Saturday, July 21, 2012

Splendour in the Grass

Have you ever avoided a busy, national event to go and lie in a meadow? While the roadsides were lined with people cheering on the Olympic torch's journey South, I was looking at the sky through gently waving grass stems, watching grasshoppers vault over colossal obstacles, and butterflies weave, dive and loop-the-loop. Given the choice my son was adamant he was going to the "play park". We didn't make it to the climbing frame and slide when he noticed the grass hoppers in the field on the way there. He and a couple of other boys spent nearly an hour prowling like cats, pouncing every so often, trying to catch them.

The council used to give this open space a regular crew cut leaving a flat, green, giant dog toilet. This year much of the field has been left to go wild. As a result the insect life is flourishing. I don't know if this is a result of the cutbacks but if it is we're all benefiting; a great diversity of wild life will be supported here now. At the edge of the field are large patches of nettles. These are the primary food source of many caterpillars including those of the comma, tortoiseshell and peacock. Intensive Post War herbicide use has led to a decline in our bee and insect population. Some insecticides are persistent in the environment and may have had long term impact on the bees.

It wasn't long ago that meadows would have been everywhere. They would have been bright splashes of colour on the landscape with a wide variety of native wild flowers and edible plants to discover. We are now having to recreate them artificially so that we can go and view them like exhibits. When I visited RHS Wisley a couple of weeks ago I saw an area that is being cultivated as a flower meadow maze. It looked really rubbish. I don't know if it's because of the weather but it does show that even here, where everything else on show was of the highest standard, creating a wildflower meadow is not easy. So much harder to recreate something once it's gone.

Are there any natural meadows near you?


  1. In Basingstoke the council seem to be leaving more of the grass to go wild which is good news. Last year they sowed some areas with lovely wild flower mixes and I thought they would self seed, but sadly nothing has come up this year. My garden experiment didn't seem to work. All that's grown is the grass and "weeds" that were there already, but it's still full of wildlife so I think it will stay!

  2. That's interesting. Don't give up on it. I was reading on the BBC Gardening site that you should cut the grass short and make sure to remove the clippings so that they don't feed the soil. This might have to be done for a couple of years. Then plant plug plants rather than sowing seed. The meadows that existed here before were on areas of land that were used for grazing cattle or were part of a cycle of cultivation of veg crops or hay. Left alone nature will turn the land back into woodland and many meadow species wouldn't be able to survive there either.

  3. I was also just reading about yellow rattle, an attractive annual wildflower which parasitizes grass, reducing it's vigour and giving other wildflowers more of a chance.

  4. Lovely photos and description Lorna...I'd have preferred to be there too :)

    And you're right above when talking about sowing wildflowers onto nutrient deficient soil. It's funny how you have it in your mind that a wildflower meadow is a natural thing whereas in fact it's man-made. There's Permaculture at work for you :)

  5. Greetings Lorna!
    It is uplifting to hear how one season of ‘neglect’ by the council has provided such a good habitat for so many insects. More of the same please council bods! We use Yellow Rattle here; it is very effective and quite attractive in its own right.

  6. Bertie! I did write a nice letter to the council letting them know what a great job they're (not) doing. Thanks for the tip. I've never created a meadow myself and am tempted to do a wee experiment in the field :)

  7. Tanya, you've created a lovely wild flower meadow haven't you I must look up your old posts about it. I think we've messed so much with the world that it's hard to know what's 'natural' anymore.



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