The gardened meadow

Dame Miriam Rothschild believes that a meadow only really comes into “being” when its about 15 years old… and even then it is not really “established”. Strictly speaking, meadows are areas of land that are man-managed, but, have their own unique grassland ecosystems.

My ‘meadows’ are not farmed, grazed, or large fields of land, so, I have to manage them differently and in many ways they function differently… These are extended areas of the garden and I am learning as I go how to create and maintain small areas of wildflowers and long grass within a garden. And, because they are part of a garden, they need to be decorative and sit within that setting while still being a meadow rather than a flower border.

The ‘Railway Meadow’ is about 100 metres by about 12 metres and is now in its third year…. It is cut at the end of August/September and all the hay is cleared and piled on the railway bank for the animals (mostly badgers) to use as nesting material.

The ‘Walnut Meadow’ is a bit of long grass and flowering lawn. This area is close to the house and I wanted to make sure that it looked like a deliberate feature rather than a bit of unmown lawn…It has nearly 1,000 bulbs planted within it so that it always has some colour.

I sowed this area and the ‘Chalk Bank’ behind in October last year. The topsoil and the turf were scraped off and the subsoil was then raked and sown with a meadow mix for chalk soil and cornfield annuals (as a nurse crop).

The greatest difficulty I have found with my meadows are perennial weeds. There is a pernicious perennial weed bank at the farm. Bramble, Bindweed, Hogweed, Thistle, Rosebay Willow Herb and Hemlock come back and back and back. Having stripped and disturbed the soil we have brought these weeds back to the surface and it has been back breaking work weeding them out of large tracts of land. Meadows are perceived to be ‘low maintenance’, but, I can assure you that this year we have worked harder on the meadows than anywhere else. My hope is that once the perennial grasses and flowers are established the weeding will reduce to spot weeding.

Are these meadows or pale imitations of them? Gardening really is the subtle chemistry of nature and man’s management of it.

Ground cover

The meadow has its first flowers of 2016 and is beginning to come into being. Bugle, Ground Ivy and Dead Nettle are romping through: clinging on under the trees and overhanging the railway walls. Ground Ivy is particularly mesmerising at dusk/ low light levels – it seems to have an ultraviolet glow about it . Perhaps this is a deliberate attraction for the bees (who see UV): certainly the bumblebees flock to it. This morning there were all sorts of varieties. I counted at least 5 – but I am still not sure which ones they were.

Ground Ivy (Glechoma Hederacea) along with Bugle (Ajuga Reptans) are such beautiful ground cover plants. They are both part of the mint and deadnettle family – having aromatic foliage and stems and the distinctive labia petals. When you look closely at it you can see the similarity to Mint, Staychs and Nepeta.

All are easy to divide and multiply… And because they grow by sending out runners as soon as you have a few (as long as you have planted them in the right place) you will very quickly gain a carpet.

Both were here when we arrived at the Farm – clinging on to the remnants of the railway wall and growing underneath the Lombardy poplar…. But since I’ve sown and ‘managed’ the meadow the ivy has spread through the grass and provides brilliant ground cover on the ‘edges’ of the garden: blending one area with another.

These are native plants found in grassland, scrub and woodland clearings and (as with most plants) look their best when they are grown where they are meant to grow- under deciduous trees and over steep slopes, rockeries and retaining walls. Let it get into your lawn or ‘wilder area’ and then mow it away in the areas that you don’t want it…. After all what is better than the buzz of bees in springtime?