Tuesday, 9 July 2013

making wildflower meadows - pam lewis

Creating a wildflower meadow beneath our elderly apple trees is not quite a simple as just letting the grass grow. Hay meadows developed their unique flora and fauna over generations and hundreds of years. I'm trying to speed the process and am having help from my re-reading 'Making wildflower meadows' by Pam Lewis and getting lots of useful reminders.

Yellow rattle flowering in the orchard
First there's the reduction in soil fertility. Even though our ground is thin and sandy, vulgar and coarse Yorkshire Fog grass has taken up residence suggesting that there is plenty of nitrogen in the soil. Our 21st century air is polluted with increased nitrogen, giving an extra boost to nitrogen hungry plants like Yorkshire Fog. This grass swamps other meadow plants, creating a thick mat of vegetation that prevents gentler wildflowers from establishing themselves. It is difficult to remove the grass, so I scythe away the seeding tops to prevent its quest for world domination. The removal of nitrogen by taking vegetation away is said to take twenty years to achieve!!

So, I need another club in my bag - and that comes in the form of grassland parasites. Parasitic plants help to hold these swaggering meadow bullies back, and we have successfully sown small patches of annual Yellow Rattle (x) to suck away the vitality of the grasses. I'll collect this years' precious seeds when the seedheads rattle and distribute it more widely in the autumn. The eventual vision is of an orchard rich in this unusual plant.

But our 'meadow' is bereft of other flowers. So, I will beat up the grass after the hay cut in late summer and then hope to have more collected seed to distribute or plug plants to push into the soil. In a traditional hay meadow, this 'beating up' or 'poaching' as it is correctly termed would be done by the feet of grazing animals that cropped the meadow brasses after the hay cut is taken. The damage to the sward then provides opportunities for the flower seeds to take hold.

I have mowed a lovely path through the orchard grasses but Pam Lewis suggests changing the route of the path each year. The shorter grass of the mown path benefits certain perennial plants and by varying the path, the opportunities for more young perennials increases.

 Our grass is sadly silent when it should be ringing with the stridulation of busy grasshoppers, so, I'm off on a grasshopper hunt soon. But once theyre reintroduced, I must give them the best chance of survival. Pam Lewis reminds me to leave a wide margin along the edge of the meadow that will not be cut in high summer. This will allow grassland invertebrates and other wildlife to move across for safety, shelter and food when the rest of the area is first scythed, and then mown. They can overwinter in this refuge and then move back into the grass as it grows in the spring.

A final part of the picture is using the old apple trees as hosts for climbers. Different varieties of honeysuckles and climbing and rambling roses with simple flowers will clothe the trees as the summer unfolds. 

One day, this will be an insects paradise!!

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