Wednesday 31 July 2013

Meadow study day

Mon 10th June
Weather: 13 - 14°C grey & cloudy.
The meadow down at the farm complex, in year two it is already full of wildflowers - Leucanthemum vulgare, red & white clover, Centauria nigra (Knapweed) and lots more. 

There was a meadow study day with Fergus today. There are many different types of meadows at Dixter. The one next to the horse pond is made up of juncus sedge grass. The big orchard meadow opposite the long border was ploughed land in medieval times, so has a long heritage. We have new ones in the making 2 - 3 years old, the one down at the farm complex is already impressive even though it is so young, helped by our own rich seed source (see Strewing). Our topiary lawn was basically what the lawn turned into when it was let go. Meadows are a complicated topic. It's not so much hard but there are a lot of questions that you have to consider when creating one - what you want it for, how you want to use it, what you want to get out of it, and what factors are you affected by. It can also get very scientific, there are formulas for seed mixes and schedules for cutting times.

Topiary lawn in April full of tall meadow buttercups (Ranunculus acris) with the two cotinus (Smoke Bush). Underneath the green cotinus are Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). 

Meadow by the horsepond just coming up in March - April. The light is shining through Water Dropwort - Oenanthe crocata (which is very poisonous). 

This quiet meadow in between spaces it began with Fritillarias & Erythronium descanis, then Iris latifolia (originally from the Pyrenees but has seemed to naturalise here), and now in July there are chicory Cichorium intybus. The tree in the middle is a quince.

Fergus distinguished the difference between a cornfield and a meadow, which people often get mixed up with. The former is usually of colourful plants but they are all annuals & have many 'nursing' plants like poppies that makes it look good for the first one or two years, but does not last. The soil requirements for each are different. A meadow with longevity takes time & patience. It's good to think about the type of seeds that you want to use. Fergus is strongly for local provenance seeds usually obtainable from the local Wildlife Trust, but is not adverse to 'exotic' elements like the crocus, fritillarias & daffodil bulbs.

When one looks at our meadows especially the ones at the front of the house and the orchard meadow, the way the bulbs comes up in a drift, one can see a likeness to some of the prints in the 'Wild Garden' by William Robinson - the grandad of naturalistic planting. Daisy Lloyd - Christopher Lloyd's mother, was very influenced by him and studied his work. She was the one who was particularly keen on starting and developing the meadows, which Christopher expanded upon in later years.

Fritillarias coming up in drifts in the orchard meadow in April - Daisy Lloyd planted many of the original ones. 

Some of the most important elements of setting up a meadow is starting from the right type of ground, to ensure that there are no weeds like dock & creeping thistles, and the less nutrition it has the more diverse the wild flowers will be. Cutting is another important element in meadow management, when & how its done. At Dixter we cut our meadows twice - once when the orchids have dropped their seeds which is usually in late summer (end of August) and then again around November to make sure that the grass is short enough for crocus bulbs to come up well.

Orchid pollens are in the air and will always drift in if the ground is right. Orchids are not the end all of meadows, but if they show up, then it is a good indication that your ground is good.

The green winged orchid - Anaphalis morio, before these there is also another dark purple orchid called Orchis mascula (Early Purple orchid).

The Twayblade orchid - Listera ovata

The common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii. These came in particularly noticeable drifts and swathes this year. Some were even freakishly big, as well as a couple of curious albino ones. 

A significant meadow plant is yellowrattle - Rhinanthus minor which I wrote about about last year (click here to see post). These semi-parasitic plants helps keep the grass low so that more diverse plants can grow.
Rhinanthus minor - Yellow Rattle. 

Then there is the wider picture to consider - is it purely for aesthetics, or is it for conservation & supporting biodiversity. Or is it part of a bigger system like a farming rotation and be used as pasture land, which is a more holistic approach to horticulture & agriculture and how things used to be done. Much of this has been lost and hence the threat of meadow land also.

They are great habitats for wildlife - gnapweed, hawkbit & dandelions are perfect for honeybees, more different butterflies have been found in the meadows because some of them like to lay their eggs on the tall grasses. This is why we only cut our meadows with a slower machine that cuts like a scythe and only in sections at a time, so it gives a chance for the wildlife to move onto somewhere else. Fergus is hoping to eventually just to use hand scythes to cut the meadows. This has spurred Dixter to hold a scything competition at the end of this summer.

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