Thursday, 23 June 2011

One Nan wants to know.....when to mow her meadow

The last seven days have been busy busy busy.  This time last week I was ensconsed in a hotel in Southport preparing to talk to landscape architects and designers about the merits of green roofs and wild flower meadows.  Friday was busy meeting folks, photographing Robert and Mark installing a green roof then travelling back to Norfolk in time to spend the weekend with my grandson.

Tommy Walsh talking to Chris Carr in front of the MeadowMat
stand at the BALI Landscape Show

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week the whole team was at the BALI Landscape show where celebrity landscaper Tommy Walsh called in to chat about MeadowMat and so today was the first chance in ages I've had to rummage about in my wild flower garden to see what's happening.

After a week of lovely damp weather, most of the grasses in my MeadowMat patch are in full flower and many of the native perennial plants look as though they'll soon be blooming as well and that raises the question When and how do I cut my meadow?  Intensively managed hay meadows - where nutrient values are everything will soon be sliced by vast mechanised blades, the hay will turned over a couple of times to make sure its dry before it's baled and stored for winter feeding.  But I don't want to cut my meadow just as the clover, yarrow and meadow pea are flourishing and so I have a dilemma.

yarrow bud pictured late june

red clover flower blooming in meadowmat

In the days of yore, farmers with traditionally managed meadows cut their hay when the yellow rattle plants set seed - hence their other name "hay rattle".  It's obvious when the seeds of the yellow rattle are ripe.  They literally make a rattling noise when the wind (or a curious person) shakes the plant.  I'm told that the traditional date is th 25th of July.  For a modern day farmer, this could well clash with the cereal harvest but back in the day, when crops were sown in spring and harvested in autumn, late july or early august probably brought with them the best weather for drying hay in the field.

some of my yellow rattle has already set seed

Some of my yellow rattle has already set seed and I'm hoping that the other floral elements of my mini meadow will have flowered and set seed by the end of July.  If they haven't, then I shall go to plan B.  Cut most of the area for hay at the end of July and leave the floral areas until late august until I cut them.  That way most of the seeds will be able to fall back into the mat.

yellow rattle is setting seed in MeadowMat
 while red clover is just beginning to bloom

My second question is what tools should I use to cut the hay? Well - I only have six square metres of MeadowMat to contend with this year (with plans for a much larger area) and so I shall be on my knees with the garden shears.  If I had a lovely big area, truly meadow sized, I'd be asking an agricultural contractor to come in and help and for a medium size - a strimmer with a brush cutter on should do the trick.  All the books say take it down to about 4cm, so that's what I shall do. 

The cuttings will need to be left on top of the MeadowMat for three to four days so that the seeds can drop back down to the ground and when the cuttings are thoroughly dry, they'll make excellent hay for my grandson's guinea pigs.

Here are some of the pictures I took while walking the dogs this afternoon

butterfly feeding on wild flower

resting on a blade of grass

busy bee pollinating a bramble

grass flowers are beautiful too

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