Wild flower meadow project (October 2021)

As this series of blogs has already mentioned the first year was a disaster as “we had the wrong sort of grass”! So this is effectively the first year following seeding last September. And this is effectively the meadow’s one year anniversary.

I was sitting in the meadow enjoying the warm autumn sun and suddenly realised I should have done an update on the meadow.

The last blog was June the 13th and we were pleased with the meadow with many flowers coming out. We then went on holiday for three weeks not sure what to expect when we got back and we were in for a surprise.

You tube Video of what we came home to!

Yes that all grow in three weeks. Daucus carota Wild Carrot to 1.2m tall across the whole meadow.

And as well as the wild carrot there were other wild flowers coming out, Centaurea nigra Common Knapweed .

Of course August is the time to cut all of this back.

The mechanical scythe which makes light work of cutting the meadow down.

The cut meadow is then left for a few days for any seeds to drop before a very manual job of racking it up and dumping it into the sheep field for the sheep to eat.

This was effectively the first cut this meadow has had and I was interested to see what would be left. The mechanical scythe cuts at about 7cm which meant chopping through many of the flower plants!

I needn’t have worried, after a few day everything is looking great.

Closer up you can see a few of the many wild flower plants that should come through next year together with flowers grown from seed that has dropped.

In fact some of the Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare decided to flower having been hidden from the light by the wild carrot. So far it is looking good for 2022.

It is hard to describe how much enjoyment we have had over the last couple of years. Covid has meant we have been in our garden much more with most holidays cancelled or not possible. I think gardening has saved a lot of us during these times.

We have used the time to create an improved seating area. Here we have used wooded blocks held in place aby a soft steel frame with the front edge at the same level as the grass to facilitate mowing. This seat is effectively under the canopy of the tree so can provide shade when required.

And the view from this seat.

A second seating area. This time in a sunny position that will also get the evening sun. We made the frame quite high so that when seated you see over the fence.

The only issue now is where to have our gin & tonic.

Wild flower meadow project (June 2021)

At last the meadow is beginning to look like we imagined. As this series of blogs has already mentioned the first year was a disaster as “we had the wrong sort of grass”! So this is effectively the first year following seeding last September.

However, right now we are getting excited and spend hours in the meadow identifying what is coming out.

The yellow rattle is flowering and everywhere there are signs of perennials that have germinated. Few of the perennials are flowering yet with the exception of the Oxeye daisy but as there were annuals in the mix on our first attempt and also as we disturbed the soil when we rotavated prior to seeding a host of annuals have come through.

The following series of photographs were taken this morning. (click on any image to scroll through them)

I have also discovered that it is hard to really capture a wild flower meadow in photographs!

Even with a wild flower meadow weeding still needs to take place. There are some weeds you definitely do not want to go to seed!

Wild flower meadow project (May 2021)

Time for another update on the wild flower meadow. This is the second summer but as I explained things did not go well at first and we had to effectively start again. But I am happy to say that so far it is looking much better.

The weather has not been kind this spring. January to April we have had very little rain. And it has been significantly colder than average. As in our main garden the meadow is a few weeks late as a result of the weather.

The Narcissus Pheasant Eye are now in flower and are creating our vision of swathes of them across the meadow.

The cowslips Primula veris are now going to seed. I have just been told that cowslip seed is very expensive but this seed will be going back on the meadow. A neighbour had given me a chunk of seedlings each one only a few millimetres high. From this I nurtured about 150 plants which have now all been planted out although not all have flowered this year.

It is certainly the case that wild flower meadows are not easy to establish. We used a wild flower seed mix last September but in a couple of areas it was always intended to use plugs. Here is my last delivery of plugs together with around 100 Yellow rattle plugs. (More on this later)

Our Wych Elm Ulmus glabra has come into leaf. I explained the background to this tree in February and due to Dutch Elm Disease it is now quite a rare tree so we are delighted to see it starting its new life in our meadow.

What can be more English than English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta in spring flower under trees.

These were planted as bulbs last autumn by just dropping them into holes made with a small size bulb auger. Easy and so far looks successful.

As well as a variety of different foliage the one important plant for creating a wild flower meadow is Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor. It is an annual plant that likes to grow in grassy meadows. It is semi-parasitic on grass. … The grass is weakened by it – which is why wildflower meadow makers love it and farmers hate it. You can see it here with pointed leaves pointing out from central stem.

However in some areas we can see lots and lots of yellow rattle. The seed mix had around 7% yellow rattle so this should not happen. Interestingly the density of yellow rattle appears to be from little on one side of the meadow to lots on the opposite side.

The seed of yellow is designed to move in the wind. As the seed mix was sown on bare earth I now think the wind had picked up the Yellow Rattle seed and moved it across the meadow. Hence the 100 yellow rattle plugs which will now be added along the windward side of the meadow.

The good news is that we have a good mix of wild flowers growing.

We have now had some significant amounts of rain and we just hope the weather gets a bit warmer to really bring it on.

Wild flower meadow project (March 2021)

The seeds planted last autumn are beginning to germinate and grow.

As you can see, a multitude of different wild flowers are coming through. The grass was specifically selected to be slow growing to give the wild flowers a chance.

And some early plants are now in flower.

Red Deadnettle Lamium Purpureum

We planted some Fritillaria Meleagris in 2019 and an additional 1500 in 2020. These are now coming through and are creating a wonderful display which should only get better with time.

And the English Bluebells are also coming up.

English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Lastly we planted an additional 1000 Narcissus Pheasant Eye to create some drifts across the meadow.

So the meadow is developing well and we have high hopes. Later in April we will have some plugs to supplement the meadow under the trees.

An unplanned happy moment in a pandemic

No, I am not talking about Covid-19 but another pandemic that sweep across Great Britain. That pandemic was Dutch elm disease. This now infamous tree disease has killed millions of elm trees in the UK over the last 40 years. It’s changed parts of our landscape forever and it’s still spreading north.

Dutch elm disease is a serious disease of elms caused by the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It is a type of disease known as a vascular wilt because the fungus blocks the vascular (water transport) system, causing the branches to wilt and die. It is spread by elm bark beetles. Damage is usually seen in summer and early autumn.

I planted a golden elm Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’ about 20 years ago and had assumed that as it had survived for so long it might be immune.

Then last July the tell tale symptoms of the disease appears and within weeks the tree was dead!

The dead tree as it now looks.

Then last week an email appeared in my in box from one of our local plant nurseries, Goscote Nurseries. They had 100 Elm trees to give away. Apparently they had been micro propagated from existing elm trees that were resistant to Dutch Elm Disease and were now ready for planting out.

How could I resist this offer and yesterday I planted a Wych Elm Ulmus glabra in our wild flower meadow.

Taller than I expected. Of course there is no guarantee but if it survives then it is putting back a classic British tree.

This Wych Elm is the actual tree that my tree was micro propagated from. It will be a few years before my tree reaches this size.

The following is taken from Cumbria’s Top Trees

THE WILY WYCH

by Ann Sandell, 24 October

After Dutch Elm Disease swept through Britain and Europe in the 1970s and 80s huge gaping holes, like pulled teeth, appeared in the countryside. For such a magnificent tree to be lost to large swathes of the countryside was a biodiversity and landscape tragedy. So how lucky is Kirkby Stephen to have a proud, magnificent wych elm in its midst? Standing proud and alone on Tarn Lane, the tree is a wonderful example of spirited resistance against a formidable foe. Resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, its special seeds have been harvested to produce new saplings to regenerate the species elsewhere. It is a wily old wych indeed.

This development heartens Ann Sandell, Chairman of Kirkby Stephen & District Walkers. ‘Whilst other veteran trees may be older or taller this is a warm friendly tree as it leans away from the prevailing western winds sheltering the stock fence gate,’ she says. ‘I often lead walks this way and we have made and published an adventure walk using this under-used route to introduce children to the area and this magnificent tree.’ People often ask how you can tell wych elm and the traditional English elm apart. One of the best ways is this: wych elm, when mature, have long lower branches which droop down where as the English elm forms a very distinctive handle shape.

There used to be a tarn near Tarn Lane but it was drained many years ago for sheep grazing. One reminder is a small door built into a boundary wall to enable ducks to waddle through and reach the water.

Although all elms are associated with melancholy and death – because the trees can drop dead branches without warning and the timber was the preferred choice for coffins – they are great for wildlife, particularly insects. Many birds eat the seeds and the leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the peppered, light emerald and white spotted pinion moths. Caterpillars of the white letter hairstreak butterfly need elms and the species has declined dramatically since Dutch elm disease arrived in the UK.

Tree Facts
Species:
Wych elm (Ulmus glabra)

Size:
Height 10.33m, Girth 5.32m

Age:
Ancient

Trunk health:
Roots exposed, Canker

Find the tree:
From Kirkby Stephen large public (free) car park. Take the footpath with the school on your right, until the land falls lower where the former tarn was located. The tree is located in the left hand corner of the walls, next to a gate.

There is not much I can add to that and if I am in the area I will certainly visit the parent of our tree.

Wild flower meadow project (January 2021)

Happy New Year everyone.

I was asked the other day “how is your wild flower meadow coming on” which made me realise that an update is long over due. My last update was last April and at that stage I thought things were developing OK.

May 30th

Along side the fence there was a strip about 1.5 metres wide where I had added extra soil to fill a depression in the original sheep field. This was beginning to look promising.

The annual mix that had been added to the seed was beginning to look good together with some perennial wild flowers.
And there was evidence of Yellow Rattle in the grass

June 20th

By mid June this strip was looking great although we could see it was mainly the annuals that were flowering, not quite the wild flower meadow in our dreams.

Looking across the meadow it was clear that the only really successful plant was the original grass. The meadow had sheep on it for many years but I had been told that if I cut the grass really short and scarified the ground before planting the wild flower mix then it should be OK. Clearly the grass was too vigorous and maybe the ground to fertile.

I contacted our local wild flower seed supplier, Naturescape, for advise. They suggested a number of ways forward but they all involved killing off the original grass.

July 6th

The first task was to cut the grass.

The grass prior to cutting.

I had already purchased the mechanical scythe and this was its first outing together with the operator with a very lock down amount of hair. (in the UK lock down hairdressers where closed)!

It made short work of cutting the grass.

Next it was now time to kill off the grass. I do not normally use glyphosate in our garden but needs must. After a couple of weeks the grass had died back and I rotavated the ground to break up the surface layer. This action also encourages weed and grass seed to germinated so after another four weeks I sprayed the glyphosate again.

By now the ground was looking clean and ready for seeding. However, before seeding we decided to plant some more spring bulbs.

The drifts of Narcissus Pheasant Eye had been beautiful earlier in spring and we took the opportunity to plant more.

Another 1000 Narcissus Pheasant Eye, 1500 Snakeshead Fritillaria Meleagris  and 1000 English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta all planted over a couple of days!

September 1st

The ground was now ready for seeding. This time on the advice of Naturescape we had a bespoke mix made up. Normally a seed mix for a new meadow would be 20% wild flower seed and 80% grass seed. We had a 50% wild flower seed mix made together with the least vigorous grasses.

October 19th

The ground has been seeded and the autumn leaves are beginning to drop

December 15th

The seeds are beginning to germinate and we are keeping our fingers crossed!

The wild flower seedlings and some grasses

Closer up a good range of wild flower seed has germinated. At this stage we would not expect all the seeds to have germinated. Some need winter frost and others will not appear until April/May.

So far so good. What I have learned is the importance of having a clean seed bed before you start. Unless you are sowing in particularly poor soil then you will probably need to eliminate any existing grasses ec.

We are all hoping 2021 is going to be a better year. Mass vaccination should help us all get back to normal although I fear it will take six months before we can start to relax a little. Thank goodness we have our garden to continue to enjoy.

Wild flower meadow project update (April 2020)

Another four weeks in lock down! We have been so lucky to have a garden to play with and to enjoy. The weather for much of April has also been exceptionally warm and sunny. Some 10 degrees centigrade above typical April temperatures. There is lots to do throughout the garden but we have spent many hours on that chair just enjoying the moment.

