The Meadow Project at Charnwood
Several years ago I wrote in this column about a new venture. We have an area under some elderly silver birch trees that was in need of a bit of TLC, a bit more interest. So we decided to try and establish it as a meadow.
Many things were against us, the trees meant that there was a fair bit of shade so we would need to choose plants carefully and err on the side of woodlanders rather than out and out sunny meadow dwellers. Also we didn’t want the work of taking off the grass already there, which is the best way of getting off to a good start. That meant any new plant had to compete not only with tree roots, but also with the well established, if a bit scruffy, firmly resident grasses. After we had begun the work, I went to a meadow gardening day course at Great Dixter with pal Liz, our favourite garden on the Sussex border near Rye. The lovely and brilliant head gardener, Fergus Garrett, went through the do’s and don’ts and ended up with the advice that a decent meadow took at least seven years to establish. That may have been useful to know at the start….
Well, he was right, even a bit optimistic in our experience! One of the first things we did was to plant spring bulbs and the wonderful Matt Pyke did us proud, planting 250 of our little native daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, commonly called Lent Lilly, and some English bluebells in various spots to see where they thrived best. They both took about 3 or 4 years to get going but this spring they made their presence felt, looking gorgeously understated, pretty but natural. So that worked – phew! At the same time I did some research on what perennials would be good companions. I planted seed, and plugs, of various goodies including: a giant clover that I never saw again after the first year (probably rabbit food); that pretty little wild sweet pea or Vetch which is now growing well; the meadow cranesbill which is just about hanging in there; some sweet woodruff (gallium odoratum) that disappeared from where I planted it and emerged in an entirely different part of the garden but seems happy there; and some Ox Eye Daisies that I grew from seed and also took a while to spread around but are now doing so beautifully. Peter planted some fritillaries which make a fab show every April. Some uninvited but nonetheless very welcome guests have moved in and stayed now we don’t mow during the spring and summer months. These include buttercups, daisies, cow parsley, red campion and that delightful and graceful Lady’s Smock, sometimes called Cuckooflower.
Peter will mow it all early Autumn, after the seeds have been set and spread around. As long as the grass is cut to make sure the spring bulbs can be seen and some of the more pernicious weeds are kept under control, that’s about it. I have planted a species rose, Rosa Glauca which looks perfect in the natural (if carefully contrived!) setting. We tried bamboo but that was the rabbits’ first course before the clover. I’m still trying new plans, and have just put in a few foxgloves to see how they thrive, fingers crossed.
So – a roaring success? No, but I still love it and, like pretty much the whole garden, am content that it is work in progress . We visited the Malvern Spring show last month which was wonderful. One of the many proud acquisitions we came home with was a plaque with this quote from Audrey Hepburn ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow’. Hear, hear!