Monday, 27 August 2012

Wildflower Meadows

The sheep's in the meadows the cows in the corn; shades of the Olympic opening ceremony. It is now time to put on my smock, sharpen the scythe and dig out the old wooden hay rake. The native wildflower area in my garden is just about to be cut. We have left it until now because it was so wet in July we could not get it done and so decided to let the late summer flowers set seed with the additional benefit that an even greater number of insects and birds benefit.

Unfortunately it is now not a job we are looking forward too mainly because we have to rake up all the cut grass. A tiring and time consuming task but an absolutely essential one if we want to continue having a good mix of wildflowers.

I have seen the stunning wildflower areas at the Olympic Park – what a triumph their waterside planting is – but wonder how they will manage the various areas. Wildflower areas are perfect for masking the dying foliage of daffodils but after the end of June the dramatic landscape of grasses and wildflowers starts to look messy, especially if children and dogs have run through it. So in a domestic situation it is best to cut your wildflower areas then and not wait till the late summer flowers have set seed.

Wildflower areas need not be high maintenance but it is a common misconception that they look after themselves. They don't. The grass can either be cut in late June when the early flowering species have seeded or left until the end of August to allow the late flowering species to set seed; in either case the grass must be collected otherwise it will enrich the soil and wildflowers only flourish on impoverished soil. It is also necessary to remove or treat any patches of the most thuggish and invasive species and grasses or the better behaved native flowering plants will be unable to compete.

Whether you choose to scatter a wildflower seed mix on bare raked earth or put plug plants into established grass you will find that many wildflowers – naturally occurring or not – will not all appear the following year unless the soil is disturbed. The wheatfield poppies appeared annually because the soil was ploughed and other wildflowers reappeared because grassland was grazed. Grazing sheep kept down the thuggish species and cows feet disturbed the earth: hence the nursery rhyme, 'the sheep's in the meadow the cows in the corn'.

So, after cutting your wildflower meadow, collect the grass (home made hay) and if you cannot get somebody's sheep to graze it for a few months keep it cut and get a team of very energetic children to play sports on the area kicking the stuffing out of the grass. A few tents pitched on it or some kids on cross country bikes might also give the same effect but putting some pigs on it may be going too far. They will plough it to such an extent that it is only good enough for planting potatoes.

However small our plot we can all do our bit to encourage bees and other insects as pollinators and increase the bird and wildlife generally - it doesn't have to be on the grand scale of an Olympic Park. Even if it is only small areas of native wildflowers around trees or along garden boundaries, cultivating wildflowers will help counteract the sad loss to our wildlife now apparent by over-manicured hedges and verges and pesticide sprayed fields.

Come on, time to go wild! Lucy

No comments: