The Meadow

Still in its first season, this sown meadow features daisies, corn poppies and the naturally occurring Yorkshire fog

Still in its first season, this sown meadow features daisies, corn poppies and the naturally occurring Yorkshire fog

Meadow gardens sound so very romantic yet are not often seen in this country whereas they are de rigueur in Britain, to the extent that I make jokes that it is clearly the law to have one. But not all meadow gardens are the same by any manner of means.
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1) The field sown with wildflower mix is probably what is most commonly referred to as a meadow in this country. These of course are not our native wildflowers – far from it – but the reference is usually to the inclusion of varieties closest to the wild species and consequently smaller and simpler blooms than seen in garden hybrids. The problem in our climate is that favourable growing conditions can make for leggy plants that will be flattened by both heavy rain or wind. It was heavy rain that flattened this wildflower mix at Wisley.

Missouri Meadow June 2014

Missouri Meadow June 2014

As we saw it in June 2009

As we saw it in June 2009

2) We were entranced in 2009 by the new Missouri meadow garden at Wisley, designed by Professor James Hitchmough from the University of Sheffield. This style is now often referred to as being of the Sheffield School of planting design with its focus on ecology and sustainability. Five years later, it has developed into a huge perennial bed and much of the original detail has gone. It is still most attractive and low maintenance but it has lost the meadow feel. I have not seen prairies but I doubt that it is a prairie reinterpretation either.

June 2014 at the Old Vicarage in Norfolk

June 2014 at the Old Vicarage in Norfolk

Same month, back in 2009

Same month, back in 2009

3) The wildflower meadow at the Old Vicarage Garden in Norfolk was delightful in its flowering simplicity in 2009. This is it at the same time of the year in 2014 although the flowering appeared to be delayed this year. The yellow corn marigold and grasses have swamped out most other plants. The owner told us he keeps trying to get the corn poppies re-established but without great success. Meadows evolve over time. To constantly spray off and resow in flowers, as sometimes recommended in New Zealand, does not give you a meadow. It gives you a garden of annuals.

Pensthorpe in the north of Norfolk

Pensthorpe in the north of Norfolk

4) Maximum ecological brownie points are earned by those who have the patience to allow a natural meadow to develop with no over-sowing or management of plant content. What is present has arrived naturally and is allowed to stay. No sprays are used and no stock grazes the area. However, most meadows will be cut sometime in late August, left to lie for two weeks to allow seed to fall out and then the hay raked off, to prevent a build up of fertility.

Pettifers Garden near Stratford on Avon

Pettifers Garden near Stratford on Avon

5) Dry grass has charm. This is a bulb meadow being allowed to dry off naturally – quite possibly bluebells, daffodils and snowdrops in spring. Those are allium seed heads showing which are just passing over, heading into early summer. In our more fertile conditions with higher rainfall, we are more likely to get less attractive rank, wet, green growth heavily infested with what we call weeds. Maybe it is time to reconsider our classification and attitude to many such weeds.

yellow rattle (2)

6) Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is an integral part of English meadows. It is a parasitic plant that weakens grass growth and allows other plants to establish with reduced competition, increasing the diversity. Obviously we do not need this plant to escape into our farming pastures and I do not even know if it is in New Zealand. We have seen something similar growing wild on our road verge and will be having a closer look this summer. We think it may be a broomrape rather than a Rhinanthus.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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11 thoughts on “The Meadow

