Six years on: meadow update

It is six years to the very day since we closed the garden to the public. And that means it is six years since we started to experiment with turning the park into a meadow. Up until that point, we mowed it all year – no easy task because it is undulating terrain across about four acres filled with specimen trees and shrubs and a stream. The areas that could not be mown – the stream banks and steepest gradients – were kept short with what we call a weedeater in New Zealand but many others know as a strimmer. It seemed important to maintain a similar level of control to that seen in public parks, even though this is a private garden.

Iris sibirica, Primula helodoxa and loads of buttercups

Six years on, how do we feel? We love it. It often makes my heart sing in ways in which the previous tight control of grass growth did not. It is a different mind-set altogether.

How it was, all mown, trimmed and tidy up until six years ago 

and how it looks today

We weren’t at all sure how it was going to work out. This is good dairying country which means we have verdant grass growth all year round, unchecked by summer droughts and winter cold. We have to mow grass twelve months of the year to keep it under control. And decades of gardening predicated on very tight weed control is hard to overcome. The love of meadows is inextricably linked to a higher tolerance for what are commonly called weeds. Buttercups, daisies, dandelions and Yorkshire fog, we have in abundance.

As it was before 

and as it is now. The orange azalea died and we removed the yellow flag irises on the grounds that they are a noxious weed by waterways

We were inspired to experiment with a softer edged, more romantic approach to gardening by our trips to the UK in particular, allied to growing concern that our approach to gardening carried a carbon input that was closer to a heavy hoof-print than a foot-print. We haven’t set about systematically measuring any increase in wildlife but we like to think that the changed approach is far kinder to nature. And as we age, we are also considering the labour input to the garden, given the fact that we have no plans to move off the property to a more suitable retirement home. We’d rather spend our energies on more constructive gardening activities than endlessly beating grass into obedient submission.

It is not a gardening style that will appeal to everybody. It is not neat and tidy. It does not show off man – and woman’s – ability to control nature to make it conform to the tight standards of suburban gardening. Some may look at it and think that it is uncontrolled, allowing the place to ‘go back’, although that is far from the truth. Meadows in the garden need management. It is not a question of just stepping back and letting it go. We still take out certain weeds, we mow paths, we manage the growth by mowing twice a year (in January and July), plant to enhance the richness of the meadow mix, we keep certain plants free from the rampant growth – so we keep an eye on it but with a much lighter hand.

As it was all mown (and scalped in places) with our much loved dog of the day, Zephyr

There is a problem with the frequent floods bringing unwanted weeds down from upstream which can then get established in the long grass before we have even spotted them. The war against wandering jew (Tradescantia fluminensis) and montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) will be without end unless upstream residents eliminate them. I am not keen on the docks and there is a nasty carex I dig out. But that is a smaller price to pay than trying to control every plant escape except paddock grass.

Just two years ago, our son cleared both big ponds of water weeds 

and already, they are back with a vengeance. Time to stop fighting them?

The next issue for us is to decide what to do with the two big ponds Mark put in back in the early 1990s. Our son raked them out last time he was home a couple of years ago but they are now congested with water weeds again. I have gone through every few years and raked the weeds out of the stream but it is heavy work and my back no longer appreciates it. All three of us here nurse our backs and wrists these days. I am now thinking that we live with what nature gives us. The stream flows well all year round so maybe we should just let it determine its own path and allow the ponds to silt up and return to bog or swamp. The irises, lysichitons and primulas are happy in bog conditions so maybe we are better to just concentrate of enriching the natural bog gardens rather than trying to keep a larger body of water visible. The stream is high in nutrients from dairy farm run-off (we can tell this by the particularly bright green shades of the weeds growing beneath the surface, as a water ecologist pointed out to us) so the water weeds will continue to thrive.

In another six years time, we may well have mega bog gardens but time will tell.

Rhododendron Barbara Jury 

Rhododendron nuttallii x sino nuttallii in the park meadow

17 thoughts on “Six years on: meadow update

  1. Mark Hubbard

    As I said on Twitter, kudos: this is a beautiful environment you’ve created.

    Does it also mean you and Mark get more time to enjoy what you’ve created? (Because I think some gardeners don’t take time to – oh god sorry for going here, it just happened – smell the roses).

    Reply
  2. Pat Webster

    I love the change, Abbie. To my eyes the more natural style is much more beautiful. Hard to know how to respond to the water weeds. We have a similar (but nearly as aggressive) weed that grows in the Skating Pond and we clear it out every five or six years to keep the water open. But while I consider the cattails (Typha latifolia) a weed, many actually grow them deliberately.

