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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Win A Copy Of ‘Making A Wildflower Meadow’

I try to keep only a sensible number of gardening books – really I do.  I’ve even given some away to charity … once or twice.  But occasionally I’m offered a book to review and my resolve shrivels.

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Making a Wildflower Meadow: The Definitive Guide To Grassland Gardening‘ by Pam Lewis was one of those books; one I needed to have.   My pride and joy at the Priory is an acre of meadow that I’ve developed over the past few years and it was very useful, at last, to read detailed advice from an expert.  I had carried out plenty of research but I hadn’t read an in-depth guide, cover to cover, before.  Some things I knew.  For instance, I knew that ideally I should have scraped off the top soil to reduce the ground’s fertility and then sown wildflower seed – but I had neither the funds nor the inclination to do so on such a big site.  Pam’s book has reassured me that, given the flower species that have sprung up since I stopped weekly mowing (including common spotted orchids, grass vetchling and birdsfoot trefoil), scraping wasn’t really necessary with the conditions I’d inherited.  Indeed, it seems from the book that the soil conditions for my meadow are pretty perfect.  So that’s nice to know.

Some of Pam’s tips wouldn’t work at the Priory.  For example, she suggests mowing a different layout of paths each year so that fresh strips are close-mown throughout the season.  But as I have planted hundreds of bulbs in the areas between my paths and I don’t want to cut those fritillaries, camassias and daffodils in their prime, my path network must remain static.

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The Priory Meadow

I’m fascinated by the Priory meadow and its slow development year on year; a steady increase in flower numbers and variety; an exponential increase in insects.  Pam started making her own traditional English flower meadows at Sticky Wicket, Dorset twenty years ago and has guided many others to create their own.  Her knowledge and experience is extensive; her enthusiasm infectious.

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The book is beautifully illustrated, very readable and has detailed sections on plants, wildlife and soil conditions, as well as information on creating, maintaining and improving flowery grassland month by month, year by year.  Of course, not everyone has the space to create meadows on an acre or more plot but actually the book is specifically written for small landowners, gardeners and conservationists.  In addition to two large paddocks, Pam also has several patches of small ‘meadow’ – just a meter or two square.

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One of several smaller areas of unmown lawn at the Priory.

As do I.  My ‘mini-meadows’ are areas of lawn where I planted daffodils.  Originally I left them uncut until the daff foliage had died back … but quickly learnt to leave them be until late summer.  I do nothing other than that.  The result is almost a dozen patches of fine grass heads, self-heal, knapweed, eyebright and clovers – even cowslips.  I added none of these plants which, of course, bees and butterflies love.  How easy is that?

Pam writes that if only 10% of garden area in this country is converted to meadow grassland, we could re-instate 10 000 acres of wildflower and butterfly rich habitat.  Since we have lost 98% of flower-meadow in the past 60 years, 10 000 acres would be a tremendous boon for our beleaguered native flowers and insects.  Pam also bemoans how difficult it is to find contractors willing to cut smaller meadows.  Well, not in my area of East Sussex.  Sam, my mowing man, is exceptionally busy in August and September and I have to book him well in advance (with an eye on the weather).  He tells me he has never been busier; cutting an increasing number of newly made, relatively small meadows.  Great news for Sam and for Sussex, but also great news that meadows are very much in vogue and so popular.  It’s about time.

Making a Wildflower Meadow‘ first appeared in 2003 but Frances Lincoln has just published a new edition for £14.99.  If you’d like the chance to win a copy (not mine!) here’s all you need to do:

leave a comment below saying that you wish to enter

and

(if you don’t do so already) follow ‘The Anxious Gardener’ blog; follow me on Twitter or like The Anxious Gardener Facebook page.  All three follow buttons are top right of this page.  (You can also enter by simply following me on twitter and re-tweeting this post or liking my page and leaving a comment on Facebook).

Please note that you must have a UK postal address to enter … or the use of one.  (The book can only be posted within the UK).

The closing date is midnight on Friday 27th February 2015.

I’ll draw a name from my

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contact the winner and add the result to the bottom of this post.

Good luck!

There will be another book draw soon.

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To order ‘Making A Wildflower Meadow’ at the discounted price of £12.00 including p&p* (RRP: £14.99) telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG282.

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

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The competition is now closed.  Thanks to everyone for taking part on the blog, Facebook and Twitter.  The winner is Jennifer Hawkin.  Congratulations.

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