  1. Mick Parsons

    I have so enjoyed your journey into the meadows. The only competition your photos have had are those shocking pans of the M17 disaster in Ukraine. Look closely and there were the most beautiful natural meadow flowers out at the time of the crash amid the agricultural landscape.. One day, if the world still exists, I can’t wait to go there. Back home perhaps you could start a “back to the meadow” movement among your dairy farming neighbours. It is only with the advent of industrial farming where a very narrow range of species have become acceptable. Most farmers now talk about ‘grass’. Gone from their vocab are even the words clover and pasture. A ‘pure’ sward with harvesting dry matter is the extent of their understanding of pasture ecology. Note that this too is a blot on our landscape; one step removed from an oil rig supplying all that rich urea to keep it sustained. I believe there is still a place for your meadow flowers amid our agricultural landscape as opposed to gardening. The grazing animal is an essential part of the maintenance of these ‘gardens’. where ‘buttercup’ feasts on daisy and her friends. Small holders are more likely to be this nursery but, sadly, their skills are elsewhere and not able to manage what may be necessary; species for light, shade,damp, dry, etc.
    Mick

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Mick, as we see the green desert around us that intensive dairying brings, we increasingly think that lifestylers and small block owners contribute more than is realised to the environment because most get outside and plant trees – some successfully and some less so. It was interesting that there was far more dialogue about eco-systems, sustainability and environmentally friendly gardening in the UK than I have seen or heard in this country. The sooner we start having those discussions the better.

  2. Mick Parsons

    Sadly, Abbie, it is not yet within our rural culture to have these discussions in the depth that is needed. All discussions on land use begin with what short term profit can be made per hectare; no matter the context. It is our opportunistic use of aotearoa’s thin mantle that has put us where we are today. I don’t see this changing anytime soon or being influenced by those with influence such as Regional Councils. I hope I am wrong and that small holders are the leading edge of a new culture.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      The veneer we have over the pioneer mentality is paper-thin at best. And do not get me started on our regional council…!!!! Abandon hope all ye who look there.

  3. JANET

    Meadows. I have been cutting and raking off an area of perhaps 2 acres for 6 years. Imagine my delight and amazement to see the area carpeted in Yellow Rattle this spring. Seed dormant, in this previously long established grazing had suddenly germinated What next I wonder, will just have to wait and see.

  4. akismet-cc86e69a13119f6a42f5deab97c402e6

    You are right about meadows and big thing here, but the fashionable field full of annuals type meadow is worrying. There are places where old pasture with it’s rich history and ecology still exists (in the Wye Valley for example) and there are cases of people destroying them (real meadows) to create ‘meadows’ – ie arable fields with flowery weeds.
    I have also heard that it’s impossible to keep the arable field with weeds going and looking good year on year…
    You don’t mention one of the the real treats of a real meadow – you can add bulbs for spring. So it’s delight for months (see http://veddw.com/north-garden-elizabeths-walk-meadow-orchard/).
    I think rattle is a parasite on grass and therefore only does it’s lowering fertility effect in meadows and not arable fields?

      1. akismet-cc86e69a13119f6a42f5deab97c402e6

        So growing corn/wheat/barley/etc is quite foreign? It is those fields that these ‘meadows’ imitate, as opposed to “A meadow is a field habitat vegetated by primarily grass and other non-woody plants (grassland).[1] =
        Meadows have ecological importance because their open, sunny areas attract and support flora and fauna that couldn’t thrive in other conditions. Meadows may be naturally occurring or artificially created from cleared shrub or woodland. They often host a multitude of wildlife,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadow

        See what is getting lost in this passion for arable fields full of weeds and no arable?!

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Agree completely. This is why they are largely a romanticized concept in this country, usually seen as a garden of annuals that gets resown often. I even saw one writer suggesting resowing mid season if the first flush is finished. There used to be more cropping in drier areas of the country but it’s all dairy conversions these days so lush green pasture. We found the golden crop fields of the UK novel and I photographed some. All that rippling gold. But also we saw the tracks which are clearly for the industrial sized sprayer and we were aware that we were looking at monocultures. At least you are having dialogue about ecosystems and ways to support them. Hardly started that conversation here.

      3. Anne Wareham

        Yes, the cornfields lit up with poppies have gone mostly – though I have seen some. Strange that the new fashion includes only the weeds and not the corn. (I did try it with barley, which is so beautiful but the weeds failed..) XX

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