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.

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.