14 August 2014
Make hay while the sun shines
Wild flower meadows require relatively little maintenance, they
are great for wildlife and encourage both a greater diversity of
native flora and of fauna, most significantly invertebrate and
We have two areas of meadow at Allt-y-bela, one on the top of the high ground known as 'the commons' above the amphitheatre, and the other on the opposite side of the house. Both act as step changes in the maintenance of the garden and signify a change between the more formal areas of the garden and the wild countryside beyond.
The meadows at Allt-y-bela have been encouraged by the management of the land as well as some intervention on our part. If a piece of lawn is left to grow long for example the result will be disappointing as the standard mixture of grasses found in lawns are not the same as those found in a native wild meadow.
In their most basic form meadows are treated much like you would treat a hay meadow; the grasses are kept weaker by introducing yellow rattle into the mixture which acts like a parasite of the grass roots, you then allow all of the grasses and wild flowers to grow up, flower and set seed before mowing the meadow down and removing the cuttings. The most diverse meadows are those where the soil fertility is kept low and this is achieved by removing the cuttings. Wild flowers will very quickly move in to take advantage of the conditions, the resulting meadow is then managed to make sure that one or two species don't become too dominant.
The timing of the meadow cut is the difficult part. The key is to wait until after the plants have shed their seed, usually by late July, and then to let the grass dry out as much as possible before cutting it - this will save you a lot of unnecessary effort! The trick then is finding enough dry days to cut and clear the clippings, which may be pretty significant depending on the area of meadow. This is usually done in August, although if you miss the window may be later. The problem comes when you have a grass-heavy meadow which gets wet and collapses and then regrows up through itself - this makes cutting a very difficult job indeed!
This last week has been the week for cutting here at Allt-y-bela, and now with the long grass cut and cleared I can finally get in to prune some of the beech and yew topiary that has been stranded in the sea of long grass for so many months. The aftermath of this rather brutal cut looks rather severe at the moment, but it won't be long at all until the grasses green up again and the garden takes on an altogether different personality into the autumn.
Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer