Saturday, July 24, 2010

In the meadow - what in the meadow?
Bluebells, buttercups, meadowsweet,
And fairy rings for the children's feet …

Christina Georgia Rossetti 1893.

After the earthmoving for the grey water treatment system had been completed, we were left with a patch of disturbed land to plant up. It’s a relatively uninteresting place that has never lent itself to be planted with vegetables, nor fenced for pasture.

During the site survey part of our original permaculture design process we obtained some old photos from the previous owner and you can see that the level of the land was a lot lower; it was an area over which heavy farm machinery had been driven and parked. Over time, and before we moved in, this had been filled in with what seems to be exclusively subsoil; the recent works haven’t improved that.

This presents us with two options: either we spend a lot of effort and energy in improving the soil or we find something that can cope with poor soil. Permaculture eyes might look on a soggy bit of field as an opportunity for growing willow rather than a drainage problem but these sorts of “solutions” aren’t always convenient. Rather than being slaves to dogma, we vote for permacultural pragmatism.

That said, the permacultural solution did suit us in this instance. Wild flowers love poor soil! I found this counterintuitive at first but I’ve since learnt that if the soil is rich, the grasses get going and swamp the wildflowers. Poor conditions inhibit the grasses and allow the wildflowers an opportunity to make hay.

I got into the rubbish soil with my broad fork then used a borrowed rotovator to smash up the hard clay into something resembling a tilth to sow the tiny seeds in. Neighbour Alan suggested his more powerful rotovator, an offer I accepted on the condition that he came too! Using broad fork, rotovator-with-helpful-neighbour and garden rake made me dream of owning a mini-digger along with a small tractor with several attachments. We sowed seed bought from Emorsgate Seeds using a plastic hand-wound seeder/spreader.

The result is delightful. Insect life has increased enormously and we hope that that might have a knock-on effect for our polytunnel and potager: by increasing the population of “good” insects that will eat more of the “bad’ insects that attack Gabrielle’s un-chemically-protected veggies. A splash of bright colours, no need to mow, we’re convinced and will expand the flower meadow this winter.

If you’re interested, this is the mix of flowers we’ve sown:
Wild Flowers:
Achillea millefolium - Yarrow
Agrostemma githago - Corn Cockle
Anthemis arvensis - Corn Chamomile
Centaurea cyanus - Cornflower
Centaurea nigra - Common Knapweed
Chrysanthemum segetum (Glebionis segetum) - Corn Marigold
Galium verum - Lady's Bedstraw
Geranium pratense - Meadow Cranesbill
Knautia arvensis - Field Scabious
Leontodon hispidus - Rough Hawkbit
Leucanthemum vulgare - Oxeye Daisy
Lotus corniculatus - Birdsfoot Trefoil
Lychnis flos-cuculi (Silene flos-cuculi) - Ragged Robin
Malva moschata - Musk Mallow
Papaver rhoeas - Common Poppy
Plantago lanceolata - Ribwort Plantain
Plantago media - Hoary Plantain
Primula veris - Cowslip
Prunella vulgaris - Selfheal
Ranunculus acris - Meadow Buttercup
Rhinanthus minor - Yellow Rattle
Rumex acetosa - Common Sorrel
Silaum silaus - Pepper Saxifrage
Silene vulgaris - Bladder Campion
Stachys officinalis (Betonica officinalis) - Betony
Trifolium pratense - Wild Red Clover
Agrostis capillaris - Common Bent
Alopecurus pratensis - Meadow Foxtail (w)
Anthoxanthum odoratum - Sweet Vernal-grass (w)
Briza media - Quaking Grass (w)
Cynosurus cristatus - Crested Dogstail
Festuca ovina - Sheep's Fescue
Festuca rubra ssp. juncea - Slender-creeping Red-fescue
Phleum bertolonii - Smaller Cat's-tail
Trisetum flavescens - Yellow Oat-grass (w)