Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Old gardeners day out

Botanist Mike Ashford has turned his back on my ‘roofless roof garden’ which is really an old slab of concrete covered with soil and stone mulch
My wife Brenda recently hosted a small gathering of long retired Askham Bryan colleagues and their partners in our garden. Please indulge me today as I wallow in nostalgia and share a few memories as old folks do.
Brenda’s lunch was as ever superb. Peter Williams not only took the pictures but after coffee on arrival we visited and marvelled at his own garden. He says his camera focus was out of focus but his pictures look good to me. 

Prats examine pratia which invades my lawn

Peter Hemsley (bending) told me that to capture this lovely invasive alpine’s true colour my camera needs a blue filter.
Botanist Philip Orton (great pullover) micro propagated Dicentra ‘Snowflakes’ when it was launched at Chelsea thirty years ago. 

Wine buffer
The copper beech was a former seedling from Bolton Percy cemetery (transported as a ten foot sapling - imagine my car). We are standing on a raised area which is a long gone rubbish dump
My guests look a little bored with my mulching stones (spoil from Worsbrough cemetery).

di

Peter (dig that hat) spots, identifies and admires my Salix fargesioides. No previous visitor has even noticed it!

“Peter Williams gave me another” 
David Willis breeder of Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ had lost the plant in his own garden. David is a former custodian of a section of the National narcissus collection and has been involved in rehabilitating old varieties such as ‘Weardale Perfection’


I hope David can grow his plant better next time and as well as Peter
Wonderful 'Weardale Perfection' in a North Yorkshire churchyard 


“He never stakes - but Brenda sometimes follows him round” 
Isobel and June love herbaceous perennials. The gunnera and the aconite are free standing

“Current theory might satisfactorily explain how water gets up this tree but not a hundred metre redwood”
Former mature student 88 year old Alan Warwick explains his hypothesis. Thirty years earlier Alan had interrupted Philip Orton's botany lecture to tell him he was wrong.
Alan’s tree Malus ‘Crimson Cascade was launched at Chelsea this year.


“The drink makes him loquacious”

Peter Hemsley examines Inula hookeri (I had thought it was called Inula hemsleyana) 
Peter is the most able horticulturist I know. The high quality of his landscape drawings are only surpassed by his ability to create and maintain the gardens. Not only can he precisely identify almost every garden tree he could climb them like a monkey to carry out arboricultural maintenance. In contrast he is also an authority on alpines

“ He does not dig you know”
Tony Thompson confides with his wife Margaret. Rhona looks on. Tony helped me run the NCH course (he did all the work).This craft all-comers course (provided students had practical experience) was the best in the college. More of a traditional gardener than me, ex Radio York gardening guru grows dozens of potato varieties and is the most loved and remembered tutor by former students.


"Brenda tells me he has lost his Stipa gigantea"
As a former Wye college student I admired fellow student Rhona’s effervescent personality and beauty from afar. Askham Bryan lecturer, more lately nurseryman and hill farmer (sheep) still lectures to gardeners. One of the kindest people I know.



Margaret Thompson snaps the frothy heads of the mature valerian flowers. She grows thirty different hostas and added one more today 

“You could take Tony for an RHS judge” 
Christine Hemsley and Isobel Ashford confer.

Peter in clover
Cameraman Peter Williams is not getting away without a mention. My best friend and his contributions are well known to readers of this blog. His garden in Seaton Ross village is one of Yorkshire’s finest. As a York University man he has not been privileged to work at Askham Bryan!

Further information and links

I told the story about the Chelsea launch of Dicentra 'Snowflakes' and how micro-propagator Philip Orton and Yorkshire author Joyce Fussy's new dicentra was introduced. They were guests on celebrities day. Poor Alan Warwick was only invited with the punters when his Malus 'Crimson Cascade' was launched this year. Things are not what they used to be.

Alan Warwick's water theory
See Isobel Ashford's rose-petal confetti when Brenda and I married two years ago
See Peter Williams' lovely garden in this post. Peter's and my own garden are both open on Tuesday 22nd August in aid of Yorkshire Arboretum - combined ticket £5. More details on their website.



Monday, 31 July 2017

Growing a pure stand of Chewing’s Fescue

An unusual way to grow grass

You would not expect to find a lawn-grass species here 
This is one of my more eccentric pieces and I need to issue a health warning. What I am attempting to do is inappropriate for most gardeners and my methods that essentially need glyphosate and a lawn herbicide such as MCPA might insult a gardener’s personal philosophy. It is actually possible to achieve the same result without using chemicals but only on a labour intensive small scale. I invite you to observe my own learning curve.
Worse, although I am keeping my description more straight forward today my real ambition is not to grow just a pure fescue sward but to use it as a backcloth within a flower border. I have described moves in this direction in last month’s post about Lyndi’s field and in my continuing series about Cathi’s grass verge. This in itself needs another health warning in that if you fail to establish pure fescue and only achieve course wild grasses or have wrongly sown a mix prepared for lawns, such grass is an extreme competitor for water.  I have posted how even trees planted in grass can be severely retarded for many years.

Lyndi's field this April. Will it be a green one next year?

Why grow a fescue sward and why use Chewings?

I have been scattering fescue seed at the edge of my garden in the adjacent farm field
This is not about making a lawn but if you are using fescues for this purpose or just attempting to create a wild flower meadow as conventionally practiced a mix of different fine fescues will do or might even be better.
For my own purposes the beauty of Chewing’s fescue is that it does not creep. It forms discrete tufts which of course do enlarge and coalesce together to produce a springy sward. The beauty for me is that because the tufts grow as discrete plants and if they are infiltrated by a course grass or in my own case compete with my plants I can spray out tiny sections without killing the whole sward!


Yuk...this is not quite what I mean
At first there might be some collateral damage
Nine months from the first of two sowings as a path on the village plot. I do not intend to mow it
A pure stand of Chewing’s fescue is a beautiful sight. A lovely dark green it will be one (or more) of the modern cultivars bred for disease resistance and colour for use in the turf industry. Without mowing it will generally grow at perhaps eight inches high. From its second year onwards it will (unfortunately) flower each year in June at about 18 inches. 

A two year old fescue flowers amongst younger specimens
Not the best thing since slice bread at that time although not entirely unattractive. Many gardeners will elect to cut old grass down to the ground. For me airy grass flowers can be really quite beautiful.
Being fine grass it is likely that a rotary mower with the blade set high will cut it back or perhaps other gardeners might elect to strim it. If you do cut back the grass flowers do not do so until the heads are mature or it will likely flower again. In my grass sections in Worsbrough cemetery I merely let my ‘wild zones’ of fescue seed heads flop down and fade away. I do not mow it nor do I intend to do so in Lyndi’s field.

My extending area of fescue at Worsbrough started with a single plant of wild fescue that I just sprayed around

Fescue will flower for the first time in its second year. If it sets seeds so much the better.

It takes patience and time to achieve a pure sward
When most gardeners sow a lawn they do not get what they sow! Apart from any impurity in low quality mixtures the main bugbear is endemic wild grasses that germinate at the same time as wanted species. There will be broad leaved weeds too but these can be handled by conventional methods and selective lawn herbicides. On  a small scale do not spurn a little hand weeding in any new lawn - but let me emphasise I am not  sowing a conventional lawn.
There are no herbicides that will selectively remove weed grass from lawn. I will in a moment describe how I exploit the tufty nature of Chewing’s fescue to precisely direct glyphosate to do so!

The key to getting a clean start is the stale seedbed technique. It helps if your weeds have not been seeding for several years and you have not dug up to the surface buried weed seed.  This is normally impractical but for me as a non digger and regular sprayer I have several such sites. In Lyndi’s field and Cathi’s verge I do not have such an advantage!
The idea is that you scratch out a seedbed  - or merely start a fallow period - in late Winter, and continue throughout the following Spring and Summer and regularly repeat-spray flushes of weed seed. The intention is that having depleted the surface weed seeds you get a relatively clean start when you sow in say, early September. Regular very shallow hoeing will achieve the same result, or even better as the stirring might hasten weed germination.

A stale seedbed alone will not work well enough for my extreme grass monoculture requirement in Lyndi’s weedy field if I use normal high densities of sowing.
You can learn to recognise early germinators such as annual meadow grass and can get down on your knees.

A different grass weed appears in a clump….
....and must be pulled out. Get a tight grip at the base and tug

My own aim is that eventually my stand of Chewings fescue is 100% pure with not a single weed grass. Failure at the first stage will never be recovered as native weed grasses will always outgrow delicate grasses. In different circumstances, perhaps sowing a ryegrass lawn - yuk - a dense sowing will help you to achieve your heart’s desire. In the case of my own project the strategy is different. It is to sow selectively and very thinly on several occasions over more than a year.  As clear gaps appear I scatter grass seed.

My unusual method
You do need to recognise any grass that germinates that is not Chewing’s fescue in order to weed it out or spray it or smear it. You do not  need to know what it is, you just know you don’t want it. You won’t be able to select out wild fescue species but that won’t really matter.

My extremely thin sowing enables me to select out the weed grasses more easily - and some of them can be hand weeded although most will be sprayed. I do not sow grass in one go over the whole target area. In Lyndi’s field there are many patches where weed seed is still germinating. I spray these again and only scatter grass seed in what appears to be bare patches. In some cases this is illusory and on my next visit I will spray the whole or part-patch and resow. I just walk and in selected places scatter seed without soil preperation. If in Lyndi’s case her heavy clay soil is cracked in dry weather so much the better!

I scattered some grass seed here this May
Small drifts of fescue gradually accumulate and later when fully established prevent most further grass weed germination. Be ever alert to exceptions.
The numerous broad leaved weeds that also germinate get similar treatment but amongst established grass they can also easily be taken out selectively by MCPA. I find when Chewings fescue is  - say -  two months established there is no 'lawn herbicide' damage. I have never seen such damage on fescue and perhaps lawn herbicide damage in newly sown grass is a bit of a myth - but do not take my word for it! 
I have not yet resorted to using MCPA’s selectivity in Lyndi’s field.


These broad leaved weeds are actually my own unwanted self sown plants. MCPA selectively killed them
When recently I had some spare lawn herbicide in my sprayer I did pop round to Cathi’s grass verge and drove down to the village plot but this is the only time I have bothered so far. On Cathi’s mixed verge there are many flowering plants and wild flowers which of course I avoid! 
Those of you who have read my post about Lyndi’s field will know this project started with a nettle overgrown patch last July. Now a year later and after a magnificent display of Spring bulbs other bits and pieces are are now being established, I have sown so little grass seed, that you would have to look very carefully to know any fescue at all was starting to grow. In a year’s time she will have a green field. Lyndi I hope you are reading! (whoops I wrote this sentence in my last post, perhaps I am feeling guilty?)

Methods of spraying
Please remember glyphosate is NOT of itself selective of grass. It will die if you spray it
Regular readers will know my methods. In my opinion only a professional knapsack sprayer will do. I do what is necessary to accurately directionally spray. The main variables will be height of spray head, angle of direction and pressure. I (unconventionally) use a cone nozzle which is the kind recommended for insecticide spraying. I will sometimes spray - albeit rarely - with zero pumping to squirt with only gravity flow. Even more rarely my tiny squirt will be delivered with the nozzle actually touching the weed. If appropriate my wellington boot might be used to create a barrier between desired plant and weed. (A tall weed grass can sometimes be trod down to spray the tips beyond the patch of fescue). Where any desired plants in my own mixed plantings becomes too aggressive, too numerous or in the wrong place they are immediately redefined as a weed. My usual glyphosate/water dilution is between 1 in 50 to 1 in 70 of commercial strength 360 gram/litre product.
You will not come away from any spray training course spraying as I do, and in my view you will spray with far too much pressure. I recently watched a council workman spray in a park…..

You must use pure Chewings fescue
(Unless you are sowing a lawn or sowing a conventional wild flowers/fine grass mixture).
When I started out with my woolly ideas I made the mistake of sowing a regular fine grass mixture of fescue and bent grass. The latter grass with it’s tiny-tiny delicate seeds looks that it must be be really petite. In fact with my method it is an absolute thug and gets too tall and flops all over. It is included in regular fine lawn mixtures because it is quick to establish, withstands regular close mowing and ‘acts as a nurse’ for slow delicate fescues (what-ever ‘nurse’ means).
Chewing's fescue is of antipodean origin and is usually the principle ingredient in fine turf mixtures. I just love it and for me its technical merit is that it does not creep.
I found two UK cheap sources of pure Chewings by surfing the net. I opted for Emorsgate Seeds and have been delighted by their seed quality, packaging, and speed of delivery.
Other than early and mid Winter I sow fescue when I choose. For lawns April or September is thought to be best. My actual preferences are mid March when my own soil tends to be still moist at the surface and September when wet weather is forecast. If a heavy depression is forecast for an extended spell in Summer for me that is also  ideal. With my  opportunistic regular sowings in Lyndi’s quarter of an acre I will just keep regularly pegging  away. Each occasion only takes me five minutes and if it is Summer dry the seed just takes a little longer to grow.

Circumstances where a gardener might use my methods
If you use them at all in twelve months time you may very well hate me
Lyndi’s field and Cathi’s verge are rather special projects and are not for new gardeners.

You might have existing areas something like mine. 
1. On the village plot there are access paths which were originally bark mulch which had been kindly donated by local firm ‘Rolawn’. The bark had rotted away and was largely superseded by liverwort and moss. It did have the advantage after eight years of regular spraying of having almost zero content of surface weed-grass seed. Last year in Autumn and also this February I scattered Chewings fescue and with just a little hand weeding is now looking a lovely green and uniform unadulterated fescue stand. It will not need mowing this year but perhaps next year it might be advisable to mow once at flowering time.


Liverwort proved to be avery suitable surface  in which fescue would establish
2. A very similar situation occurs all round the periphery of my garden where a metre or more strip of glyphosate sprayed soil was a barrier to farm field weeds. After eighteen months from sowing I am starting to enjoy a dwarf dark green unmown grass sward (together with wildflowers and overflow garden plants). It also serves as a nursery for tufts of fescue to repair patches in my mole and rabbit ravaged lawn.

3. There are other ways of starting a weed-grass free lawn. Forty years ago I made a small lawn sown on an inch or so surface layer of old John Innes compost. It had been free to me being a very long way beyond its sell by date. Never sow in a layer of sand*

4. Similarly having supped with the devil accepting free loads of municipal compost as a sweetener to me from the local recycling plant some Chewing’s fescue germinated very uniformly at the base of the old heap.

5. One wonders how seedsmen achieve pure seed of grasses before they blend them together. Similarly how such as local Rolawn provide turf to a precise specification of grass content. I wonder if any of them use soil sterilants which is the only way to kill weed seed in the soil?

I accept no responsibility for anyone who tries a pure fescue lawn. Mixed grasses melding together are needed to make a quality turf and the general feeling is that you don’t want all your eggs in one basket when it comes to turf disease and seasonal grass variation. On the other hand a fescue lawn can look gorgeous
I have recently seen a newspaper picture of a professional golfer looking very cross indeed caught in an un-mown fescue ‘rough’....

Reducing fertility to grow wild flowers in grass
Gardeners are quite correctly recommended to reduce fertility to enable wild flowers to compete with the grass. Regularly removing of annual mowings might be quite useful when practiced for a century or so. (It is also more tidy). The more extreme soil violence of removing topsoil works rather better but for me goes against the grain and is the reverse of soil conservation. Following Lyndi’s horses her field is quite fertile. In my cemetery ‘wild gardens’ I have always tried to maintain soil structure and recycled all my organic matter but have never brought in manure or fertiliser.
Numerous surveys show that wild flowers grow best in infertile meadows untouched by fertiliser. The culprit is phosphate which is not only overused by gardeners and farmers but remains in the soil for many decades. Where phosphate is high strong growing weeds such as nettles thrive - as well as coarse grasses!
Excess nitrate is equally damaging. Fortunately it is very rapidly lost from the soil profile and most is absorbed in the soil and plant biomass.
The popular conception is that nutrients damage wild flowers. I only partly believe this; the real problem is that fertilisers favour coarse plants that outgrow them. Undoubtedly some plants such as some of Antipodean origin find phosphate toxic (unqualified as British natives) and varying soil nutrient balances effect favoured plants and many plants need particular niches. Its all very subtle but in my view the real problem is competition from coarse vegetation.
I am still left with the fear that even delicate Chewings fescue might itself be too vigorous albeit in my own case I am mainly growing garden plants naturalistically rather than wild flowers.
Some wildflower gardeners sow the beautiful plant parasite yellow rattle to subdue the grasses.

This very morning I am off down to Peter’s garden to collect some yellow rattle seed from his wildflower meadow.It is now the exact time to sow them - amongst the grasses!


I sowed too few yellow rattle seeds in Cathi's verge last July
This Spring Peter had tens of thousands of yellow rattle looking like this one

And a few spare pictures


Nature does it better
Fescue and friends at Filey
The kind of effect I want to recreate at Lyndi's
Links
*I wrote about the dangers of thin layers of texturally different soils lying together
How coarse grass competes with trees
Last month's post on Lyndi's field

Where I bought my Chewing's fescue seed



Sunday, 30 July 2017

Recovery after box caterpillar

box caterpillar
Box caterpillar only eats boxes
Box caterpillar has now made several appearances in the UK and gardeners might wonder whether a completely defoliated box will ever recover.
Brenda’s son so suffered in Summer 2015 in France. My article about box caterpillar control in his garden is here.
Although Peter claims to have sprayed again after my 2015 visit I doubt it. For reasons it’s best not to go into most of the hedge had been completely neglected for two years during their temporary absence.
The box caterpillar has now completely gone. My 2017 pictures below illustrate the hedges’ recovery - or otherwise. It is a ‘natural experiment’ which might be of interest!

The small hedge at the front of the house was completely killed. Contrast the healthy euonymus hedge 
Two years after - how long can you wait?
Peter was quoted an exorbitant amount for its removal. He is going to be busy with his chainsaw! There is no read to dig out the roots
This is completely recovered and is ready for clipping
I failed to take a picture of the hedge completely smothered by this climbing weed. Not the way to recovery
The box tree is now completely unscathed and the box hedge on the left badly needs cutting
Wondering what happened
The key questions I ponder is why box caterpillar has completely gone and never returned (well, not yet) and why in different parts of the garden recovery has been everything between complete and totally absent. All the box had been completely defoliated in 2015

As to recovery - it’s taking a while. The hedge that has completely died is the small one which was completely exposed to intense Toulouse summer sunshine. In the absence of leaves and their evaporative cooling the exposed twigs would have been very warm. Perhaps the high ratio of surface area to volume in small things was significant. Or perhaps a small hedge had less stored resources than a large one.
What ever the reason it does appear that the larger the box plants the greater the recovery. I think I also discern greater recovery where plants were in a less open position. Perhaps open sites were more exposed to the moths?

I had expected that if the hedge was not re-sprayed surviving caterpillars would complete their lifecycle and there would be further damage later that season and in the following year. It does not seem to have happened. Perhaps the next generation lacking food resources on a decimated plant is programmed to fly elsewhere?

I had also expected there would be further invasion of moths in the following year. This has not happened and the living hedges continue their recovery. For some very slowly.

Link
This post explains why I would not dig out the stumps


Monday, 17 July 2017

Establishing bulbs and plants in an overgrown field

Lyndi's field

Eight months after starting
Word came from Cathi’s friend Lyndi who lives in the next village that she had a problem with her quarter acre field. Ten years ago a horse paddock, it was now overgrown with five foot high nettles and docks with little grass surviving. Worse the friendly farmer who  had been mowing it off in Autumn had now retired. Her handyman Chris could barely traverse the field to mend some electrical pumping contraption - or so he claimed!
At one side of the field were the remains of ancient wooden stables. With perhaps two metres of elevation the near rectangular field served as some kind of bund to exclude floodwater from low lying fields.
The luxuriance of the weeds gave evidence of high soil fertility. No doubt thanks to long gone horses. The fecundity of the weeds also removed evidence of a hardcore surface adjacent to the old horse sheds. There would be no cultivation! Fortunately if healthy weeds thrive so will plants.
There had been talk of a scorch earthed policy to eliminate the weeds. I shudder to think of land managed devoid of vegetation!
You could barely cross the field
It was too good an opportunity for me. I am currently indulging my whim  of using un-mown Chewing’s fescue grass grown as ground cover between naturalised plants and in particular bulbs. I will write about my early efforts very soon and have already revealed my thinking in my series of posts about Cathi’s grass verge.
The fact that Lyndi’s soil is a heavy clay would give me further opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of establishing vegetation without soil cultivation. Even better there was no perennial weed problem! It might surprise you that I don’t regard nettles and docks as a problem but compared to noxious mares tail, ground elder, bindweed and Japanese knotweed whose hard won elimination I have previously described they are a complete cinch and now nine months later Lyndi’s perennial weeds are completely gone. As ever removing established perennial weed is always followed by a series of avalanches of weeds germinating from seed! Weed control never stops in a garden!
The dye is now cast. I volunteered to carry out a long term project to convert the field to my own ‘cemetery style planting’ (see my articles about Bolton Percy churchyard and Worsbrough cemetery). On this occasion my plants will be surrounded by fescue grass and my choices of vegetation will differ and will not contain shrubs or herbaceous plants that die down to leave ‘heavy debris’. My planting will primarily be bulbs and other similar monocotyledons. Other herbaceous annuals, biennials and perennials will be initially sparse and often self seeding.
I shall visit Lyndi’s garden for two hours once a month every month of the year. 


A month after the first spray
Inevitably I had missed a few patches
Later on in September
l need ‘roundup’ for a project like this
Regular readers will know that using professional glyphosate usually applied with a knapsack sprayer is fundamental to my gardening. Most good gardeners use glyphosate to eliminate perennial weeds and often then stop;  none gardeners use it unwittingly when they repeatedly apply path clear type products. (Nothing wrong with that). Widespread misinformation has created the image that using glyphosate is a sin. This in my view is unfortunate and wrong and leads gardeners into bad practices such as excessive cultivation. More than a million of tons of glyphosate have been used in agriculture and horticulture safely worldwide over fifty years now. It is one of the most innocuous agrochemicals ever invented. (Not if you spray it on desirable plants or use it for nefarious purpose). 
For good or bad reasons many gardeners refuse to use it. I have no such inhibitions and regard prejudice about it as a widespread example of ‘false news’ which in the hands of its purveyors is very convincing.  

