Saturday, 8 October 2011

Inspired by Autumn wildflowers

hawthorn berries, colourful bird food

Walking with my dogs this afternoon and picking blackberries, I couldn’t help but admire what Mother Nature has done in her garden. The hedgerows are bursting with berries and although the majority of the native flowers and grasses have long since finished blooming, many of their seed heads are in their prime, some, like the wild carrot are delicate and beautiful, some, like knapweed stand strong and firm….and I can see why our ancestors called it knobweed.

poppy seedhead

Last week, Kevin and I were at Palmstead Nurseries’ “Designing for Maintenance” workshop and I was impressed at how James Alexander Sinclair has used great swathes of perennial plants to create low-maintenance borders that interesting all year round and (allegedly!) easy to look after. It certainly made me think differently about one of the borders in my garden. …the one where I’ve tried to mix shrubs and perennials and ended up with three tired looking bushes, a floppy rose bush, a sedum and an invasion of creeping buttercup.

But it was Alan Titchmarsh on this week’s Love Your Garden program that helped make my mind up about my next outdoor project. He was looking at cottage gardens. Something I’ve always loved but not fully understood until I heard Professor Hitchmough at the Palmstead event.

I struggled to see why, in times gone by when people on low incomes NEEDED to grow their own food, they put so much time and energy into growing flowers alongside the veg, but now I get it….not only are the flowers a brilliant way to lift the spirits when times are hard, they act as a mulch, suppressing weeds AND, if any weeds do sneak in, they disguised because they look like part of the planting. And what else benefits from cottage garden plants? Pollinating insects of course! Whether they knew it or not, those gardeners from times gone by were gardening in an incredibly sustainable way.

So, I have devised a plan for my border. I’m going to take out all the shrubs, apart from the cotoneaster that self-seeded itself in Brickendon churchyard, was found by Grandad Brown and passed on to me when I started my garden 25 years ago.

lady's bedstraw, one of my favourite native
I shall re-plant using mainly native species that will self-seed, encourage wildlife into the garden and give me all year round interest. I love my MeadowMat, it fascinates me but it isn’t really “showy” in midsummer and autumn.
My new border will take what I love most about MeadowMat and adapt it for a more “mainstream” application. I’ll use cowslips for early colour, plenty of oxeye daisys, wild carrot and yarrow, lots of lady’s bedstraw, because I adore it, Meadowsweet for height, some sorrell for autumn colour, some later flowering grasses, and some tall species like foxgloves, mullein and rosa rugosa added in, There’ll also be some cornfield annuals - poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds and I might sneak in some non-native, but wildlife friendly species extra impact.

Once it’s established, so probably after a couple of years worth of weeding, (but no feeding, that’s another plus for wild flowers) I’ll be able to manage the border in such a way that there minimal maintenance but all year round interest. So while I cut MeadowMat in summer to make hay, this border will be cut in early spring and then left to do it’s own thing for the rest of the year… least that’s my theory!
While I’m at it, I think I’ll extend the Meadowmat area and experiment with different management techniques to see how the species mix and the wildlife interest is affec
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