Grass Cutting – Again

(I’ve written about cutting the two meadows before but as it is such a big part of my working life at this time of year you might forgive me for revisiting the subject).

Meadow Cutting (1)

Cutting the Priory meadow is a job that looms large from late-summer onwards.  Cut it too soon and I lose late flowers and attractive long grass; cut it too late and I risk autumn rain turning the ground to mush; and too sodden for mighty machinery.


We’ve had a glorious few weeks here in Sussex (and as I type we still haven’t had a frost) but after anxious nail-biting, I finally blinked and phoned my mowing man, Sam, a couple of weeks ago.

Meadow Cutting (2)

I’ve featured Sam’s amazing apparatus before but I haven’t actually seen him for three years.  Like a mowing pixie he has swooped down on the meadow over a weekend, trundled around and been long gone by the time I return on Monday morning.

Meadow Cutting (3)

Having twice cut the meadow myself (which is a hell of a job – if better than the raking), I watch Sam going about his business with enormous satisfaction.  And relief.

Meadow Cutting (4)

What would take me several days, Sam does in about an hour.

Meadow Cutting (5)

I’ve made life more interesting for Sam with anti-deer fruit tree cages

Meadow Cutting (6)

and, of course, various large trees.  Having collected all the mowings in that drum, Sam dumps it all at one end of the meadow where it will rot down over the winter.  Not an ideal solution but the easiest, cheapest I’ve come up with.

Meadow Cutting (7)

Withdrawing to the north lawn, I watched contentedly as he passed back and forth before, waving goodbye, I left him to it and drove home for my tea.

Meadow Cutting (8)

The following morning the meadow was stripped bare.  But the job wasn’t quite done.  I spent about a day tidying up: strimming all the bits Sam couldn’t reach and cutting the grass shorter still with The Priory ride-on.

Meadow Cutting

Since when I’ve cut it once more and will continue doing so until either the grass stops growing or the ground is too boggy.  You can see how wet it is already … but those muddy tracks make good strips for sowing flower seed.

Meadow Cutting (10)

Meanwhile, several miles away at The Old Forge – ‘my’ other garden – I’m faced with a similar task.  Here the area of uncut rough grass is huge; the ground far less even.

Meadow Cutting (11)

Various old humps and dimples (ancient field boundaries, I think) make it difficult for Sam’s tractor.

Meadow Cutting (12)

And so, I cut it myself.  It is a full day’s job but an annual chore I rather like.

Meadow Cutting (13)

Especially on a beautiful October morning.

Etesia Attila (1)

I hire a remarkable machine called an Etesia Attila.  I’m not too bothered with machines.  I mean, they’re just machines right?  But when one does a job exceedingly well and fairly effortlessly, I happily doff my cap and give it a little pat.

Etesia Attila (2)

The Attila chuckles at slopes, winks at ditches and guffaws at long tussocky grass.  It occasionally stalls but considering what I ask of it, I don’t get too hissy.

Etesia Attila (3)

My only true concern when chopping this long, tough grass is avoiding the fleeing field-mice and scuttering voles.  I need to be vigilant to avoid mowing a vole.  Who wants that?

Kestrel (4)

But vole escapees still had to avoid a pair of vigilant crows and a hunting kestrel.  I didn’t have time to fetch my camera that day but here’s a photo from a couple of years ago.  It fed well.  Sorry voles.

Meadow Cutting (14)

This was more of an agricultural day’s work than a gardening one.

Meadow Cutting (15)

I was tired after 8 hours mowing in ever-decreasing circles.  Unlike The Priory, all the grass at The Old Forge is left where it falls (except the mown paths which I have since cleared).   It looks quite unsightly but an annual mow halts a steady encroachment of bramble, blackthorn and dogwood.

Kestrel (2)

As I said, I don’t mind mowing the long grass at The Old Forge.  It’s time spent listening to top tunes on my MP3 player, smack in the middle of the South Downs National Park and with a hunting kestrel for company.

I’ve had worse days.


33 thoughts on “Grass Cutting – Again

  1. Hi, I know this is an old post, but grass is grass, isn’t it? Your post came up in my search for advice about how to deal with two hectares of ancient meadow. It’s land that has only ever been used for pasture and since 1982 only for hay. Up to now, a local farmer has mown and baled our meadow in exchange for the hay for his livestock. This year he doesn’t need it. Our dilemma is that the last small holders with livestock in this area have thrown in the towel and nobody wants the hay.
    I’d interested to know about the meadow you brush-cut and leave with the cuttings in place. What comes up again the next year? Do you get meadow flowers or just rough grass? It would be such a shame to lose this ancient meadow full of flowers, orchids and wildlife, but we’re at a loss to know how to keep it. Any advice would be very welcome.


    • Hi Jane, that’s a real shame. The owners of the Old Forge didn’t fancy livestock on their land even though the rough grass areas had been grazed in the past and I recommended it as the best solution at the end of the season. It was a problem working out what to do with the grassland. To answer your question, there were plenty of wildflowers each year but hardly of a ‘wow, that’s amazing’ amount and a lot of tussocky grass. There were also large areas of nettle which spread further during my time there. But, that land hadn’t been managed in the same way as yours. It may be that if you continue to cut it, and even leave the cuttings in situ, your meadow will continue to perform as it has in the past. After all, you’re not adding extra nutrients to the soil – just returning, with the cuttings, what was there before. If you can afford it, would the farmer or a contractor cut and dump the cuttings somewhere else – if you have space. That’s the method I used at The Priory. Not ideal but it worked. You do, I think, need to mow it but you might be pleasantly surprised that even without removing all the hay your meadow will continue to perform as it has in the past.

