Wild about Walden
Here at Saffron Walden Museum we are wild about nature. The Museum has a long history of researching and learning from nature - in fact, the Museum was a natural history museum before it broadened its collections.
On this page you can learn about some of the steps we are taking to give nature a home in our grounds, as well as about George Stacey Gibson, a botanist from Saffron Walden who collected many of our plant specimens.
We also have some practical activties for you to try too!
What is "Bumble Bird Seed Mix"?
Bumble bird seed mix is used in the government's Countryside Stewardship programme. We've planted it in our borders to give an abundant supply of small seeds during the winter months for birds such house sparrows, dunnocks, finches and collared doves.
The wildflowers are nectar-rich and will provide food for beneficial insects including bees, butterflies and hoverflies from spring into autumn.
The mix contains 34% Triticale, 34% Wheat, 2% Fodder Radish, 3% Gold of Pleasure, 2% Kale, 8% Linseed, 1% Alsike Clover, 1% Birdsfoot Trefoil, 7% Common Vetch, 5% Crimson Clover, 1% Lucerne, 1% Phacelia, 1% Red Clover.
Wildlife around Walden - what will you see?
Why not got for a walk around your local area and complete one of these downloadable wildlife trails.
George Stacey Gibson was a naturalist and botanist who wrote a book called “The Flora of Essex”. He was important benefactor and donor for Saffron Walden Museum and we have many objects in the collection which he collected.
Look out for a portrait of him in the Local History gallery.
GEORGE STACEY GIBSON FACT FILE
Born in Saffron Walden in July 1818. His family owned the Saffron Walden and North West Essex Bank.
While he was still a young man he identified many new plants growing in Essex.
He collected many plant specimens during his life, building an impressive herbarium. Saffron Walden Museum holds over 200 specimens collected by him.
He published “The Flora of Essex” in 1863.
Wildlife and Wellbeing Planters
The three wooden planters were kindly made for the Museum by Saffron Walden Community Shed, and were first planted up on a special visitor activity day in 2019.
The tubs each have a different theme: Pollinators, Edibles, and Sensory. Some of the plants appear in more than one tub because they are good for different things!
This is the left tub as you look towards the tennis courts. Some of the plants here looks like weeds, and that’s because they are – sometimes!
Plants like thistles or nettles are all wildflowers but they can spread quickly in a garden, which is why gardeners try to get rid of them. But they also produce a lot of nectar to help feed pollinating insects; without pollinators we couldn’t produce lots of the food we eat, from cereals to fruit.
It’s currently packed with an Echinops thistle, some white dead-nettle (it doesn’t sting), marigolds, primroses, and bulbs including lily-of-the-valley.
This is the middle tub. It also has nasturtiums, which have edible leaves and petals with a slightly peppery taste. The petals are very rich in vitamin C, and a compound called lutein which is found in the retina of your eye.
The other plants in this area are spinach, lettuce and strawberries – can you tell which is which? The smallest pot also has a carrot growing in it, with delicate, fern-like leaves.
Click the photos to learn more.
They haven't been replanted for 2022 yet!
This is the tub on the far right end, and has plants that smell, taste, sound or feel good. It has some tall, swishy grass, a parsley plant, a spiky, squishy alpine plant with bold red flowers, and a small marjoram plant - a traditional English herb.
The smaller pot has catmint, with small, hairy leaves and a minty smell, and a very small raspberry time bush with leaves that smell sweet and woody when you rub them. There are also long, strappy leaves of crocuses, and the flowering bluebells will smell very sweet in late spring.
Click the photos to learn more.
Bulbs and Wildflowers
Bulbs not Bins
These containers have been prepared by local Cubs groups and the Museum’s dedicated gardening volunteers using old tubs rescued from the bin and given a second life here. We hope you enjoy the flowers, even though the pots may look a little tired!
When is a bulb not a bulb?
Some plants survive difficult seasons underground as bulbs, corms or similar structures. These include some of the most familiar flowers, like tulips, daffodils and crocuses.
Bulbs are like a hibernating plant, with roots, stem, a shoot and swollen leaf bases to store food, as in the layers of an onion.
A corm is a solid, swollen stem base: crocuses use the energy stored in corms to grow flowers, roots and shoots at the start of the growing season.
Areas along the front of the Museum have been seeded with wildflower and grasses to attract insects such as bees, moths, butterflies and much more! They may look a little shabby in autumn, but we need to wait for them to set seed before mowing them.
These plants may look like weeds, and that’s because they are. Sometimes. Most ‘weeds’ are just wildflowers where people don’t want them, maybe in a farmer’s wheat field, on a lawn or in your plant pots.
Be a Wildlife Warrior!
You can create a wildflower patch at home by sowing wildflower seeds, or even buying ready-made wildflower turf. Each part of the country has its own mix of wildflowers and insects — be a real wildlife warrior and look for special seed mixes for your area!
All of these wildflowers give vital food and shelter to the wild insects that are essential to our own survival. These heroic pollinators are the only way we have to make sure our cereals, fruit and vegetables grow properly to produce the food we eat every day.
For hundreds of years, farmers carefully managed wildflower meadows for grazing and winter feed for livestock, but farming practices have changed. 97% of all wildflower meadows have been removed since the 1930s, meaning the numbers of wildflowers and wild pollinators have collapsed.
If we all do a little bit, we can change a lot!