Hartley Magazine

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Bombs that bloom

There’s an effective response to the savage treatment of roadside verges by local authorities: say it with flowers.

roadside grass
My low-traffic lane had a thriving miscellany of wild flowers until it was pointlessly shredded. It made me pretty mad…

Revenge, the saying goes, is a dish best served cold. I’m not the only gardener to have looked on aghast at the treatment that’s been meted out to the wild flowers (not to mention the wildlife) along our roadside verges, embankments and other strips and scraps of ‘public’ land over the summer months. Yes, there are signs that those responsible for the ‘safety’ of our highways are finally ‘getting’ that our roadsides (however litter-strewn they may be) are one of the last refuges for wild plants which have been purged from intensively-farmed monocultures across our landscape. But in many areas wild flowers – and all of the life that goes with them – exist precariously in narrow strips, just beyond the reach of the weedkillers that rain down on the fields from which we extract much of our food.

wild flowers
Along with the wild flowers, I added a handful of single-flowered pot marigold (calendula) seeds to my bomb-making mix.
The scene is similar along our roads, where ruthless land management squeezes bees, butterflies and other life into a hazardous strip between monoculture and hot rubber (yes, insects do get hit by vehicles). Here our hearts-on-four-wheels soar when cow parsley froths into bloom, or when foxgloves tower triumphantly in purple – but one pass of a flail cutter or a whining strimmer and everything, our hearts included, is flattened. This happens everywhere, from busy main roads to narrow, sleepy lanes like mine that see two or three vehicles a day. And don’t get me started on those dead, yellowing ribbons along verges sprayed with glyphosate weedkiller…
fox gloves
Foxgloves are prolific right now – you can collect thousands of tiny seeds from just a single fading spike.
I’ve frothed and fumed aplenty this spring and summer, but rather than vent any more frustration on automaton-like local authorities, I’ve decided it’s time to get vengeful. If those who look after our roadsides insist on chopping down our wild flowers, often unnecessarily, in their prime and in the name of tidiness, it’s payback time. Although it will be delivered by bombs, my revenge will be peaceful and sweet. It calls for lots of seeds – which are abundant right now – and will result in a revolution of beautiful flowers.

My bombing campaign will bring new life to dull, strimmed and sprayed-to-death strips of earth, barren car parks, footpaths, overlooked building plots, the weedkiller-poisoned edges of school playing fields, boring traffic roundabouts, abandoned gardens… choose your targets and start planning your own. You don’t need anyone’s permission, and it’s dead easy. What you will need is some wild/garden flower seeds, some mature, crumbly leaf mould, fungicide-free wallpaper paste (or the preservative-free cellulose adhesive used in making papier mache) and a bucket.

How to make bombs that bloom


1. Gather a variety of flower seeds. The lane gave me cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), red campion (Silene dioica), primrose (Primula vulgaris), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), sheep’s-bit scabious (Jasione montana), hedge garlic (Alliaria petiolata) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). The garden yielded pot marigold (Calendula vulgaris), Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica), ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). I gathered alexanders (Smyrnium olustratrum) from the roadside a few miles away.

renewable_august15-pic-52. Compost and soil are too precious to use for flower bombs, so I use well-rotted leaf mould, which I have oodles of. After passing it through a 6mm (1/4in) sieve, I add a teaspoonful of wallpaper paste to roughly half a bucket of leaf mould, and mix thoroughly. The leaf mould should be moist enough so it just exudes water when squeezed. If it’s dry, moisten it first. The paste helps stick the bombs together.


renewable_august15-pic-63. Mix your gathered seeds together and scatter them over the leaf mould, then work them in well so they’ll be distributed throughout each bomb. For a belt and braces mixing, tip the ingredients into an empty compost bag and turn it upside down half a dozen times. Smaller seeds, such as those of Welsh poppy, will disappear into the mix, but you’ll still see larger ones, like smooth and shiny bluebell seeds, when you form your bombs.


renewable_august15-pic-74. Now comes the therapeutic part of bomb-making: take a fistful of the mix, squeeze it together (this is where the cellulose paste does its stuff) and mould it into a ball. Use both hands to knead the mix, then roll it between them for the final finish. Aim for somewhere between golf- and tennis-ball size; bigger bombs will travel further. Some seeds will be embedded in the bomb’s outer casing.


5. Freshly made bombs are good to drop straight away. Or, while you plan your campaign, you can stand them in the greenhouse to dry out; once they’re dry the seeds won’t start to grow until the bombs have been deployed and become moist again. Dry bombs are also lighter in weight, should you want to take a pocketful on your next walk, or have them ready to drop in the next lifeless car park.


Step 66. Now it’s time to go flower-bombing. How you do it is up to you: drop them along roadsides and footpaths, or in bare corners of car parks, or fling them onto derelict bits of land to send seeds where they might never otherwise reach. You could even flip the odd one out of the car window (verge-side only, and with care). If the bombs ‘explode’ on impact, their contents are spread wider.


You won’t get an instant uprising of blooms with an autumn bombing blitz. Some seeds, such as calendula, foxglove and red campion, will germinate and produce young seedlings straight away. These will then grow slowly and produce flowers next spring and summer. Others, such as cow parsley, won’t come up until next spring. Some might not thrive at all, depending on where the bomb lands, but getting a wide variety of flowers into your mix will ensure that at least some will succeed. I chose my mix because I know that they all provide valuable sources of pollen and nectar for insects over many months, beginning in spring.

Doesn’t this sound like the sweetest, most gentle revenge? Better still, it’s something we can all have a go at. It’s time not to get mad, but to get even – with flowers.

Text and images © John Walker

Find John on Twitter @earthFgardener