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I think there is a difference, Pat, to the natural style now followed widely internationally and the excessively high value placed on mown grass in NZ! That post was in part inspired by hearing about a few gardens that were open last week for the annual garden festival here – large gardens where the owners are feeding the lawns with nitrogen in advance so that they can mow their lawns EVERY DAY during festival to keep them looking sharp. That approach just runs counter to the way we garden ourselves to the extent that we were shocked that people could even consider this as good gardening practice. And people who think and garden like that will never appreciate our wilder meadow look. But maybe we are being overly defensive.
      If we could get a small digger in to clear out our ponds, we might choose to keep the water open but we no longer have digger access to the park. And the ponds are so deep, wide and with a thick layer of mud on the bottom that doing it with a drainage fork and rakes on very long handles is really hard work. We thought with the increased water flow that we got this year, floods might flush at least some of the weeds out but that hasn’t happened. It might be time to bite the bullet and accept that running water is a blessing, bigger expanses of water are not essential when nature is opposed to that.

      Reply
  3. Vaughan Gallavan

    Great work Abbie and Mark it’s looking wonderful. I can’t remember if you have had any success with ‘Yellow Rattle’ or if the grass is too lush to get it going. I’m a great fan of your garden after my visit in 2006. I also favour the ‘wild approach’ both in the reduction of machine and manual input but more for the aesthetic and wildlife enriching quality of the system. I hope that all is well there.

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      As far as I know, yellow rattle is not in the country and would never be approved for importation. Too much of a pastoral country and the last thing we need is it invading pasture. So that is not an option for us. But like you, we are very keen to look at gardening in more environmentally friendly fashion. You will see the heavy influence of contemporary UK trends in how we are gardening now since you visited. Lovely to hear from you and hope all is going well with you, too.

      Reply
  4. Paul

    Hi Abbie,
    I enjoyed looking at the meadow photos and I agree with your comment that it can be difficult to loosen up on the need to have everything neat and tidy.
    A question about your meadows – do you have problems with Kikuyu grass invading it? If you do, what’s the control methods that you use?
    I’m in Auckland and I have been preparing our back lawn for conversion to a meadow, but reducing/eliminating the kikuyu grass is proving quite difficult.
    Paul

    Reply
  5. Jenny Williams

    Abbie, I think you have done exactly the right thing – it makes sense on all fronts: one has to think of one’s back/neck/wrists etc, one’s energy, one’s time, and the insect life which I’m sure is absolutely thriving; and letting grasses etc go to seed encourages seed-eating birds like goldfinches.

    – Jenny

    Reply
  6. sheila tod

    Hi Abbie

    I just thought I would send you this as a matter of interest. About 3 years ago I planted a Felix Jury Honey Tulip magnolia tree in my front garden. I love it, I think it is very exotic having a yellow magnolia. For the first two years the flowers were a little sparse as to be expected but imagine my surprise this year when almost a month after the yellow flowering it started flowering again except this time the flowers were pink.

    I have attached a file for your interest. Only three pink flowers show in the photo but there were actually four. Is this a common occurrence? I view it as a bonus.

    Regards Sheila Tod

    On Sun, Nov 10, 2019 at 1:40 PM Tikorangi The Jury Garden wrote:

    > Abbie Jury posted: “It is six years to the very day since we closed the > garden to the public. And that means it is six years since we started to > experiment with turning the park into a meadow. Up until that point, we > mowed it all year – no easy task because it is undulating ” >

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dear Sheila, there was no attachment but alas, this has to be escaping root stock from the base of the Honey Tulip plant. It needs to be cut off straight away, cutting flush to the trunk, or it will soon overwhelm Honey Tulip because it will be stronger growing. Sorry to disappoint you.

      Reply
  7. tonytomeo

    In many environments, refined landscapes are so much less compatible with surrounding forests. I know that (refinement) was the proper way to do it for a very long time, in order to express the domination of nature, as well as to demonstration the separation from it. I happen to like much of the formality of gardens from a long time ago. However, blending the landscape into the natural setting more efficiently exploits the entire environment, both landscaped and forested. I really could not imagine ignoring the redwoods outside of a landscape, just because I want my refinement.

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is a thoughtful comment, Tony. This is why Mark likes to blur the transitions between our more formal areas of the garden and the naturalistic areas and then out to the landscape. This, of course, assumes that you have a wider landscape. I am always mindful that more people have a confined and tightly enclosed yard so there is a natural point of termination. In NZ, too often this space is defined by nasty, tanalised timber vertical board fencing, left in its natural state and unadorned, usually 1.6 metres high or a bit more. Because people can not see past the idea of *privacy* when all I see is self-imposed, inward looking prison.

      Reply
      1. tonytomeo

        Gads! That is how it is. When I lived in town, every part of the garden was refined, whether it was in use or not. Space was very limited, and even if it wasn’t, there was nothing outside to conform to. Over the years, the fences got taller, and shaded more of the garden. I enjyed living there very much because I can remember before it became so urban. I would still live there if I could. Yet, it strikes me as odd that more than a million people pay what they do to live in the same valley with more than a million others, but want ‘privacy’. Duh! If you want privacy, perhaps you should not live with more than a million other people!

      2. tonytomeo

        I get that too. There is space here and at the Farm, only a few miles from San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley, which is inhabited by a population comparable to about a quarter of the population of New Zealand.

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