There are not many things I hate, but the clocks going back is one of them. That's the end of even seeing the garden when I get in from work, let alone doing anything in it.
So, although I have absolutely nothing to show you from my garden this week, what I do have are some photos to show the progress of one of my meadow experiments.
I've been extolling the virtues of turning a bit of your garden lawn into a meadow for more than a decade now (and in the latest edition of the RSPB magazine, Nature's Home, you can see my interview with Jenny Steel who has been doing the same for way longer than I have), but the most important thing is revealing how to go about it, and what to expect when you do.
So I thought today I'd show you the latest results in my Square Meadow. It sounds very grand, but it is just 3 metres by 3 metres with a birdbath in the middle, so the kind of thing that can be fitted into almost any lawn.
To give me as big a challenge as possible, I decided what I'd do first (back in 2017) is lay some commercial turf without a single lawn 'weed' in it. I even laid it over a bed of rich topsoil - in other words, the kind of conditions you might find in a 'new house' garden and which are a million miles away from being a meadow.
With the lawn well established, in autumn 2018 I then cut it on the lowest setting of my pushmower.
I then scarified the lawn with a three-pronged rake to open up a myriad of bare patches. (That's the 'destructive' bit that requires a bit of faith!)
And I sowed it with a very simple seed mix of Yellow Rattle, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Shining Cranesbill and Lady's Bedstraw, just to see what would happen. Yellow Rattle, as you probably know, if the magic ingredient that taps into the grass roots, deprives it of some of its nutrients, and so allows other lawn flowers to get a foothold.
So what happened this year?
Well, by late April my photos show I'd mown the paths around it, and the Square Meadow (in the foreground) is looking lush (with a few Narcissus cyclamineus I planted as bulbs poking up around the base of the birdbath - they are like a miniature daffodil).
Seen from the house, you can see how the Square Meadow is dotted with green leaves - Shining Cranesbill.
I then went away for the first couple of weeks of May, and when I came back everything had changed (below). In the top left half of the meadow, the Yellow Rattle had germinated and was in flower - you can see the 100 or so little yellow flowers. The grass there was short, and it had the feel of a meadow.
However, in the bottom right half of the meadow, the Yellow Rattle for some reason hadn't germinated (and it is difficult to fathom why). As a result, the grass had grown REALLY lush and tall. And then what had happened was that the Foxes had had an absolute ball in its soft blanket, rolling about and flattening it. There was nothing for it but to cut that grass back immediately to stop it suppressing any of my wildflower seeds that might be trying to grow beneath it.
At that stage in May, there was no sign of the Bird's-foot Trefoil or Lady's Bedstraw.
However, by this autumn, there are seedlings of both plants springing up everywhere. Plus lots of seedlings of plants I hadn't sown: Ox-eye Daisy, Self-heal, Sweet Violet and Smooth Hawk'sbeard (whichare all found elsewhere in the garden) and Cat's-ear (which isn't anywhere else in the garden). Isn't it amazing how lawn flowers move in?
In terms of wildlife, the Meadow - despite being half Fox-mauled - was visited this summer by Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Brown Argus butterflies, which feels like a great start.
So, two weeks ago I cut the meadow hard (but didn't scarify), and scattered a mix of Yellow Rattle and about ten other meadow flower species across the right half, plus I pushed Cowslip seed into any bare soil areas I could find. And next year I'll report back again on progress.
With luck, all the stiff stems of the Yellow Rattle will be up, and as a result the grass will be short and the Foxes won't have felt the desire to gambol. And while I'm not claiming it will be a perfect replica of the meadows of old, I'm getting increasingly confident it will nevertheless be doing great things for wildlife. If I get some grasshoppers, I'll be jumping for joy!
PS Since posting this, I've had a fascinating response from my gardening guru, Dr Ken Thomson, him of 'Nettles Not Required' and other such top reads. Ken has pointed out that there's a threshold of 'productivity' of the lawn (ie how fertile it is for grass) above which Yellow Rattle just can't establish itself. "The problem doesn't seem to be germination, but survival after germination. Basically the problem seems to be that Yellow Rattle doesn't do really vigorous grass much harm. And also that the young seedlings still need some light, which they don't get if the grass is too vigorous. So my guess is that for some arcane historical reason, part of your 'meadow' is more productive - too productive for Yellow Rattle to establish". Ken's advice to me is to keep mowing, which will continue to reduce the fertility, and Yellow Rattle will then win out. Bring on next year, eh?!
Creating a meadow must be the hardest thing to do in gardening! I’m now stratifying 10m2 and have tennis elbow!
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