Six on Saturday 15/08/2020

The hay has been saved!

Our “Bulb Lawn/High Grass/Wildflower Patch” has come to the final cycle of its year; we cut everything to the ground last week and took it all away – the “saving” bit. After months of changing appearances it has been brought back to basics, to its off-season appearance, to being just a patch of grass again and, to be honest, grass is quite uninteresting. We didn’t quite save the hay this year. In previous years we had hens and I always left the grass on the ground for a week or so, depending on the weather, turning it everyday so as to dry it out and I then stored it to line the laying nest in the henhouse. This year, it was cut, collected and put on the compost heap all in the one day.

The Bulb Lawn began about ten years ago when we were given access to large numbers of the common snowdrop in a garden which had been abandoned in the 1950s. We lifted sackfuls, brought them home, separated and cleaned them and planted several thousand individually in an area between two large flower beds – it became our Bulb Lawn. These are all the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and come into flower in February. They have already begun to thicken up and, hopefully, will look better with passing years.

We gradually added further bulbs to the area. Crocus, which had been used in pots for spring display, were an easy option and, as the corms are small, they were very easy to plant – I push a stick into the ground to make a hole and drop the corms/bulbs into the holes. We add some each year as we empty to spring pots.

Daffodils always look at home growing in grass. They have been traditionally used as an underplanting in orchards and do very well in these situations. I found some old daffodils in the same garden as where the snowdrops were sourced. I later found a name for them – or names, I should say, as I found it had acquired several names over the centuries: ‘Van Sion’, ‘Telemonius Plenus’ and even ‘Butter and Eggs’. It loves the conditions and is doing very well. I have added a good number of Narcissus poeticus, the Pheasant Eye narcissus, but have found they have not done so well and, despite adding several dozen last year, I had very few appear this spring. Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’, of course, romps away. A great addition two years ago was Camassia cusickii, a small camassia which only grows to 50cm, just the same height as the grass when it is at it highest. It has worked so well that I have added a few dozen more bulbs this year – lifted from a clump elsewhere in the garden.

Sometimes, good fortune smiles on our choices in the garden and so it was with a planting of a few bulbs of the Snakeshead Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris. It became obvious within a few years that the conditions suited them perfectly because they began self-seeding generously and within a few years had made a good spread. We have since collected the seed each year and spread it about a bit more in hopes of getting an even bigger display of the fritillarias.

A gift of some Common Spotted Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii subsp. fuchsii, from a friend who had them growing wild in her garden changed the nature of the Bulb Lawn forever. They flower into July, after the other bulbs have gone over and at a time when I had previously cut the grass. With them in flower I could no longer cut so early but had to leave this into August so the Bulb Lawn became, variously, the High Grass or the Wildflower Patch and, to help the wildflowers get a foothold in the rich grass sward, I sowed Yellow Rattle which is semi-parasitic on grass and so reduces its vigour.

With this longer season, a greater selection of wildflowers arrived and it can be very interesting to see how the display can change from year to year. It can be difficult to understand how the selection can change so much from one season to the next. One year we had a beautiful covering of the lightest blue with Field Forget-me-not covering the whole area. In another, it was the yellow of Smooth Hawksbeard. Daisies, Creeping and Meadow Buttercup and Ribwort Plantain are the staple wildflowers but Lady’s Smock is beginning to make an appearance and Ragged Robin has appeared on one occasion. The appearance of a seedling geranium, a garden plant growing nearby, poses an interesting question: is this plant a weed when growing in the wildflower patch?

To read more Six on Saturday blogs go to The Propagator’s entry for today: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/15/six-on-saturday-15-08-2020/ ,scroll down to the comments and you will find other bloggers have posted links to their Saturday entry there. Lots to read!

32 thoughts on “Six on Saturday 15/08/2020

  1. Sometimes, you read something and suddenly the only thought you have is “Doh! I’m dumb.” I’ve been thinking for a couple of years of turning over my smallest lawn area to a meadow-style something. But I don’t have an acre and keep thinking that what I’d end up with would be an unkempt-looking patch with the shortish seasonal interest of wildflowers and, hopefully, a lit more wildlife. I have not thought of the simple principle of succession planting until today. Spring bulbs giving way to unmown grass as their foliage dies down, then the meadow flowers emerge and finally the grass gets close mown for the winter. And I could learn to scythe too! I now have a plan. Thanks.

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    1. Our garden was part of a dairy farm for many years – this section up to twenty years ago when we bought it to add space to the garden. I have discovered a few things: Because we don’t fertilize the grass – in this whole area of the garden, not just the bulb lawn – and cut it constantly we actually weaken the grass growth considerably and loads and loads of “weeds” appear – wildflowers! They are there all the time but are generally outcompeted by the grass. The seed must be in the ground or else when the grass becomes weaker the seed comes in and is able to germinate but there is now a very interesting selection of wildflowers in the grass. As for the bulb lawn – it has evolved and has a different selection of wildflowers – because it is only those which can compete with higher grass which will be able to grow there: different conditions lead to different plant communities. It’s worth giving it a go – bulbs in spring leading to uncut grass and you’ll be surprised by what appears.

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    1. Good Morning, Peter! We are keeping ourselves busy in the garden as usual; a few walks during the week but nothing more exciting than that!

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  2. The only intervention I have made in my wildflower patch is to sow Yellow Rattle. Everything else has come up on its own and it’s amazingly diverse. Dominant species right now are Knapweed and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. I will cut and rake it in September. But the rest of my one acre has an incredible variety of flowers too. Only yesterday I discovered Fluellen – and there are several individuals so it may have been here a while with me not seeing it.

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  3. Your meadow is a treasure and so good for the bees and of course the survival of wild flowers – but I’m sneezing just reading it! The farmer beside me was gathering silage the past couple of days and I’ve been destroyed with hay-fever!!!! With the coughing and sneezing that goes with hay-fever in the current climate I feel like Typhoid Mary if I have to go to a shop for essential supplies! Thankfully the farmer has collected the silage since yesterday so it should be safe to go out today! On a more positive note, your photos really show the amazing variety a well-managed meadow can have!

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    1. I have always baulked at using the word “meadow” as it brings to mind a much bigger and more natural area. My mindset runs a little along with one of the Rothschilds who, when delivering a talk to a group of Royal Horticultural Society members, made the comment that “every garden, no matter how small, should have at least 20 acres of woodland.”

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  4. What a lovely wild flower and bulb meadow you have created. It’s such a timely post too – just when I’ve the bulb catalogues to look through. Our garden had some of the Van Sion growing in clumps in the scruffier areas of the garden where presumably they had been for years. I’ve added narcissus pseudonarcissus, which have survived and some crocus tomassianus which did nothing. I like the idea of the camassias you’ve grown.

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    1. The camassias worked wonderfully. They were just the right height, flowering at the same height as the high grass. The taller ones, C. leichtlinii and the likes, would be too tall for this situation and also have too much rough foliage.

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  5. the bulbs do look fab, i bet you look forward to that every year. my lawn is too small (and getting smaller every year) for the same treatment but i’m happy to admire it in others. I am mainly jealous of your compost heaps, you must have a goodly supply of mown grass to feed it. i rely on my neighbour who leaves a big bag of clippings on my drive every time she mows. she will soon move house, or so rumour has it, i’m dreading the supply being cut off. my fallback plan is to raid the nearby brewery for spent hops, behaves like grass in the heap, but it stinks a bit.

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    1. The compost bin entails a fair amount of work. I shred anything that can be shredded – the tougher material from plants cut down and prunings from trees and shrubs. I would have 2-3 loads from a ride-on mower when I cut the grass and this gives great heat. I also cover the heap with two old duvets – sounds silly but it leads to great heat in the pile.

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