The meadow, as we enter its sixth year

We are now entering our sixth year of managing our park as a meadow. Note the word ‘managing’. This is not just leaving it to its own devices but a much lighter touch than the previous mowing and weed control we used to practice. And in December, as in previous Decembers, my heart just fills with joy at the sight of the Higo iris in bloom. I love all times of the year in the garden – there is always something that delights me – but never more so than the iris meadow in the lead up to Christmas.

We have learned a lot in the five years past and I am sure we will continue learning. I was disconcerted to see cleavers moving in to a couple of areas. I just looked up its botanical name –  Galium aparine, which I have never even heard of before so I assume everybody knows them as cleavers. At least they are an annual weed that can be pulled out.

The tradescantia, pretty enough in flower, but arguably the worst weed of all

More alarming is the incidence of Tradescantia fluminiensis, better known as Wandering Jew. Mark has spent countless hours getting rid of this weed down the years. When we bought the property across the road 25 years ago, we acquired a stand of native tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa for overseas botanists) which was completely carpeted in tradescantia. It was a proud day when Mark announced  he had beaten it with a programme of determined eradication. Alas, he may have beaten it on our properties but every time we get a flood, more washes down from further upstream and every, wretched little bit grows. When we kept the grass short, it was easy to spot and remove immediately but in long grass, it damn well hides until we suddenly find another patch that escaped our notice. This will be an ongoing battle.

Having a stream flowing through brings responsibilities and these are weighing somewhat upon us. We worry that we are likely to be blamed for every escaped ornamental plant that establishes downstream, even if at least some are washed down from further upstream. The shiny leafed angelica, Angelica pachycarpa, somewhat more prized in overseas gardens but seen more as a weed here, has introduced itself from an upstream property.  Don’t believe the website that declares: “This is a bizarre and wonderful species of Angelica from New Zealand, and still fairly new to North American gardens”. It hails from Portugal.

I removed all the flag iris from by the water when I found out what a dangerous weed it is here, capable of forming solid islands of floating vegetation, blocking streams and estuaries.

To be honest, we figure that if the beautiful Higo irises establish themselves downstream, that may not matter. They are no risk that we can see. We worry about the Primula helodoxa, which are enormously rewarding as flowering plants but set prolific amounts of seed. We try and dead head them but there are so many that it is a hit and miss process. We are now thinking we should pull out the ones growing in the stream banks and contain it further back on dry land so the potential to seed down in the water is reduced. I am not getting too obsessed about them though. We have them near where the stream enters our place and while there are a few plants appearing further down (still on our place) it is not such a thick carpet as to shriek ‘noxious weed’. Besides, above our helodoxas, we can see we have seedlings that can only have come down from upstream neighbours.

Wachendorfia thyrsiflora – a triffid

We are, however, worried about the weed potential of Wachendorfia thyrsiflora.  It is very handsome, statuesque, even. There is no doubt about that. But it sets prolific amounts of seed and if you dig the plants out and leave them lying on the ground, they do not die. I discovered this. It is one we think we need to get back from the water. It is one thing managing a triffid of a plant on our place, it is another letting the seed fall into flowing water and potentially establish all the way down to the ocean.

Past experience has taught us that we can not get away with the traditional annual mowing of the meadow, just once a year in autumn. Our grass growth is so rampant that we have to do it twice and it seems that late January (so, mid-summer) and around June (mid-winter) are the optimal times.

Mown paths through the meadow. The clean bark on the right is a crepe myrtle

We have not done much yet to enrich the meadow mix. We are still waiting and watching to see what establishes itself. But Mark mentioned Verbena bonariensis as meadow option. It has light airy growth which would fit the meadow look, flowers for many months and is much loved by the bees. And it is an enthusiastic seeder though it remains to be seen whether it will self-seed in such a competitive environment. And I want more big, white daisies. I am trialling one in another area of the garden to see if it will make a good meadow candidate. I wouldn’t mind if pretty Orlaya grandiflora could get itself established.

Currently, I can be found in the afternoons down by the water, digging out the weedy carex and docks that are shooting up into flower, thinning the primulas and battling the wachendorfias. It is heavy work, sometimes muddy, but the setting is one to gladden my heart.

I have taken to describing our approach to gardening as similar to slow cooking – slow gardening. It is just that we measure it in years, not in hours or overnight.

13 thoughts on “The meadow, as we enter its sixth year

  1. Maureen Sudlow

    Love your wild garden. Tradescantia has been a big problem in some of our gardens as it roots from any tiny piece of stem that is left. Did you know that chickens love it and scratch it up with enthusiasm. We actually managed to clear it in one area by letting the chickens loose there…

  2. susurrus

    How very beautiful it is. I’m sorry you have so much to think about treading the fine line between dangerous and lovely. I often think a gardener primarily balances once the garden is established and reading this reinforced it.

  3. tonytomeo

    ‘Management’ is such a big issue here, particularly since Paradise burned. At the farm, we ‘manage’ the landscaped area, and try to manage the forest beyond to some degree. So many oaks died from the Phytophthora ramorum that wee needed to cut some of them down and try to harvest some of the firewood. We did not want that much of a fire hazard up there. However, so-called ‘environmentalists’ wanted to outlaw such management because they wanted the forest to do what it does naturally. There was nothing natural about the disease that killed the oaks! The proposed lack of management makes the forest more combustible than it naturally is. It does not burn as often as it naturally does. Consequently, the fuel load has accumulated far beyond anything that is natural. Responsible management is not only beneficial to those of us who live here, but also the forest. I do not want my town to burn like Paradise did.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I understand your president has given advice – get out there and rake the forest floor, as the Finns do (but they don’t). But yes, I take your point that it is different in fire-prone areas. This is not a threat we have to face where I live but I have seen the devastation in Australia.

      1. tonytomeo

        Oh . . . the ‘president’. Yes, . . . . well . . . . anyway; we would like to do more to manage the combustibility of our forests that we do. The area does not burn as frequently as it did naturally because there are too may of us living here. Naturally, things get overgrown. Yet, the ‘environmentalists’ want to protect the overgrowth. It is so lame.

  4. Tim Dutton

    We love the Iris ensatas and have about 50 clumps of them now, some with over 50 flowering stems: no idea whether any would be Higo varieties though. We started planting them 23 years ago. It is a wonderful sight in December: such a brief season, but they make a big impact, especially the darker purple and violet flowers. Our soil conditions seem to suit them perfectly: those that do the best are in very wet soil that never dries out even in summer and they cope with sometimes having standing water over their crowns for days on end every winter.
    We always dead-head the Wachendorfia and almost all our various candelabra Primulas, including P. helodoxa, to avoid too many unwanted seedlings popping up all over the garden. I must admit I’d never considered the possibility of the seeds subsequently being washed downstream if we didn’t.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are pleased with the length of flowering we get from the Higo, at least compared to bearded and then Siberian iris. The higos flower over a period of about a month, I think, which I rate as pretty good. And they seem to manage without the dividing the others need.

  5. Tim Dutton

    We only divide ours when we want a new clump somewhere or when the clumps gets too close to each other. I make sure I plant them at least a metre apart, preferably more, so they have plenty of growing room. Mind you, our biggest clump of Iris is a sibirica that puts up at least 100 flower stems in the season these days and that has never been divided (though we’ve cut some bits off the outside in the past), so I guess it must be happy with where we have it planted!

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