The Botanical Room part 6 - Meadow
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
When we moved to our new home nearly 2 years ago the garden was overgrown with bramble nettle and blackthorn, all of which are beautiful but not when it's everywhere. It was the perfect cover for the rabbits but a dangerous walk for us, we dare not go out after dark for fear of following Alice down a rabbit hole.
Work began in earnest to get some kind of control even if it was to be the beginning of an obsession with filling the holes, we needed some kind of symbiotic relationship with the wildlife in the garden. The initial process seemed extreme, the shrub had to be cleared methodically and slowly enough for the wildlife to (as it turns out) temporarily step aside or relocate; then 'plowing' or turning the soil, then seeding it and finally waiting to see how it would mature. Gardening is a waiting game, once the hard work is done, you literally watch things grow, nothing happens, then suddenly all of it happens all at once. The first year the nettles bramble and thistles returned so we mowed them down or slowly dug them out. We planted some trees to get some structure to the garden, some small, some big (well biggish), then we waited for the return of spring.
The Plantlife charity suggested 'No Mow May' which we agreed was a nice idea, spring eventually came good and we thought to cut the grass in a pattern and leave some to keep growing, and a meadow grew where the mower didn't go and joy of joys the rabbits liked it, we liked it and the bramble and blackthorn kept to the hedges and the nettle to the woods and the bees be very merry. It is only a tiny piece of the countryside but it sings.
I am under no illusion that if we don't keep an eye the big boys will return to dominate but we knew that when we moved here and that's the task we took on.
I had to laugh when a friend of my sons had never heard of the saying 'make hay while the sun shines' it is funny how these things we say have a shelf life, he thought we were trying to be mysterious and just make these things up as we go along. Mind you I thought until my twenties that the saying 'it's a dog eat dog world' was actually 'it's a doggydog world' that made more sense to me as there were so many dogs and dog lovers everywhere.
Meadows, true meadows have been devastated in this last 100 years reduced by 97%, there is an optimistic push to reclaim the verges, rewilding Britain’s roadside verges could convert 1.2% of the country’s landmass to wildflower meadows, but it needs the councils to switch on and wise up.
One of my big annoyances is that they mow in the plastic and tin rubbish, we all hate that, so why can't they collect the rubbish first, ha, this is too strong an annoyance to mention here, and .....breathe.... and think of my calm place.
What is brilliant about meadow planting is the huge possible return to diversity, mowing suits the grass thug, who, although lovely and green is not providing food for the bugs and they need food and a place to breed and live. While taking out the bramble and thistle destroyed one habitat, by balancing the variety of plants we have created more habitats. More diversity, more variety, more wildlife, easy.
ERRR Billy, more hay fever too!!
Years ago my poor little mum, in her green prison, was plagued by hay fever, and back then with no barn, we stored the hay (for the 13 assorted sheep) in the garage, next to the kitchen, next to where mum was most of the time! Poor sneezy mum, how she hated grass and then when we moved to leafy suburbia again, how she hated the leaves. Every year in late spring to mid-June, mum would say to me "there are more leaves than ever this year I am dreading autumn"
Bless her, maybe she was right, maybe there were more leaves every year, I hope so, but then I have not inherited my mum's desire to pick them all up in the autumn. She was a terrific gardener but she loved tidying and was a slave to the lawn. I remember helping her a couple of times to remove the moss from the lawn, she had a machine that had spinning wires that would supposedly take it all out, it was the most unpleasant hard work and the most miserable machine I have ever used, and when later on in life when I asked her where the moss removing machine was and she said "I have never owned such a thing!' I thought to myself, we will leave that conversation right there just in case I find it and have to get it going again.
Some of my favorite grasses have gone into my paintings, making ties around flowers or helping to make a composition, each bends in a very particular way so different grasses are useful in different compositions. They are a wonderful thing to paint in order to practice fine stems, I hear the painters groan, but truly they are a wonderful subject to study. This painting below is part of one of my painting tutorials coming out later this year.
On a recent walk,
we took Grayson my Whippet through two beautiful meadows, he jumped hopped, and skipped through the long grass to catch butterflies in his mouth, fortunately, they were too quick for him and I was heartened at just how many there were, eventually he exhausted that game and took instead to running about in abandon, as whippets do.
I love the colours of the grasses, a favorite is Redtop a species of Bentgrasses (Agrostis) commonly called Bent, Bent couch, or Fiorin; its nature is soft and delicate with a purple/red heather hue.
My little bit of meadow holds red clover, cornflower, poppy, ragged-robin, brown knapweed, common vetch, Germander speedwell, pineapple weed, Ribwort plantain, oxeye daisy, common bird's-foot trefoil, red campion, white campion, buttercup, cuckoo flower, greater stitchwort, scarlet pimpernel, common sheep sorrel, cow parsley, to name but a few and many more types of grass for me to identify.
Folks often take all the verge flora for granted but some are on the edge of disappearing so it's good to leave a patch of lawn to go wild and see what comes of it. I am sure I will be 'spitting seed' when it comes to mowing it all down later in the year, that is if the mower and I are up to the task.
Be well and may you have sunshine