Have you noticed how ubiquitous ‘Wild Flower Meadows’ have become? Whether it is a small garden bed, raked over and sown with a wild flower seed mix, or an acre or more of unimproved grassland, summer meadows shimmering with native flowers and buzzing with insects are now widespread; de rigueur even. And quite right too. They have a long flowering season, are full of interest and provide a vital haven for our beleaguered butterflies and bees. That’s a lot of boxes ticked. But the big head scratcher (if the meadow is of a size) is the annual summer/autumn cut and the removal of all that mown material.
After four years of experimentation with developing a meadow at the Priory, I have found that the best solution to this problem is … (dramatic pregnant pause) … Sam and his Amazing Mowing Machine:
On a perfect sunny day in September of last year, Sam trundled through the meadow gate and set to. Once his big-green-drum-thingy (that’s a technical term) was full he emptied it into …
… a waiting trailer. (I had borrowed it and a tractor from Margaret the local farmer).
When the trailer was …
… full, Nick (also borrowed as he can drive a tractor and I can’t) drove up through Margaret’s fields with me perched on top of the hay (as ballast, Nick said).
As we rattled up the long slope, I bounced and I savoured the views;
I hummed and I grinned and I enjoyed my Thomas Hardy/Laurie Lee moment. And the hay? We piled that on Margaret’s tottering manure pile.
It was a super, satisfying, itchy, scratchy, bouncy day (see ‘Shaving the Meadow‘) and …
… the result was exactly what I had hoped for.
But this year, after weeks of rain and several postponements, I was unable to hire Sam and his massive mowing machine. The huge tyres would have chewed up the spongy meadow ground, like warm toffee. (Poor Sam; it has been a lousy year for him. He normally cuts seven or eight meadows but this year he has mown precisely … none).
Luckily for me, I had an alternative to Sam. Each year at the Old Forge (the other garden I tend) I hire an Etesia ‘Atilla’ to cut all the rough pasture. Look, here it is:
The Attila will cut rough, tussocky grass easily and because of a low slung chassis and wide wheel base it can handle relatively steep slopes, banks and rough ground without toppling over and crushing me. Which is a bonus.
It’s a rugged and not afraid of aught little machine. And at £85 for the day, a bargain to boot.
The only drawback is that it doesn’t collect the cuttings but spews them out to one side.
And so afterwards, Jim and I had to rake up all those cuttings. This was so much fun I could barely stand it.
With most of the grass cuttings raked up, Jim was then able to use the Priory ride-on mower (an Etesia Hydro 80 for those of you who care) to cut the meadow grass shorter still and collect yet more of the clippings. (The more cuttings removed, the more the soil’s fertility will be reduced; to the benefit of wild flowers and the detriment of long, tall, lush grass. But hey! – you knew that).
Of course, I still had a problem: what on Earth to do with mountains and mountains of mown grass. Unfortunately, I had no alternative other than to dump them at one end of the meadow. Historically, this is one of the places where my predecessors piled lawn clippings. I would rather have taken them out to the bonfire site and/or compost bins but this would’ve meant repeated driving across soggy, boggy lawns. And this year, that was a mud-churning and lawn-destroying no-no.
And so the cuttings will just have to sit beneath that oak tree. Can you see them? (And the moon)? In time a bank of nettles will grow over them and within a couple of years the heap will have rotted away to virtually nothing. Honest it will. But it is an unsightly solution and not one I want to repeat. (You can see in this photo how soft the ground is. Even the Atilla and the ride-on mower have left shallow tyre runnels).
When dry enough, I shall continue to mow the grass over the coming winter until the first daffodil leaves emerge. In an effort to make cutting the meadow an easier task next year, I’ve just ordered 100g of yellow rattle seed. This grass semi-parasite should (so the theory goes) seriously reduce grass vigour and growth in the meadow. Will it work? Well, I do hope so. I really do. You see, there’s only so much hay raking I want to do in my life. Yep, only so much hay raking I want to do.
As fun as it is.