The Flower Meadow …

… isn’t something that the owner of the house asked for.  Rather it was something that I foisted upon him.  I couldn’t not.  As soon as I saw that flat expanse of mown grass between the ditch and the river, I thought ahh, I wonder.  It seemed perfect for leaving to grow into a meadow.  Before I took over as gardener at the Priory, it was mown every week and the clippings left behind in long straight lines.  It resembled nothing more than the playing fields at school.
The ‘meadow’ January 2009 – the fruit trees haven’t long been planted.  The ditch on the right runs between the east and west ponds and is as full as it ever is
I was asked to plant ten fruit trees in a figure ‘S’, which I did two years ago.  They are slow growing and we now wish we’d bought larger specimens.  As I mentioned recently (see “I’m So Excited…”) some were damaged by deer which have obviously held them up even more.
April 2009
But even in their diminutive/bonsai state they do add some sense and structure to an otherwise big expanse of ground.  I can’t wait to see them as mature, graceful (and bountiful) trees.  Hopefully before I’m too gnarled, wizened and cantankerous to appreciate them.

I spent a great deal of time researching the growing of a flower meadow.  It seemed that to achieve the best results, I ought to have got a digger in and scraped off the top four or five inches of topsoil.  This would suitably impoverish the soil and so encourage flowers and discourage grasses.

The paths are mown into the meadow early so as to deter great, fat, galumphing feet (eg mine) from stomping on emerging bulbs.  April 2011

I could then sow with a wildflower seed mix and hey, alakazam.  But this seemed to be enormously expensive in terms of time, effort and money.  And what was I to do with a mound of topsoil the size of one of the lesser Lakeland peaks (Loughrigg perhaps)?  Instead I opted for an easier, cheaper method.  It’s called the stop-mowing-and-wait-and-see-what-happens method.

My Most Favourite (Fritillaria meleagris) – April 2011

Of course, I’ve given it a little nudge and, every now and again, a gentle shove.  Since the autumn of 2008, I have planted bulbs here including 800 of my most favourite; the snakeshead fritillary.  And last autumn I started planting
Daffodil Pipit – April 2011

several hundred daffodils.

Daffodil Dutch Master – April 2011
I’m hoping that in the years to come  (as I grow increasingly gnarled,  wizened and cantankerous) the daffs will settle in and increase and increase. One day there should be a crowd, a host.
The meadow is my favourite part of the Priory garden.  I suppose because, more than any other part of the garden, it’s down to me.  It’s there because of me.  Me, me, me.  Let’s just talk about me, shall we?  Oh, alright then, let’s not.  It was a rather boring expanse of grass, whereas now it is a major part of the gardens.  It seems to have relished being left alone for the majority of the year and allowed to grow.  It has delighted me in its response and continues to do so.  Just leaving the grass un-mown results in some very beautiful grass heads and to see the wind toying with them is enchanting.

And there are so many different varieties,




and colours.

The grass won’t be cut now until August, maybe even September.  Every year I’m tempted to leave it later as it is so depressing to have it mown.  (I shall post the requisite, terribly sad photos in due course).  It is though a fine line between preserving the beauty of the grass and flowers; and having a mass of growth that is suddenly flattened by late summer storms which then becomes difficult to cut.  We have to hire a specialist mower and operator anyway to cut such long grass and remove the cuttings.  It isn’t cheap but probably cheaper than having me mow it every week throughout the mowing season.

The cuttings are removed (and generally dumped in Margaret’s neighbouring field – her cow’s appreciate them) so that hopefully over the coming years (as I grow ever more gnarled, wizened and cantankerous) the soil will be impoverished to the detriment of the grass and the encouragement of flowers.  Though to be frank, I love the grasses as they are.

But the flowers are pretty good too.  The only place in the Priory that I positively welcome Creeping-Bleedin’-Buttercup.
Birds Foot Trefoil (also known as Bacon & Eggs)

In addition there are vetches galore, clovers, selfheal,

Ox Eye Daisy

cranesbill,  and increasingly ox-eye daisys.  Not nearly enough of the latter yet.  But there will be.  There will be.  (There are other wild flower species later in the season and I’ve been adding to them by planting plugs raised  from seed).

So generally I’m pretty pleased with how the meadow is developing though it is still very early days.  This is only its third season after all.

And then a couple of weeks ago to my absolute amazement and joy, I saw this:

Common Spotted Orchid
Oh, be still my beating heart.  How fantastic is that?  I had such a huge grin on my face.  Within a couple of years of “Just say no to mow” we had spotted orchids.  Well, just one but hey, a spotted orchid!  I had supposed that I might eventually get them in a few years time and indeed had banked on it.  But so soon?

Huge grin.

14 thoughts on “The Flower Meadow …

  1. Spotted orchids are so special. Reminds me of living in Orkney where they are plentiful ( as long as the Council held of mowing the verges too early). Hope you have many more next year.


  2. Hey Ros,

    You've stepped out from the shadows!

    Lily beetles don't seem to have discovered the munchable delights of the Priory yet. I know it'll only be a matter of time but shhhhhhh, let's not speak their name out loud.

    And now – when exactly are you going to start a blog?