      Sorry, not to provide an easy solution. I’d be interested to hear how you get on. Feel free to email if you prefer. All the best, Dave


      • Thanks for that, Dave. It’s helpful. We’re trying to think through what would be best for the land. If nobody wants the hay it rather loses its raison d’être, but as an environment, we’d like to keep at least a part of the meadow intact even if it means scything it and leaving great heaps to rot down slowly. It’s what we do anyway with the bottoms that are too damp and uneven for mechanical mowing. I’ll let you know what we decide. It will definitely involve keeping ‘refuge’ zones for the wildlife though.

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  4. Why not work in ever increasing circles? Start in the center. Wildlife would move to the edge of the area to hedges or shrubbery. Other benefits, if you get fed up or bad weather and do not complete the whole area, the remaining border then becomes a deliberate and well though out wildlife conservation area!


    • To quote Captain Mainwaring, “Ah, just waiting to see who’d be the first one to spot that”. Good (if mildly irritating) point, Richard. My counter would be that a) the outer edge is the most tricky and best done when my limited wits are still about me but more importantly b) the ‘meadow’ isn’t a circle by any means and so it makes more sense to start with the fringes before moving inwards avoiding the already cut hay (which clogs and stalls the Attila). But there are areas where working outwards would work. I’ll re-consider next year. Begrudgingly yours, Dave


  5. When my brother was in his teens he had a summer job on a sod farm, mowing in ever-decreasing circles all day. (He’d pass his time inventing long, elaborate jokes, which he’d share at dinner.) Every so often he’d come home heartsick because some small creature had run afoul of the mower. But like you, he also reveled in the hawks (and horned larks and killdeer). His delight in them was a big factor in teaching me to enjoy them, too.

    I’m glad that your mowing-in-circles day was such a glorious one! Is that bright red patch in the 2nd photo the Japanese maple on the island?


    • Oh dear. Why don’t I spend my mowing time inventing long, elaborate jokes? My mind is generally, happily – and vacuously – blank whilst I enlarge my circles, Stacy. Seems a wasted opportunity now. But the thought of killing even a vole keeps me alert so that is a bonus, I guess and fends off the alzheimers a bit. No problem there with you as your memory is phenomenal – yes, that is the maple you can see. Gold star and a mention in dispatches. Dx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a huge job, but I guess you manage to get into the Zen of it. I hate doing our fields for the same reasons – voles scattering and I wonder if it doesn’t send them into the gardens to do voracious damage over winter as retribution.


    • I think the voles are too traumatised to plot revenge on you, Eliza. But hey, what do I know about vole psychology? Perhaps they furiously are. At this precise moment. It’s worse for them at the Priory where everything is stripped away and they have no hay to hide in. They particularly like grass that is left uncut, collapses in winter and regrows through the old thatch leaving them an under-storey to tunnel in. But little grassland is left like that anymore which is why many of the UK’s owls suffer from a lack of food. Dave


  7. Looks like a big job! I can understand the appeal of having someone else do the mow for the Priory. When do you sow wildflower seed? Do you use a mix, and what are the main wildflower you grow? Do you have any photos of the meadow in bloom? It must be gorgeous in mid-summer.


    • Hi Jo, now is a good time to sow flower seed on the meadow (some need to be chilled by winter in order to germinate) but I’m still battling with the over-powering grass. The ideal way to produce a flower meadow is to strip off the top soil and then sow with a mixed grass and flower mix. (This post explains it in more detail – There is a grass parasite called yellow rattle which I have introduced and is starting to make quite an impact but I shall shortly be sowing lots more. I’ve posted loads of photos of the meadow over the years but a quick search throws up this one as an example – – but I still have more grass than flowers! A slow job in slow progress. D


      • Thanks! What a fascinating process…the evolution of a meadow. Your fritillaries are lovely….I’ve read one of Pam Lewis’ books, ‘Sticky Wicket’, but the one you mention sounds like the one to get for practical advice…As you say, meadows seem to be ‘in vogue’ these days. Not a passing trend one hopes…For cities, mini-meadows might be a great help for beneficial critters, something along the lines of the pollinator pathways that cities like Oslo are exploring. Looking forward to checking out some of your other meadow meanderings : )

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Sounds like a perfect day, your last photo of the young kestrel is just gorgeous. Interesting night to your meadow management. What are you going to sow in the tracks?


    • Hi Julie, I’ve already scattered some sheep’s-bit scabious seeds gathered from elsewhere in the garden and I’ve also bought another big bag of yellow rattle seed in order to weaken the still – in places – very long grass. The yellow rattle has already made quite an impact in places but when it has colonised even more and the grass isn’t quite so thuggish, I’ll start adding more general meadow flower mix too. Dave

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You make it sound so easy! I so enjoyed reading this and seeing your fantastic photos. We’ve just bought a little old cottage (a project!) in a hamlet in the SDNP. The third of an acre garden is a little overrun but reading this has given me loads of confidence for the job ahead.


  10. We have very little grass, just under the olives which can be strimmed in less than an hour, and in summer it stops growing! I think I’d rather the kestrel had the voles than the machine.


    • I am looking forward to the day when I never have to use a strimmer ever again, Christina. I have had summers when the grass has stopped growing but they seem a dim and distant memory. I envy you that. Dave

      Liked by 1 person

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