Creating wildflower meadows

newtoyI am just in from working with my new toy – a new mower. Quite thrilling. It is not that much different from the old mower, except it works.  And it has an electric starter so you just turn a key rather than yanking on a chord.

Well, I can yank on a chord if I really missed that exercise, but the turn with a key is such a novelty that I am saving my back and my right arm.  Because all machines are strictly right-handed devices. We lefties always have to use our lesser arms to get things roaring into life.

firstterracesalviaSorry about the pin-up sized shot of what is just a green noisy tool. But I’ll try for more sedate sizes with the rest of today’s story.

I was thinking about photography as I mowed. Today. I kept trying to capture different shots of my lower terraces as I want to write about meadows.

Wildflower meadows.  And I can’t tell you how many pictures look so dull now that I am back indoors.  Even these salvias at the end of the first terrace aren’t as vibrant on screen. (I have to mow around them, creating a rather naff island of flowers.)

That is the inherent problem with trying to capture a garden with a photograph. It’s static. It never moves. It never deteriorates or even dies. So the pictures I am using to illustrate this are not quite honest. Notice how they are mostly close ups? wildflower detail

I was caught out when I was trying to come up with the a design for my vegetable garden. I loved Joy Larckom’s Vegetable Garden books. They are full of ideas and just gorgeous.  But they don’t give you the picture of a real garden.

Real gardens have weeds. Get battered by wind or drought. Things thrive.

And I think the biggest disparity between the frozen image of a style of garden and the reality is the wildflower meadow.

wildflowersalviaDare I say it’s one of the most changing and challenging types of meadow to succeed.  It changes from week to week. And you can be sure that the photographer (I’m guilty of this) will capture it at its most perfect. It’s most fetching.

The first year I was here I thought I could get away with just mowing elegant curving paths along these long straight terraces and then watch the magic unfold.

It was hilarious. I couldn’t even get my mower onto the terraces without running into the jungle. I had to strim first.  And there is also the problem of where you are trying to create these meadows.  In a mountain setting where self seeding trees are the standard unwanted greenery, you have to be vigilant. path to lower terraces

If you are considering doing it, I’d say take a good look at the area. Open, sunny, poor soil, no competing self seeding trees, no brambles, no nettles. You are in with a chance.  My friend Andrew has gorgeous meadows as his farm is in pine territory, not chestnuts and oaks.    And like me he has spent years getting it right.

And sadly, that means you have to strim or cut out the unwanted thugs before you can hope to get a balance. This is nine years of work here. And just one year of neglect and I will be back to where I started. Fun, isn’t it?

I realized that it was never going to work in the conventional way here as I have too many self seeding verbascums, nettles, thistles, cherries, chestnuts, blackthorn…. what am I missing? Vinca. That will do as a start.

vetchSo here is my solution.  Wildflowers on the side.

I leave the edges of all my sloping terraces to nature. And up until about early summer it’s a delight. There is fantastic vetch, You can see here of the purple and blue variety.  The blue one is vicia cracca (thank you Andrew) and it drapes and twines its way over everything. And unlike the wild clematis we have year (that was the one I left off the list) it doesn’t strangle everything, and even dies back so is not a pest.

wildflowerscabiousBut even this wildflower ‘meadow’ area is never perfect. It’s perfect for about six weeks. And then the weight of the grasses will either smother everything; or drag it all down in a heavy shower. And we are having wonderful soaking rain at the moment (gardener speak).

And I have to spot weed- which means wading in with a  pair of secateurs to cut out the verbascums which try to flower, the brambles which rear up, and cut back the thistles.

Deer, foxes, badgers and wild boar make paths through the meadows –  never quite where you would find them aesthetically pleasing.  (Some animal charges straight through the hollyhocks near the mulberry tree. I must put up the camera to see who is messing up the look.)

I have found that I can create a proper meadow about four terraces down on the farm; the soil is particularly poor. But it takes management. I have to mow early in spring to cut down the self seeding broom and blackthorn. And then wait until the gorgeous thyme flowers (high blade on the mower to stop cutting off the flowers) and then I can mow once in late spring and leave it to flourish. lowertmeadow

My selection of wildflowers is necessarily diminished as I don’t let everything run riot, but from a distance it’s gorgeous.  And a distraction from the thigh high mess further over in the prairie bowl of land I try not to visit for fear of falling into a hole and having the plants swiftly cover and devour me for lunch.