8 June 2015
Grass in all its glory
I've set myself a task this week. It would be very easy to keep writing weekly diaries on subjects I know well, but sometimes it's good to force yourself outside of your comfort zone and try something a little different. Every year at about this time I marvel at the unsung beauty of our native grasses in flower. Even a gardener like myself, who in their career has had relatively little to do with grasses, would be hard pressed not to appreciate the diversity of wild grasses that can be found in and around our gardens.
I set out this morning, trug in hand, with an aim to see how many individual grass species in flower at the moment I could find. My hope was to manage six. I would expect there to be dozens of grass species present in the garden here but as my very first grass collecting adventure I set my sights at a fairly achieveable level.
The garden at Allt-y-bela boasts a range of habitats to suit different species, with areas of damp shade to fairly dry sun and as I went about the garden I certainly noticed the difference both in species and in the relative vigour of those species. In the bulb lawn for example there were a surprising diversity of species but they were all less vigorous than in other parts of the garden. Up on the common, where we have been heavily sowing yellow rattle to reduce the vigor of the grass there, the difference was even more stark with some species looking really very sad indeed.
The best spot in the whole garden seemed to be the first bank in the earth works which rises up to the kitchen garden on the north side of the house; the slope itself is fairly dry and south facing without too much yellow rattle. I was going to mow it short a couple of weeks ago but other jobs have prevented me from getting to it - I'm so glad I haven't managed it yet!
So how many species did I find? I think I found 14 species which were sufficiently different for me to attempt to identify them. With my grasses laid out on the studio table I hit the internet with gusto but I quickly realized that to correctly identify grasses you really need to be able to study the structures in detail and the relatively low quality pictures weren't going to be much use. I've been a bit of a fan of botanical drawing and painting for some years now to the extent that I've recently picked up the paintbrush and started to have a go myself and so I invested in a book on native grasses of the British Isles and waited somewhat impatiently for it to arrive. The consequence being that I missed my usual garden diary deadline, I hope you can forgive me! To make matters worse I have failed to come up with a list of species that I'm confident enough to publish.
My experiment has been a success I think, not because I now know the range of grass species in the garden (in fact I am possibly less confident now that I know what I have), but rather that I have been inspired to find out more and to look more closely at the green element of our gardens that we perhaps take the most for granted.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela
Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer