Plug in meadow

It began with a simple enquiry from my ‘client in the country’ (in fact my niece!) asking if I could recommend a supplier of meadow plants in plug form. A quick Google search led me to Crocus’s collection of ‘wildflowers for a stronger colour meadow display’, perfect for the south facing site with very little shade. It was agreed that I order the plants and bring them to plant on my next visit which was in the first week of November. The collection arrived in less than a week in a neat cardboard box containing 104 perfect little wildflower plants, in a black plastic tray divided into egg-cup sized plugs.

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The 13 species were arranged in clearly labelled rows of eight, each plant being well established with a substantial root system.

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The weather was thankfully dry and bright on the morning of planting, enabling me to mow the grass as short as possible before marking out the 4 metre x 5 metre site with short lengths of bamboo cane. Crocus’s instruction sheet advised a density of five plants per square metre, grouping the smaller plants in fives and the larger specimens in threes. The rain of the previous couple of weeks had softened the clay soil satisfactorily, making it relatively easy to dig the tiny pockets into which to deposit the plugs. As I inched my way around the grid, I was glad of the integrated knee-pads, just one of the many practical features of my investment purchase this autumn, Genus gardening trousers.

 

I had company during the whole process: my niece’s three hens: two feather-footed bantams and a very inquisitive ranger. I did my best to dissuade them from grubbing up the newly installed plugs by heeling them in as firmly as possible. Reports from Somerset indicate that I have been largely successful although said niece has had to re-plant a couple of the plugs after the hens’ excavating activities.

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The final stage of the project is to rake the seeds of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) onto the plot so as to suppress the vigorous lawn grass. Yellow Rattle semi-parasitises the grass and is said to almost halve a lawn’s vigour once established.

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Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

The list of specimens reads like the edited highlights of my Collins’ guide to ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe’.

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It features meadow specimens in predominantly yellow, blue and pink shades, for example Cowslips (Primula veris), Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) and Maiden Pinks (Dianthus deltoides). The client is keen that the flowers attract bees and butterflies to the garden and most of the plants featured in the collection are rich in nectar. The pale blue flowers of Chicory (Cichorium intybus) are visited by bees and hoverflies and the brighter blue flowers of the wonderfully named Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) lure both bees and Painted Lady Butterflies. Dusk should be a fascinating time in this little patch of meadow next summer judging by the several moth species mentioned on the labels: Northern Rustic Moths are partial to Cowslips and Harebells and two of the plants attract their namesakes. For example, Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is pollinated by the Toadflax Pug Moth and Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) by the Lychnis Moth. Another bee magnet is the Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) whose white flowers on one metre stems should stand out beautifully when the meadow area becomes established.

The mint family is represented by two of the plants in the collection, violet blue Wild Clary (Salvia verbenaca) and pink Betony (Stachys officinalis).

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Betony (Stachys officinalis)

I love the old fashioned names of these and all the wildflowers featured in the list and am so looking forward to seeing this little patch of meadow develop in the next couple of years. I shall report back next summer with a progress report and some photographs of my own. Those I have used to illustrate the various species I have found on the web and cannot claim the credit for these beautiful images.

Clockwise from top left hand corner: Ragged Robin, Wild Clary, Cowslip, Oxeye Daisy, Heartsease, Chicory, Harebell, Maiden Pink, Lesser Knapweed, Red Campion, Yellow Toadflax, Viper’s Bugloss.

 

 

Teddington toad

I came across two of these handsome chaps when preparing the soil for planting a new scheme for a front garden in Teddington on Monday. I hope that they soon resumed their slumbers when I relocated them to the neighbouring flowerbed. Toads featured in my blog post of 7 December 2018.

IMG_6627The second image shows a corner of the garden featuring a multi-stemmed Himalayan Silver Birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii. I’ve underplanted it with foxgloves, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Cyclamen coum and Geranium ‘Phillipe Vapelle’. The scheme also includes the Hard Shield Fern, Polystichum aculeatum,  Hebe ‘Garden Beauty’ Blue and Campanula persicifolia ‘Telham Beauty’ IMG_6636

Toads and more

Imagine being woken from a deep warm sleep by someone wielding a shovel. This was the experience of the four toads we unearthed from a mature leaf mould pile in the gardens at Osterley two weeks ago. We were excavating the leaf mould to use as mulch in the Winter Garden. The amphibians had snuggled themselves into this dense and dark environment presumably with a view to remaining in hibernation until next spring. Each time we found a toad we carefully deposited its plump brown and understandably trembling body in the neighbouring leaf compound where last years leaves are slowly rotting down into a rich dark substance which will be ready to harvest in a year or so.

Recent work at Osterley has been varied and very satisfying. We have cut down to ground level the Asters and Heleniums in the American Border, the long deep area which backs onto the Tudor Walled Garden planted with specimens of shrubs and herbaceous perennials originating from North America. One of these is the towering herbaceous perennial American pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, which bears racemes of crimson-black berries in the autumn. This too was cut down to the ground. After weeding we planted a scattering of tulip bulbs between the crowns of the plants we had  cleared, which in some cases were already fringed in the first of next year’s leaves.

A week ago, in one quadrant of the Tudor Walled Garden, we grubbed out the Castor Oil plants, Ricinus communis, which provide height and drama amidst the Dahlias and Mexican sunflowers which two months ago were still thriving colourfully in the glorious open location. I described working in the midst of this bed in a blog post a couple of months ago and at its height it is truly a kaleidoscope of varying shades of orange, red and yellow. One of the Osterley gardeners explained that the Castor Oil plants have been particularly successful this year, having been started under glass in February in preparation for planting out after the frosts have ceased. Their success was demonstrated by their unwillingness to be extracted from the soil. Each spot plant had formed a tough knuckle of root from which radiated several anchoring roots necessitating some persistent spade and fork work for every plant. The waste material was shredded that afternoon in the work yard area near the Gardeners’ Bothy ready for composting. Out too came a few remaining stands of Rainbow Chard, a reminder that the planting in this bed deliberately mixes culinary and decorative specimens. Over the coming months the now empty bed will be rotavated and spread with a leaf mould mulch,  toads optional

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The profusion of growth in the Tudor Walled Garden in September
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Castor Oil plants in the Tudor Walled Garden on 14 September 2018

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