The Orange Tip

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Tag: wildflowers

Meadows

The weather has been throwing as many different extremes around as possible over the last few months, and yesterday was pretty much the peak. We’ve had burning hot, dry days, long, wet weeks, extended cold periods and heavy, gale-like winds. The combined force of the latter two elements were what made yesterday so disastrous and almost impossible to work in. I was set on getting a recently weeded border bark-mulched; a deadline already a few days overdue. And so belligerently, and in a bit of a determined stupor, I busied about with the wheelbarrow beneath a creaking and groaning sycamore canopy as it dropped limbs and showered leaves all around until the late afternoon. The winds were unbelievably powerful and seemed to spring up from nowhere.

And so currently most of the garden is smothered in a litter of debris. Thankfully, however, I did manage to do a round with the camera the day before, when the sun was shining and there was something more like a breeze in the air. The meadows, particularly the lower three, have actually done very well this year, despite the haphazard and unstable weather, and much to my surprise and joy. The top meadow though, which is on shadier ground and with a slightly different seed mix, will need some work this year. Due to a large portion of it having once been a pond, the area is still fairly fertile and needs to be impoverished in order for the wildflowers to flourish. Consequently there are ever-encroaching nettles and alkanet patches which will need getting rid of and re-sowing. It’s always a slow process developing meadows, but there are definitely positive signs of change within the species make-up and diversity already. Interestingly, a big player in that top meadow this year over previous years has been the white campion, Silene latifolia. And so far, unlike last year, there have been no signs of ragwort at all (although it is still early days).

In about 2-3 weeks time I’ll be doing the June cut for all four meadows. This needs to be done once the flowers are beginning to set seed, and it will bring about a second run of flowering, before a final cut at the very end of the summer. It’s a huge task, but a satisfying one. So for now it’s a case of enjoying the view while it’s here.

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Summer Sun

Re: Stacks

Some of the most frequent questions I was asked last month, during our public open day for the National Gardens Scheme, concerned the ‘strange looking towers’  in the garden. Very few people seemed to recognise what they were, and only a handful could guess why they were there. By the end of the day I was beginning to question them too. What seemed at the time like a sensible, if a little aesthetically-motivated strategy for storing  and making use of the meadow cuttings from last Summer, began to feel a like an unintended, obtuse ornamental gesture, akin to artistic structures in a sculpture park that no one is meant to understand.

They’re haystacks, essentially. Clumps of drying meadow heaped into mounds with some lengthy sycamore limbs stuck in for support. Back in July, as our four stretches of wildflower meadow were falling over their mid-Summer peak and ready to be cut, I thought it would be good to prepare haystack poles as a way of drying out the cuttings. Traditionally this would have been the way most grass meadows were initially stored, before dismantling, tying into bales and moved indoors to feed livestock through the Winter. Unfortunately I don’t have a cow (although it’s tempting) and so my hay is destined to become chicken bedding and mulch, but even to these basic ends, it acts as a much more natural alternative to the commercial supplies, and a great money saver too. The stacks have also been a good source for nest-builders during the early Spring. I hadn’t actually considered or intended this when constructing them, but it was great to see birds flying in and out in the early mornings last March.

In about a month’s time I’ll be dismantling them, ready to take on the next season’s cut. No doubt some mice and an army of snails will need to find new homes, but I can put the rest to good use. Whether the poles will need replacing or not will then be a testament as to how successful the drying process has been. So far it seems most of it has worked well; rain water running off the outer layers and air circulating enough around the inners in order to dry the green to a pleasing dusty-brown. In the mean time, the meadows are coming up fast. Ox-eye daisies, vetch, campion and knapweed are all well on their way to flowering, and that same wash of white that looked so stunning in the sun last year will be here again in a week or so. And hopefully so too will all the butterflies.

The Rising Wilderness

We’re now entering the period which, last year, as a head gardener I found terrifying. The bulbs die back to a yellowish pond-weed green, the safety netting of once-forceful blue forget-me-nots dries to a scraggly grey, and seedlings of all forms blanket every inch of soil. Cow parsley and Alkanet tower over each other competing for sunlight in every shady spot and the lawn is quickly filling up with clumps of plantain and ranunculus. The pots must all be changed over too and I’m completely dependant on whatever has managed to successfully grow on enough in the greenhouse to take up the spaces. It’s a disastrous frenzy. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me last year.

This year however, I’ve decided to calm down, breathe, and enjoy the beautiful elements I previously passed off as irritants. Replacing worry with  statergy, I’m moving through the garden more sensibly in a slower and more appreciative manner. This began by getting to the pots early and removing the bulbs just at the point of going over, rather than after a month of steady decline. Even if this meant simply getting the lilies in, and getting to the under planting later, it’s most of the job taken care of. I’ve been applying the same principle to the cutting beds; removing bulbs before they look ill and sowing the replacement cut-flower annuals directly. Plants sown last Autumn in the greenhouse that have made it through the winter are only a few in species, but include; cornflowers, oriental poppies, euphorbias, sweet williams, brizas, nigellas, and scabiosas. I’ve lined these out already (ignoring talk of more frost) and slowly the gaps are filling up. The real lift will be when the dahlias are ready to come out. But this won’t be for some time.

For the rest of the borders it’s now a case of steadily going through and pulling up the forget-me-nots, removing spent tulip foliage, weeding out unwanted seedlings and re-homing self-sown plants into more desirable locations. I’ve found that the rogue scabious, Knautia macedonica, is a particularly prolific self-distributor, delivering many new clumps each Spring. The temptation last year was really to leave everything to flower right until the last possible moment which, at such a critical transitional period in the flowering year, was ultimately my mid-season undoing. Although, conversely, it is a good principle for the later Summer flowerers. Half the benefit of plants like the verbenas, sedums and echinops’ is in their formation of architectural and wildlife-encouraging seed heads.

As for the wilder fringes of the garden, my attitude this year has been just to leave it all be. Save for a few paths strimmed in through the mass in order to get in close to the wilderness, it’s much nicer to, for now, simply let nature get on with things and watch as the colours change.