  3. Fritillaries aah so lovely. In great anticipation planted a tiny clump by my tiny pond on the allotment. Up they come – down they go. The culprit? those oh so glamourous scarlet women, the lily beetles with their oh so truly obnoxious offspring.

    Devastation literal and metaphorical.

    I have seen the Priory garden and it rocks.


  4. Hi Trevor, thank you for your kind words. It is nice to get feedback on the Priory as very few people indeed actually get to see it. Generally just me! Don't envy you the prep of a large meadow. Bet you ached a little afterwards?

    Only stumbled across your blog a day or two ago – excellent.



  5. Hi David, It sounds like you have a great job and you are obviously quite passionate in what you do. Quite rightly so. Full credit to you for what you have achieved so far. A Gold is on the horizon!
    I live in France and have a small garden maintenance business. We took on a huge project for a client a few years ago and have made a large part into a 'wildflower meadow'. Really hard work as l sowed and then raked by hand! But now it looks wonderful and recommend turning even a small corner of the garden into a mini meadow. Keep up the good work and look forward to seeing more of your excellent photographs.


  6. Hi EE, a very humble thank you. You're obviously a discernible, knowledgeable and very wise judge (ahem).

    Certainly like ocean waves I think, Stacy. The other garden I garden (?) backs onto fields of wheat and watching the wind play over them is amazing. Always makes me stop and forget what I was going to do next. (Eat, normally).

    Certainly soggy, distasteful and dead throughout the long winter months and impossible to cut. But also leaving all that growth to break down and feed the soil just encourages the stronger plants e.g. grass, nettles, dock etc to the exclusion of the flowers that I'd like to encourage. Borrowing Margaret's cows would a) give them unfettered access to the rest of the garden – eeek and b) fertilize (again a no-no) the meadow in ways only cows can. And do.

    And I do all that I possibly can to appease and please the meadow gods.

    Hi PG, good luck with the lawn. It has to be worth a try and like I have, you can always add a few plugs or pot grown wild flowers too.

    I have heard that re yellow rattle but haven't tried it. Watch this space. I've been shopping for C Lloyd's book on wildflower meadows but it always seems to be fairly expensive. I should just splash out on it I suppose. I have photos of Grt Dixter's meadow – I should've posted a couple. And I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Fergus re the whole method behind it.

    Thanks for dropping by and thanks very much for the fave at Blot!



  7. I enjoyed this post since a wildflower meadow is something I would love but living in surbubia its not so easy. However, last week I decided that we would leave an area of the lawn unmown to see what happens and what it looks like.

    I have read that if you want to decrease the grasses fertility then yellow rattle is the thing to sow. Also I presume you have looked at the meadow at Great Dixter – if not a chat with Fergus might be really helpful


  8. Grass seed heads are among my favorite things, and the look of a whole meadow of them when the wind is blowing–almost like ocean waves. I'm just curious–why do you mow in fall? I'd think the unshorn meadow would have a lot of winter interest and cool textures and things. Do the rains mat everything down and make it soggy and distasteful, or does the old growth choke out the new growth in spring? (Could you just borrow a cow for a day?)

    Congratulations on the orchid–definitely the Mark of Approval from the meadow gods.


  9. Hi Sara, oh please – don't talk to me about creeping buttercup and it's evil, grasping world domination ways. Arrgghh. But yeah, does have a very pretty flower when allowed to er, flower.

    Only a silver gilt. Ta, very much!!!!

    I don't know where the orchid came from. I did discover one about 70 meters away on the east lawn last year and had to mow around it until it had seeded (can't find it this year though). I can't think it would have spread so far and flower so quickly though. I suppose it's been there a while and either I didn't notice it last year or else it took a while to flower again after being repeatedly mowed.

    Hi Ginny, yeah for such a simple thing the mown paths do work a treat don't they?

    Hi Petra, oh do do it. It has been so rewarding and relatively easy. The only real problem is being able to mow at least eighteen inch high grass. Ordinary mowers simply won't cope with that. So you either need to invest in an expensive tractor mower or do as we do and hire in a contractor once a year. The cutting isn't necessarily the only problem either. It's also the collection and removal of all the hay. The first year we head it mown but then I had to collect all the cuttings with a rake and wheelbarrow. Big job and not one I'm keen to repeat. Obviously if it's a smaller area you could just strim and rake ….



  10. Absolutely lovely. We are keen to 'help' our wild flowers too, so you may just have given us the extra push to get on with that project! Never seen that Orchid in our field, though I now know what to look for!


  11. What a wonderful transformation from mown field to meadow. Those grass heads are indeed beautiful. I love the look of the path mown through the meadow.


  12. A lovely meadow indeed – great that it is happily shaping itself through managed neglect and a few plugs – definitely beats carting around mountains of soil. It already seems to enhance the landscape around it, losing that “school sports field” look nicely.

    Congratulations on the arrival of your first orchid! (Are you sure you didn't coerce it over from the fields 😉 That's nature giving you a silver gilt award…

    I love the range of grasses – I've been admiring a few different varieties that have sprung up in our garden, though of course they will have to go soon when the paths move in and the lawn and borders are restored. How nice to have somewhere to admire the creeping buttercup instead of muttering and cursing as you try and dig beneath its insinuous roots and reaching arms…



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