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 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
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…..

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Orchids and other wild flowers at Filey

Common blue and burnet moth up on Filey Brig
We wondered what Peter and Julie would like to do when they joined us for the day at our holiday bungalow at Hunmanby Gap. The day decided itself!

Peter Williams taking his pictures
....and there are just a few of my own
I  mentioned to Peter that I had spotted three rather bedraggled dactylorhiza orchids on the coarse weedy bank that went down to the sea. I am preparing a post about dactylorhiza and he offered to photograph them for me. When we moved to the other side of the path to take a placement shot we found on a grassy slope a haven of wild flowers including a dozen particularly gorgeous near red dactylorhiza. Just yards from our residence Brenda and Julie could see that it would best to go for a long walk on the beach.

Dactylorhiza in clover
That morning we had a delightful time taking pictures. Passers by were amused to see two septuagenarians at play. (Sorry Peter I have taken poetic licence and added our ages together and divided them to enable you to qualify). Jovial holiday makers made cheerful comments. A farmer’s wife on vacation commented that sprays are not what they used to be - what on earth did she mean?

I was thrilled to find a glaucous blue fescue growing amongst the normal green one.
I wonder why?
After lunch it got even better. We drove up to Filey Brig to walk the top of the cliffs towards Scarborough. Brenda and I had walked the brig two days earlier and I had already taken pictures for a coming post on fescue grass.

Peter claims to hate these kinds of coastal walks where the paths are stocked with agricultural weeds. Not here, the vegetation is unspoiled and is composed of lovely wild flowering grasses with uncommon wild flowers dotted around and blue butterflies and red burnet moth abounding. 

 I caught Peter swotting a fly
It's a long way down
You can look over the edge and in steep crumbling clay soil there are carpets of wildflowers and thousands of dactyorhiza! It would be extremely dangerous and folly to go over.
We did not get very far. Perhaps half a mile. Fortunately the girls were tired from their morning walk and were happy to stroll in the sunshine

There were a few nesting seabirds. Up the coast from Bempton bird sanctuary they might have escaped from gawping humans. Away from the smell - of the birds I mean!

Grasses in flower can be very beautiful

On arrival for our previous stay at Hunmanby Gap we could not see Filey Brig for the sea mist
You don't want to see grey patches of Yorkshire Fog in your lawn
wild grass
Woundwort nestles in wild grasses
Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica infiltrates the flowering grasses. Gerard, of herbal fame, was greatly impressed by its healing properties.

Can you spot the dactylorhiza in the clover?

We think this is bugle
You might like this in your lawn - but not me
We only found one bee orchid
They don't last very long after they self pollinate - its the wrong species of bee in the UK for cross pollination

Yellow bedstraw
Brenda commented on bedstraw's sweet pleasant spell and Peter explained that is why it was used to be used to stuff mattresses and deter insects. It was once used to as a dye and in making double gloucester cheese

The burnet moth was everywhere 
The burnet moth is not only colourful, it is active in daylight. Very sleepy it ignores the camera. It is one of those lepidopterans whose warning colours advertise their toxicity to potential predators. Unlike such as the monarch butterfly which depends on its food plant for its toxic content the burnet can also synthesise its own - cyanide. The equally toxic caterpillars feed on Birds foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus and related species.
The moths sip nectar from a wide range of flowers.
Cyanide gas together with pheromones are used to attract mates. 

Food for the caterpillars

The common blue on clover
The burnet loved the thistles

What is the burnet doing on a grass?
Apparently they overwinter on grasses.

The orchids were sometimes well hidden

I have written about wild flowers before Jervaulx Abbey Tignes in the french alps the edge of the farm field

and a very early post on corn marigolds

Monday, 3 July 2017

It was bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis

Answer to last month’s conundrum

The double form is especially prized
All the way from the woods of Missouri - I lie - this woodland  ‘ephemeral’ thrives in Peter’s Seaton Ross wood. It’s called an ephemeral because the flower and foliage does not last very long before it goes dormant. As a plant if it likes its situation it goes on forever if left undisturbed. Difficult for constant soil fluffers however.
I must say the response to my quiz was quite pathetic. In the end I prompted blogger Rick to solve it. Thanks for the interest Rick. It was clever of you to maintain the secret and carry out the correspondence in the very next post!
Let me walk you through Peter William’s puzzle.

This to me first appeared to be a boot! As soon as I refocussed it was a leaf

Its clearly a leaf here. My first assumption was that it is an example of guttation. This is the phenomenon where ‘root pressure’ forces out sap droplets in very humid conditions.
I was wrong. Peter with his inqisitive mind had wondered if the poisonous blood coloured alkaloid sap that gives sanguinaria it’s common name bloodroot came up to the leaves. He had cut them - and yes it does but it is much paler.

Another picture that requires you to refocus. It is not a fried egg or as suggested a mollusc. It’s a seed.
This is where the myrmecochory comes in. This is when a plant exploits ants to distribute seeds. The ant is rewarded by a small nutritious morsel called an elaiosome which persuades it to carry the seed home. Here the ‘white’ of the ‘egg’ is a wacking great big elaiosome - an ant's idea of a feast.

The mature seed pod makes your task clearer. It would be interesting to know how away from its home in Missouri  bloodroot gets pollinated. Various solitary bees might do the task in return for its nutritious pollen. It’s no good for honeybees as it does not produce nectar. Just as well because it might very well have been toxic.

Peter’s later pictures and hints how to grow bloodroot

Four single flowers all in a row. The flowers appear before the leaves

There is copious pollen

The beautiful scolloped leaves catch up later

The leaves remain until early Summer and the seed pod develops quickly
My own sanguinaria 

It was one of the early plants I planted in Bolton Percy cemetery forty years ago. It did not thrive but it has survived and in a good year it flowers. It has had a checkered history and not least it has suffered a nearby ever expanding Leyland cypress. Forgive me I propagated and planted the monster. Over the years the patch got drier and darker and too close to competing vegetation. I thought the bloodroot was gone. What has gone now is the wretched Leyland - it has been chopped down. I was delighted that my bloodroot has reappeared and has celebrated by flowering. Sorry I missed it!

Bloodroot is poisonous and is subject to quackery
If you 'goggle' to find bloodroot, search for sanguinaria. Otherwise you will find dubious adverts for very dangerous concoctions. I don’t want to be responsible. As a garden plant it is perfectly safe to handle.

Dutchman's breeches
I have written before about my own favourite woodland ephemeral Dicentra cucullaria. Eight weeks after it has appeared it is gone! That too has poisonous rhizomes and American farmers used to call it stagger weed. It is my most loved plant.


The original quiz
Rick's answer in comments
Cutting down the Leyland
My post about Dicentra cucullaria

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