Other than glyphosate and sometimes MCPA I never use any chemicals in my three naturalistic gardens. Without glyphosate I might even qualify as ‘organic’ - I hate that overused inaccurate unfortunate term! 
In my ‘wild gardens’ I use zero fungicides and insecticides. No chemical pest killers for such as slug control. I use no fertilisers and my organic matter is directly recycled and no supplements are imported. There is no expensive and might I suggest unnatural biological control. On the contrary garden plants, wild flowers, pests and their predators do there own thing. I do not disapprove of sensible use of garden chemicals - they are merely unnecessary in my naturalised ecologies.

Using glyphosate to clear and to continue weed Lyndi’s field is easy for me. I have used glyphosate for forty years. It is not so simple for an inexperienced gardener. Most advice about spraying to gardeners from professional sources is relevant to agriculture and engineering and bares little resemblance to gardening situations. Most other advise to amateurs is…. well just amateur.
I have made it my mission to write numerous posts about glyphosate (and also none chemical weed control) and have tried to make the posts coherent and where possible un-repetitive. You need to settle down and read them if you wish to undergo a project like Lyndi's.

Early Autumn
 A single spray is insufficient - perennial weeds start to regenerate and new weeds come from seed 
It took about an hour to spray at this stage and bulb planting started a few days later
Bulbs that need early planting - such as narcissi were planted first
The first ten months

The first spray in late July was difficult as I attempted to walk in straight lines through the jungle. I had failed to bring gloves and when holding the spray wand high and downwards my hands brushed through the nettles when I failed to dodge them. I used a 1 in 40 mix - rather stronger than normal. The overall rate of application was never-the-less normal as I moved quickly to deliver my fine droplet spray. With a huge weed leaf surface area when using  a translocated weedkiller it is not necessary to attain complete coverage. Nor is it  possible to apply sufficient glyphosate to every last weed. I would get them next time. I applied in total 20 litres of diluted glyphosate that day.
A month later I sprayed again. Access was now much easier and I could ensure that this time all the nettles received a thorough dose of MCPA.(Glyphosate does not kill nettles very well). 

I got my bulb order in early from Parker’s Wholesale immediately on receiving their Autumn catalogue and invested £500 of Lyndi’s money to buy about 6000 bulbs. The daffodils and narcissus were mixed bags selected from several named types. I tried the bags priced by weight and those priced by number. I was too busy planting to determine which provided the best value. You really do get a lot of crocus for your money and I chose a several hundred of the cheaper varieties of camassias. I regret now not having planted scilla, chinodoxa and tulips. They will be added next year. I did indulge in a few lilies and liatris that were very cheap at Aldi.

In October I planted the bulbs and a few very previously strong resisting clumps of nettles were spot sprayed again. I avoided the remains of the nettles when planting  and where possible I found vacant spaces; some  bulbs of necessity were tucked between dead stumps of the docks. I just planted the bulbs by levering up spadefuls of soil and pushing handfuls of bulbs under. The number usually varied around half a dozen. As I tired the numbers got bigger! I doubt if many of the bulbs were completely upright and the varying depth does not matter.It was very wet at the time and my boots got quite muddy with clay. The bulbs got a very good start with the wet Autumn conditions.
In late Winter I scavenged Cathi’s garden as well as my own to find about 500 each of bluebells and snowdrops. I recently wrote about establishing snowdrops. Perhaps ten percent of the snowdrops were dug up by rabbits. They were popped back in on the next monthly visit and all survived
Planting the bulbs on the heavy soil was harder than doing the same on my own sandy soil - and even more difficult through any hardcore! I have to confess I had help from Lyndi’s part time gardener, Andrew. It took six man-hours to plant the 6000 dry bulbs. It was all very random over the whole of the field. Planting was denser where the bulbs would be seen better  and in some cases where the remains of the weeds were lighter.

