Sunday 22 March 2015

A walk on the wild side

It must be a hundred and twenty years that Worsbrough St Mary’s churchyard burst its seams and opened a new five acre cemetery just up the road. Over the years new graves moved up the hill. It won’t be many years now before the cemetery is filled.

Old graves decline. No longer do villagers enter by the low gate and wander up through the grave yard. The magnificent gate is firmly closed. There are not many gravestones down at this old entrance. Perhaps many graves were unmarked by stone monuments and others were dismantled by vandals and stones thieved to make doorsteps. The lower site gradually became completely neglected and overgrown. 
Climax vegetation of unmanaged open space is woodland. The lower parts of the cemetery became a beautiful wood. Sadly barbaric brambles came too. At the start of my stewardship the understory was made up of solid six foot high bramble. Normal access was impossible. It’s amazing that the tens of thousands of snowdrops, bluebells and daffodils survived. Under the undergrowth no one could see them: barely surviving in poor light they had ‘gone to grass’ and had not flowered for many years.
When an old family grave was opened to lay the next generation it took days to cut a swath through the rambling  brambles. Families knew that within a few years they would be unable to place flowers of remembrance.

Bulbs in flower have returned with a vengeance! Access is easy now but you need to know the whereabouts of the two narrow gaps between the densely packed monuments and uneven ground.
No one  goes there! It is my own secret garden. Never have I seen anyone wander down to the bottom. Nobody says what a beautiful place.

Please take a walk with me

Please indulge me today by accompanying me around. It’s mid March and much of the Spring vegetation has not yet shown and clothed the ground. There is much woody debris and strawy evidence of my hurried maintenance. I cannot show you a manicured garden. It always gets the fag end of my attention.

We cross the grass path just beyond the Helleborus argutifolius to enter the wood. See the spoil where gravediggers distribute surplus excavated stone. I usually take a bucketful home for mulching my garden

Helleborus argutifolius has over the years self seeded many fine clumps

Below the central grass path is the old wooded area. It’s about 1.5 acre and triangular with the bottom gate at the apex

Cyclamen hederifolium has self seeded in the grass which is mown by a commercial contractor

Everywhere there are thousands of snowdrops. Not native, snowdrops have been brought back by soldiers from European scenes of battle ever since the Thirteen century. They were planted in churchyards to celebrate white Lenten purity.
Not these, which have resided here a mere hundred years. 

The littered ground here is covered with ivy and comfrey

Yew and holly seedlings litter the ground.

Over the years graveside snowdrops have spread to cover the ground. Although snowdrops undoubtably self seed, contrary to popular thinking, they spread to cover tracts of landscape mainly by vegetative propagation. Where snowdrop bulbs are crowded they are pushed to the surface and are scattered by wind and animals. My friend Peter a few years ago collected hundreds of tiny bulbs on the surface of his garden in June. He potted them up in dozens and they flowered in their first year. People wanted to buy his ‘dwarf’ snowdrops!

You might imagine the light green grass is a weed. People generally do, especially here in Birdwell! You will be surprised that it is self seeded Briza maxima, retailed as a very select plant.

Over the years my ground cover plants spread.

There are still a few fine gravestones in the oldest places 
An ancient woodland plant of deep shade - I think it’s dog’s mercury - thrives. 

The strawy Pheasant’s eye grass, Stipa arundinaceae has seeded all over. 
Formerly under a dense canopy of bramble it took about three years for suppressed daffodils to come back into flower.

My friend blogger Rick Nelson waxes lyrical about Stipa in his latest post.

Self seeded plants grow in the litter.

Rarely do I have time to clear fallen branches.

I make no apologies for gardening naturally with hybridised plants. The numbers of my self seeding primroses are ready for take off.

I originally scattered primula seed collected from graves.

I forgot to cut away the old leaves with my hedge trimmer in December. Happily  previous leaf removal ensures the old leaves are still disease free 

I am rather pleased with the contorted hazel I pruned last year.

The grass is not very special but much better than the eight foot high Japanese knotweed that eventually expired five years ago. 
I sometimes sow fine grass seed from a bowling green mix. 

We emerge from the undergrowth. You might think the top parts of the cemetery also look wild at this time of year.
Hedera ‘Paddys Pride’ was a small cutting fifteen years ago


  1. I bet it is a wild life haven. You say snowdrops are not native - how long does a plant have to be grown to gain native status, Most of the human popualtion probably class as non natives and are hybrids as a result of various invasions, In fact didn't the human race originate in Africa

    1. I always write with tongue in cheek about 'native plants' Sue. I disapprove of the entire concept!
      I believe the first snowdrop to be recorded 'in the wild' in UK - rather than in churchyards - was the sixteenth century.

  2. What a lovely graveyard. It is very interesting to see how different graveyards are from place to place. I always try to visit one when I am in an other country as they are so different from country to country. The gravestones can be entertaining too. You seem to remove just what is needed to allow visitors to appreciate all the plants that have self seeded.

  3. Except for the snowdrops which never seem to get really going here, don't ask me why, my garden at this time of the year looks very much like a mini-version of your cemetery. I have always preferred the "wild" look, probably in rebellion against my early municipal parks background, and I think age and basic idleness are contributing to this. Many thanks for the link Roger, I just wish I had the space to grow a decent stand of the Pheasant-tail grass.

    1. Strange that snowdrops don't like you Rick
      Brenda tells me that all my gardens look wild and wonderful! er she forgets the 'wonderful'!

  4. Absolutely gorgeous. And an example of how a graveyard can be well managed even when it's not used. I wish the Churches Conservation Trust would take a look. We visited St George's on the the Isle of Portland last year. Fascinating church and some really fascinating gravestones, except it was impossible to visit most of them because the churchyard is now being managed "for wildlife" which basically means that it's totally overgrown, ivy is being allowed to consume tombstones and brambles and tall grass are engulfing graves. It was an absolute disgrace, especially as it's often visited by Antipodean visitors seeking graves of ancestors. Yours shows just how "wild" it could be without giving it over to nature.

    1. Thank you for the compliment Helen.
      I do achieve this with the help of glyphosate and MCPA in about 12 hours per year. Without efficient weed control the necessary labour would have to increase tenfold.

    2. Sorry I just need to clarify that time Helen. That average of an hour per month is for the area featured. I go down to Barnsley once a month and my labour input is about fifty hours a year for the whole cemetery. This of course excludes mowing the grass access paths which is done by a contractor.


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