The Snakeshead Fritillaria Meleagris has worked well. These were originally planted in 2018 in pots as the legal purchase of the land was taking forever. However we re-planted them in the autumn 2019 and they have come up looking as I had envisioned.

They are ideal for a meadow as they flower early and then disappear with very few leaves etc.

Looking across the meadow you can see some of the Narcissus Pheasant Eye with the Snakeshead across the middle. This was taken on 20th April and there is little to see apart from grass.

The new tree in the corner is Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is just beginning to come into leaf. All the new trees have been put on automatic watering. The hose on the right is part of the system which connects to drip hoses around the trees under the bark chippings. Keeping new trees watered in the first couple of years is essential.

The Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolour’ as yet to show signs of leaf but this is not unusual as beech seldom gets any leaves before the end of April. Again it is on automatic watering.

The English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, have come out and should bulk up over the next few years.

Of course as well as the Bluebells the buttercup, Ranunculaceae, are also flowering.

This wild violet has also found a home in our meadow.

Where the seed mix was on bare earth there is a multitude of plants coming through.

And where we sowed the seed mix into existing meadow then you can see a variety of plants starting to grow.

One important plant for creating a wild flower meadow is Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor. It is an annual plant that likes to grow in grassy meadows. It is semi-parasitic on grass. … The grass is weakened by it – which is why wildflower meadow makers love it and farmers hate it.

Although this Horse-chestnut tree is just outside our fence we feel it is effectively part of the garden. This has come into leaf and the flowers are spectacular.

Under the Horse-chestnut tree we planted a seed mix for hedge rows. There is a large variety of plants growing here.

The drifts of Narcissus Pheasant Eye has started to look their best. The idea of planting them in a wild flower meadow was something I borrowed from the RHS Rosemoor garden.

Our lockdown continues into May. Take care of yourselves and I will update the meadow progress at the end of May.

Wild flower meadow project update (March 2020)

At the start of my last blog I said “at last it has stopped raining”. I was wrong as it feels like it has been raining ever since! We are several weeks behind with the garden and still have to finish some of the rose pruning. The Under Gardener says that I am always concerned about our progress at this time of year so maybe everything will be OK.

Of course the major event happening here and around the world is the coronavirus epidemic. The UK is certainly not prepared for this epidemic following 10 years of our government starving the National Health Service and public sectors of cash. We have just gone into virtual lock down with almost all events being cancelled and many people being asked to stay in their homes for the next few months! We are very lucky to have a large garden where we can spend many hours in lock down. With so much cancelled I shall be spending 100% of my time sorting out all the little jobs that never get to the top of the list.

So, lets talk about how our wild flower meadow project is developing. Previous blogs on this were:
https://glebehouse.wordpress.com/2019/05/27/a-major-new-garden-project-starts/
https://glebehouse.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/wild-flower-meadow-project-update-august/
https://glebehouse.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/wild-flower-meadow-project-update-august-again/
https://glebehouse.wordpress.com/2019/11/30/wild-flower-meadow-project-update-november-2019/

I have just started buying spring bulbs ‘in the green’ from what appears to be a very good nursery Eurobulbs. So 50 Eranthis Hyemalis Winter Aconites found their way into my order and are now planted into one corner of the meadow.

Some of you will remember that we planted around 2000 Narcissus Pheasant Eye to provide drifts of white flowers across the meadow.

These are now coming up and we are looking forward to them flowering.

We also planted Fritillaria Meleagris (Snakeshead) again to provide drifts. A combination of mice and bulbs rotting meant that our success rate was very low, around 25%. Last winter I again planted 1000 bulbs in separate cells and kept them in a cool greenhouse. Once again germination was low with many of the bulbs rotting.

However, we did get enough to create a nice drift in one of the damper parts of the meadow. If anyone knows a foolproof way to grow Fritillaria Meleagris, please let me know.

Although we had some trees planted professionally (see previous blog) there was one tree that had been planted elsewhere in the garden and needed moving as there was not enough room where it had been planted. The tree, Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’, was first pruned to remove some of the bulk and then a wheelbarrow was used to support the root ball while it was moved to its new location. The good news is that the leaf buds are just beginning to open.

