The Seaweed Hunt

Seaweed Hunt, North Uist Outer HebridesWhen I’m not gardening or trying to encourage others to garden I’m usually involved in cajoling members of the local natural history society (Curracag), friends, islanders, tourists or anyone who’ll listen to get out and about and discover the natural wonders of our beautiful islands. Once enchanted and ensnared they lured into the delights of recording what they see helping us to document our wildlife so that it can be preserved for future generations (Outer Hebrides Biological Recording Project). After all if you don’t know what you’ve got you don’t know what you’re about to lose.
Almost everyone can be persuaded to take a walk along the beach and indulge in a little beach combing, it has to be the ideal family outing. So what could be better than a seaweed hunt? The Natural History Museum has been running a seaweed recording project since 2009 to map the distribution of 12 key kinds of seaweed that can be found around the UK coast and to track how their distributions are changing.  Climate change has an effect on water conditions and sea levels, which may affect seaweeds as well as many other organisms.
This is an ideal project for encouraging everyone to have a closer look at the life on our seashores. The survey is easy to carry out and there is an information sheet and photographs which you can download from their website to help you identify the seaweeds included in the survey (Natural History Museum Big Seaweed Search).

Seaweed Hunt - looking at seaweeds

So what do you think it is? Bladder wrack or spiral wrack?

We all had a fantastic time and found rather more than we had expected, not just seaweeds – sponges, shore crabs, a mermaid’s purse, winkles and whelks. Some of us also became enthused and have spent countless hours dabbling around in rock pools and discovering a whole new hidden world.
So why not take a trip to the seaside and have a go – you can even do it in the rain!


Brown and crispy round the edges

Storm over Ardivachar machair

Storm clouds over Ardivachar machair but will it rain?

This is not a description of my garden not my home-made biscuits. So I am going to whisper this we’ve hardly had any rain for almost 3 months. I’m not sure what constitutes a drought, but my garden and the surrounding machair are parched. Now I know people on the big island have a surfeit of the natural wet stuff, but please can you share just a little, my plants need more than 5mm a month!
In the vegetable garden it is impossible to get carrot seed to germinate and the peas and beans are really suffering. Perversely brassicas are doing well and I’m about to harvest the first cauliflowers, small but perfectly formed, and some impressive Chinese cabbage. I’m still nurturing my tomatoes and I’ve just about got the aphids under control. Although we have plenty of sunshine, the nights are cold, consequently the growth rate is slow. The first tiny green fruits have appeared on the tomatoes, peppers and mini cucumbers, so if you don’t mind I’d like to keep the sunshine a little longer.
In the cottage garden, my grass patch (by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a lawn) is very brown and crispy and has just signed its own execution warrant. I have plans but as yet no vision!

Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis)

Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis)

It has been a struggle to keep the new plants alive and there have been casualties. Predictably it is our good old native plants and their selected progeny which are the survivors. Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare),  sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), sea poppy (Glaucium flavum), achillea, wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) and meadow clary (Salvia pratensis) are the backbone of my borders in June and July aided and abetted by some immigrants – knipofias, assorted alliums and galtonias. So within the haze of blue there is the odd strident splash of orange!

Sea Poppy Glaucium flavum

Sea Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

However the best is yet to come – do I harvest the buds or do I resist the temptation to eat baby artichokes and let them flower?

Sunshine after the storm

Aquilegias and geraniums with thrift and loveage

The raised border – now restored to glory.
Aquilegias and geraniums with thrift and loveage

It is a fact of geography and climate that when the weather is foul in England it is often wonderful in the Western Isles. Since that last gale in early May we’ve had virtually no rain and day after day of sunshine. With a north-easterly air flow it has been a little on the chilly side, arid and very sunny. Typical summer weather in the Outer Hebrides. It is a myth that our summers are wet, cold and windy – well not all the time.
So for all the gardeners on the big island who are having to cope with summer gales and torrential rain this blog is for you. Your garden will recover, it might need a period of intensive care and even some new planting, so have a rant and a moan and be encouraged by the way my garden recovered from 70 mph winds in less than a month.

Aquilega vulgaris

Aquilega vulgaris, Granny’s Bonnets in full bloom 3 weeks after the storm

The vegetable garden is more exposed and catches the full force of the wind. The garlic and shallots which were shredded and ragged have now made a full recovery and the rhubarb bed resembles a colony of triffids.

garlic and shallots

Garlic and shallots (autumn planted)


Rhubarb – crowns grown from seed in 2011.