It was necessary to spot respray  a couple of times through the Winter and Spring - and of course as routine weed control it will continue through the Summer as weeds from seed ever appear. It gets quicker every time and now averages less than an hour and in the Winter not every month. I must emphasise that when the bulbs had come through it was necessary when spraying near the clumps to spray at very low pressure with the cone spray nozzle held pointing low and firmly down. It is very easy and none of the thousands suffered any damage whatsoever.

From the very first spray I made sure that my attention covered the complete field and particularly the margins. I do not want weed invasion through any hedge and over the fence line. There is no one to complain.

On a couple of visits I slit in a few bits and pieces from home including  crocosmia, tradescantia virginiana, bulbous buttercups, a nice red lythrum, poached egg plant, forget-me-nots, red campion and golden creeping Jenny. A bog plant  hitched a ride with some of the snowdrops!  It will stand proud in the boggy part of the field with the lythrum and tradescantia. Some of these plants will be seed parents to eventually spread. As the field will strongly feature upright monocotyledons I made a special effort to steal fifty strong agapanthus divisions from home. They will look great this summer and the clumps will enlarge every year.


We had a wet spell in February
Moisture loving plants such as primulas will be sown here
A view back to the house in March
The denser planting was nearer the house
View of horizon at the top of the field
Wet patch and hardcore area in front of shed
Another bulb order went in to Parkers in January for the kinds of Summer bulbs that will  naturalise - about 300 quid’s worth this time. Gladiolus were strongly represented  and included both the hardy compact varieties and allegedly less hardy compact varieties of the normal types. I personally find that If I leave ‘regular’ glads in the ground over Winter that although they are erratic in their reliability many go on to make strengthening stands each year. These Summer bulbs went in March.
I will discuss the future potential of a pure stand of Chewings fescue grass next post

You may be wondering about the grass. Only token amounts have been sown on two occasions so far. It is only possible to establish a pure stand of a single grass species when you cease to have wild grasses popping up everywhere. I am taking this slowly and my next post will be about how I am currently using fescue grass here and in several other places. It is still early stages but by this time next year it will look more like a fine-grass field. Lyndi I hope you are reading!
The field is now becoming less weedy and on each monthly visit I will seek out every last weed I find. In addition I will take along seasonal flower seed to scatter!

Two months later
The first year is now over in mid July. I write my posts early and this update brings us to the present. 
The Spring bulbs had more or less died down by mid June. Old still green bulb leaves are not very vulnerable to glyphosate but I was still fairly careful spraying near the clumps and even more careful where Summer bulbs were sprouting.
There had been some heavy rain in mid May followed by lovely warm weather. My June visit was a little late, five weeks after the last one. The new weeds from seed were lush, tall and magnificent. It was difficult to discern which ones I had sprayed that day. It is not easy to gauge over an area in excess 1000 square metres. I spent my two hours spraying and a further ten minutes scattering Spring seed collected from my garden and my cemeteries. At this crucial juncture I returned ten days later to spray off the weeds I had missed! 
It was very revealing and very worthwhile. It looked a complete mess with tall dead weeds and green ones I had missed. It’s all  down hill now (or do I mean up?) and weed control will be easier. On this last visit before writing, a few small clumps of my initial half hearted and sparse sowing of fescue grass were melding together - not that anyone other than me would notice! This time I made a more generous scatter of fescue.
Anyone not interested in Chewing’s fescue should give my next post a miss.


See the annual poached egg plant from seed in the weed
Most of it will survive when I spray round it and will be seed parent for a large weed free clump next year

The early Summer bulbs will look better next year
Note the importance of the field  margin being weed free
The £1.99 box of lilies from Aldi looked rather forlorn

The camassias will look better surrounded by fescues next year
Links
You can read about a not dissimilar project in my posts about Cathi's grass verge via the links in the theme column. This and this in particular discuss planting in previously undisturbed soil.
My  posts about using glyphosate are also to be found in the theme column


To be continued…..

My post about sowing fescue grass in the field is now published
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