Across the meadow plants are beginning to germinate from the seed we distributed last September. This particular plant has come up in many places but until it flowers we have no idea what it is.

Looking back from the meadow, across the ha-ha into the main garden spring continues to develop. I am planning to restart my blog covering the main garden over the next few weeks.

Lastly the first of Primula Vulgaris Wild Primrose is about to flower. Wonderful!

In the meanwhile all take care and look after yourselves.

Wild flower meadow project update (November 2019)

It has finally stopped raining long enough for the trees we had ordered (see previous blog) to arrive.

We brought the trees from Majestic Trees and their truck arrived on a damp November day.

After laying some boards across part of the field the next job was unloading.

The farmer had let us use his field for access to where the trees were to be planted in our meadow area. You can still see standing water in the field as a result of the continuous rain we have been having!

The first tree arrives safely to where it will be planted. Time for a cup of coffee!

Another tree is brought across the field.

And positioned near where it will be planted.

And similarly the third tree.

Here comes a small digger and various bits of kit for the planting of the trees.

Ready to start digging the first hole.

Is it deep enough yet?
Measuring up for the watering system
Excess soil loaded into bags and removed
Lifting the tree into the hole
Almost there!

Ensuring the tree is upright was done by eye . The sacking around the root ball was not removed as it rots way quite naturally.

The tree needs to be fixed so it will not blow over. Two of the trees had substantial root balls and the system used was Platipus Anchors.

Platipus Tree anchor

The anchor on the end of the wire is pushed into the ground with the help of the steel rod and in this case the shovel of the digger.

The wire is then pulled up and as it does the anchor folds out and fixes the wire in place.

This was then repeated three times giving three anchored points around the root ball. A wire was then threaded through these points and a ratchet used to tighten the root ball into the ground.

Here you can see the wire across the top of the root ball. A watering tube was then positioned around the root ball.

And the tree is finally planted.

Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolour’

Similarly the second tree.

Liquidambar styraciflua
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’

And the third although with a smaller root ball a more conventional way of securing the tree has been used.

In addition to the trees we have planted some roses in the two corners adjacent to our main garden. These are Rosa Rugosa, Rosa Rugosa ‘Alba’ and Rosa Rugosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’. These were chosen for their hips providing food for birds in the autumn as well as their colour in the spring.

There is still some more work to do in the meadow. I plan to move an existing tree from elsewhere in the garden and we have around 1000 Fritillaria Meleagris (Snakeshead) in the greenhouse that will need planting out in the spring!

Wild flower meadow project update (August again!)

In May I mentioned that we had been so keen to get started that we had purchased a lot of bulbs for planting in the meadow. As the legal side of the purchase took longer than expected we had to plant the bulbs elsewhere.

Before we seed the meadow with wild flowers these bulbs needed planting. But how best to do this given hundreds of small plant pots and hundreds of Narcissus bulbs. However, these simple tools came to our rescue.

The bulb planting augers are fantastic.

Holes can be created at a fantastic speed ready to drop the compost in.

This one is a drift of the Fritillaria Meleagris (Snakeshead) seen in the May blog.

The augers come in three sizes:
Snowdrops, anemones & crocus (small) – Ø1.25” x L18″ (Ø3cm x 45cm)
Daffodils, tulips & iris (medium) – Ø1.75” x L30″ (Ø4.5cm x 76cm)
Alliums & bedding plugs (large) – Ø2.75” x L24″ (Ø7cm x 61cm)
and can be brought from Crocus

We had seen these Narcissus Pheasant Eye in the RHS Rosemoor Garden and wanted to create a similar effect. Using the medium auger making the holes for the bulbs was easy.

After about 10 hours around 1000 Narcissus Pheasant Eye had been planted. That’s the good news – the bad news is that there are another 1000 on order!

You might think we have stopped doing our main garden. Not a bit of it but the meadow is our current significant project.

A quick look around the main lawn at the borders reveals some very full late summer borders. The roses have recovered for the third time after summer storms had totally stripped them of flowers.