Saturday, 17 June 2017

wild flowers in the mini meadow

The ox eye daisies in the daffodil lawn are putting on a great show.  I'm pleased about that.  They have a reputation for being fickle things, abundant one year then practically absent a couple of years later, perhaps mysteriously reappearing a few more years down the line.  Ours have been a steady feature of the lawn in mid summer for several years now, so fingers crossed they continue.

There are a few plants flowering of the common knapweed, Centaurea nigra.  They were raised from seed and planted out from nine centimetre pots, and since I planted a lot more than two I am peering hopefully at the long grass to try and spot if there are more tucked away in there, or if only a few established.  The wild plant conservation charity Plantlife describes common knapweed, or hardheads or black knapweed as it is also known, as one of the toughest meadow plants.  Its flowering season is supposed to run from June to September, so there's time yet for more plants to show themselves.

So far there are only a couple of field scabious visible.  This is Knautia arvensis, a lilac flowered cousin of the red Knautia macedonica sold in some garden centres and grown in some gardens, including mine.  Googling Knautia arvensis I see that it too is marketed as a garden flower, albeit for wilder parts of the garden.  It flowers well on into the autumn and is a pretty thing in a wild and slightly weedy way.  Both hardheads and field scabious are highly attractive to pollinating insects.

The final flowering species I've tried to introduce is musk mallow, Malva moschata.  I've seen it growing in long grass in other people's gardens and feel that it ought to grow in ours.  A perennial of slightly neglected open grassland on well drained soils, according to wild flower seed specialists Emorsgate, that sounds like a description of our daffodil lawn.  Musk mallow has dainty, finely cut leaves and I think I've spotted some growing up through the grass, but there hasn't been a single pink flower so far.  Musk mallow is another UK native that you may see offered in garden centres, although designers, and Val Bourne writing for the Telegraph, seem to prefer the white form.  That might be easier said than done, since in my experience seed raised plants that are supposed to be the white form of things have an infuriating habit of coming out in the original colour.  The plant centre once sold an entire tray of white Malva moschata to one of the nicer and politer designers that shopped there, and her niceness and politeness were tested as they all flowered pink in the white flowering scheme she had installed for a client, and the nursery the plant centre had got them from in the first place was very slow about producing any genuinely white replacements.

In the gardening snob stakes you do not get any points for growing ox eye daisies.  The designer Tom Stuart-Smith in his book about the creation of his own garden recounts how he was very proud of the ox eye daisies in his newly sown meadow, only to have a cousin drawl on seeing them 'ah yes...motorway daisies'.  His ox eyes took the criticism to heart, or merely lived up to their inherent fickleness, and five years later had all but disappeared.

The garden near Haverhill I visited last week had orchids growing in their meadow.  The owner did not plant them, they arrived by themselves.  Orchids have never shown any signs of arriving here and I have always assumed that conditions were not suitable, but perhaps there is nowhere local for them to arrive from.  The owner claimed that the area was very dry, the driest in the country, which I privately disbelieved since I thought that crown belonged to St Osyth, but a quick look online suggests Haverhill is indeed dry, maybe only ten millimetres more annual rainfall than we get here.  She told us her soil was light and almost neutral, but I would guess on the alkaline side of neutral, while ours is slightly acid and in the top part of the garden takes the concept of lightness to a whole new level.  Maybe I should experiment buying a few orchids and seeing if they spread.  I am put off because plants are so expensive and I have little faith that the experiment would work. Experimenting with plants you have raised yourself from seed is easier.

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