house a water bowser. This would enable us to deal with watering much more quickly and efficiently along with countless other mileage-saving benefits.
THE LIVING WALL

With the intention of greening our town centre, went in search of locations which might prove suitable for a living wall feature. We stumbled across this wooden structure alongside Altrincham Interchange and pretty quickly realised that it was in fact a ‘dead’ living wall. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have ever lived! Installed by Network Rail when the Interchange was refurbished, nobody ever really noticed it. We looked at why it had failed, realised we couldn’t completely rebuild it, and so went for a happy medium. We spent February and March digging out pockets of rubble and replacing them with a mixture of top soil and horticultural grit. Eventually, we were able to start planting some of our carefully researched plant choices, only to find that the slugs consumed all of the Campanula plugs and a few succulents and the unseasonably hot weather challenged us on the moisture front. Thankfully, TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester) have been very helpful in providing our water bowser with both water and secure storage.

Without doubt, this has been our trickiest project to date. We have learned a lot and replanted about 20%.  We think we are winning and it is starting to establish itself nicely but it has been consistently hard work. The Heuchera and Sempervivum are doing very well as are some of the other succulents like Biting Stonecrop. We haven’t had much success getting Yellow Corydalis and Ivy-Leaved Toadflax to take root but are hopeful that the Wild Thyme will begin to thrive soon.

The Living Wall holds some heartbreak for us because we began planting it the evening after the horrific Manchester Arena bombing.  We worked quietly and without our usual laughter and in the days to follow, the Committee decided to dedicate the feature to the memory of those who so tragically lost their lives.  Now is not the time for the dedication, but in due course when we feel the feature is bringing ebullient colour and joy to those who pass by, we will undertake a dedication ceremony in partnership with the GMP’s family liaison service.

     
‘FOOD FOR THOUGHT’ ON SHAW’S GREEN
This is our second year on Shaw’s Green. The project is designed to bring together the generations and achieve three main aims:
  • # working with primary school children to teach them about wildlife and growing food
  • # demonstrating to passers-by how easy it is to grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs
  • # helping to supply ingredients to a local senior citizens’ lunch club which combats social isolation
To avoid any waste, we have only grown the vegetables and herbs in our 14 x 2 metre allotment-style bed which we know The Vine Lunch Club want.  This year we doubled our Rhubarb yield as it is very popular. Everything has been cultivated from seed too.  The children from Navigation Primary School’s Eco Team grew our First Early potatoes (Swift) in containers at their school. We harvested them in June. They also sowed seeds for Thyme, Chives, Parsley, Beans, Brussels Sprouts and some Marigolds during our sessions. We sowed our Carrots, Onions, Leeks, Garlic and Second Early Potatoes (Maris Peer) directly into the ground on Shaw’s Green. So far the lunch club has enjoyed Rhubarb, Potatoes and some Chantennay Carrots. This year, we planted Grape Hyacinth and purple Crocus bulbs to add a bit of colour in the dull days of Spring. We also dug a bed along the end wall to plant fan-trained soft fruit trees and fruit bushes. We concreted in a series of posts with heavy duty wire between them so that the trees will grow sideways and eventually screen off the office building behind. Last year we planted two Apple trees and a Plum in the central grassy area. This year we planted an Apricot, a Pear and a Greengage.  We also have Redcurrant, Blackcurrant, Tayberry, Blackberry and Gooseberry bushes. We have been focussing on Greening Grey Britain for Wildlife this year and Shaw’s Green has benefited significantly with the addition of a Mouse House (sadly just destroyed by building contractors), a very large Bug Hotel and a bird box in the Hawthorn Tree.
PRETTY WILD RESERVATION

This 29 metre long central reservation on the Church Street dual carriageway is already a joy to behold for motorists and a hive of activity for pollinators too.  It has been created using a mixture of Miracle-Gro seed mixes and wildflower seed balls from Seedball.

It takes a lot of back-breaking digging every Spring but self-seeds very well and we are gradually winning the battle against the dandelions!

The flowers include Cornflower, Nemesia, Alyssum, Corn Poppy, Wild Marjoram, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Red Clover, Viper’s Bugloss, Forget-Me-Not, Musk Mallow, Red Campion, Yarrow, Purple Loosestrife, Oxeye daisy, Yellow Cowslip and Meadow Cranesbill.

       
WILDFLOWER BANKS

We are just beginning a wildflower planting experiment in Altrincham at the flatter end of the grassy banks on Lloyd Street. Instead of rotorvating the whole area, we had the grass cut very short and planted dozens of wildflower varieties, mostly as plugs.

The intention is to leave the grass to grow for the rest of the Summer and see which varieties establish themselves and survive. We will study the outcome and then hopefully rollout a larger planted area based on our findings. We have been leaving Mother Nature to look after the plants as they have to survive on their own going forward.

       
PURPLE 4 POLIO

Altrincham Rotary Club donated 15,000 purple crocus bulbs in 2016/17 which we helped them distribute between Friends groups and schools. We planted some ourselves on Shaw's Green and Barrington Green and even in one of our Community Planters. Highlighting the Rotary Club's campaign to eradicate polio worldwide, these purple crocus have offered a welcome glimpse of colour in the early Spring.