Friday 19 October 2018

Meadow without the grass

Candytuft - memories of my childhood
A new use for my vegetable garden - although I have kept the asparagus plus a few french beans

The most admired feature by this year’s garden visitors has been my big blob of sweet selling gaudy annuals.
Variously dubbed ‘meadow’ or ‘wild flowers’ it is neither. The flowers are all garden hardy annuals (with a few sneaky short lived self seeding perennials such as Verbena bonariensis and gentian-blue commelina). In the old days it would have been called a hardy annual border. Once popular amongst keen gardeners but found to be labour intensive they never really caught on.

Verbena comes freely from seed
On the contrary this year mine has been no trouble at all. I was exceedingly lucky in that at sowing time in early April the ground was still saturated with all that Winter rain. Better the rain continued for another ten days before the long Summer drought set in. I did not need to water despite in the next four months barely receiving an inch and a half of rain. An inch of that very fortunately came on a single night after ten weeks to revive the flagging flowers.

Just before raking off debris before sowing (I have allowed a few carrots)
‘Throw to grow’ mixtures now have the image of being naturalistic labour saving garden features. Unlike my experience this year this is not usually so! Many gardeners just can’t handle the weeds that out grow the annuals. They are fine for the first year but in the second they need further soil preparation and with an enhanced bank of self sown weed seed and sometimes strengthening nasty perennial weeds soon run out of steam.
Do not confuse this situation with that of a genuine meadow filled with perennial flowers and annuals such as yellow rattle that have evolved to favour agricultural meadowland. Unfortunately such lovely features reproduced in a small garden can be labour intensive too.

The corn marigolds in my new border came originally from seed from the farm field
Many of the annuals suited to my annual ‘border’ evolved to colonise regularly ploughed farmland and would compete with newly sown farm crops. Things like poppies and corn marigolds.
(Such annuals have usually been ‘improved’ and selected by plant breeders).

I have earlier explained how two years ago I took my bat home and more or less ceased to grow vegetables. My 200 square metres of vegetable garden suddenly became vacant. My first pilot year worked reasonably well and this year I decided to go the whole hog and sow the whole plot with a ‘throw to grow’ annual mixture from that excellent seedsman Mole Seeds.
As a no dig gardener my plot was ideal. There was little surface weed seed as my methods don’t bring dormant weed seed to the surface. As a user of glyphosate I have zero perennial weed. Couch, ground elder, mares tail and bindweed does not exist in my garden. My undug plot is settled and cohesive but if disturbed has an excellent crumb structure partly because there has been years of worm casting - not to mention regular surface mulching  of charcoal from my bonfires.
My plot is highly fertile, that is something not usually recommended for annual flowers. I thought my eighteen inch high annuals some flopping together looked rather fine.

A few weeks after broadcast sowing. Note absence of weeds
Early April is a good time to sow an annual mixture. My plot almost weed free, I made sure that any small weed seedlings were totally absent. In my case a quick spray round, although a light hoeing would do. My £20 seed packet was far too much for the site but I used it all anyway. With weed-seed free soil the flower seed was just scattered. As far as I remember I very lightly raked the otherwise undisturbed soil to cover much of the seed.
On my firm cohesive none dug soil I had no inhibitions that the surface was wet and it was going to rain. In fact it was welcome
The only further maintenance was to spot treat the very few weeds on my regular garden spray round. As my plants developed I moved to any necessary hand pulling.
That’s all that was needed.

The dominant flowers have changed as the season progressed
I don't know all their names - but white alyssum has pervaded a honey scent throughout
My reward has been nearly five months of flowers

Pictured in the farm field fat hen would have grown much more lushly in my fertile soil

The previous year I had been careless and let the odd fat hen and nettle set seed. Both can seed prolifically, particularly fat hen which as an ancient crop for thousands of years was grown for its grain. I needed to be very alert to pull out perhaps a total of a hundred fat young chickens over the season. I needed gloves for the nettles. At the back a few dense patches of nettle seedlings had to be mass sprayed. A total of about three square metres. The annuals soon covered the gaps

This lovely foxy grass seeds rather too freely in my garden
Although most of the annuals densely germinated at about the same time a few later and/or slower varieties filtered in later and provided some continuity as some early varieties faded. 
The beautiful honey like smell that pervaded this part of my garden for all of five months was alyssum. This was generous in the seed mixture and gave the whole scheme a lovely white backcloth. It was starting to fade as the severe drought cut in but revived strongly when three months into the project it did actually rain.

I love the name of this calendula variety - Oopsy daisy
There were a few ‘cheats’ where I welcomed a few self sown remnants of the garden's previous life. Verbena bonariensis came in as lovely purple curtains. The lime green flowers of edible rocket looked really nice and a lovely fox tailed grass whose name I don’t know looked superb - but might be a problem next year!
At the back of the border I still have my asparagus. It looked rather nice as escholtzia scrambled up into it

Late Autumn seeding
I do not know how many of the prolific seeds of the annuals will germinate next year. This will be a voyage of discovery. I don’t know yet to the extent that I will need to resow. 
A visitor asked what I will do with the prolific Winter dead vegetation. I expect it will more or less collapse and disappear. I am prepared at the turn of the year to rake off strawy remains. There will of course be no soil cultivation! No weed will be tolerated during this Winter period. My regular spray round will take care of that.

Looking back to July
I have already collected and scattered seed in other places where I have ongoing garden projects. Lyndi’s field needs more colour in Summer and the village plot has been denuded of some of its perennials by two Winter’s flooding. There is even a place in Cathi’s grass verge. 
Perhaps certain seed will not stand the cold of the Winter. I will hold some back to sow in the Spring

Only from mid August did nasturtiums come into their own
And annual lupins were pretty late too
I said at the beginning that it was flowers without the meadow. In truth I did sow thinly that lovely fine grass Chewing’s fescue. This was more in the expectation that I might use a few grass plants to later patch up my lawn. It was completely outgrown although there are a few lovely dark green grass patches looking nice on the fringes.
You can read about my exploits in the girl’s garden by putting Cathi or Lyndi into my search box. The search box is very efficient at digging out my previous posts such as wild flowers, charcoal, fescue grass, Mole seeds and named plants. 
Last year’s article on today’s topic gives more information

Now in mid October my annual display looks scruffy but nice  
New Link
For those of you returning to my 2020 article which adds another year's experience 


  1. I can testify that the annuals looked lovely. On our allotment we have self sown annuals in the bed where our pear trees grow, we also have some self seeded aquilegia and cyclamen hederifolia and some tulips. We just leave it to do it’s own thing although I do pull out a few annual weeds that have blown in like shepherd’s purse and goosegrass. You will be pleased to know it is a no dig area - it has to be due to housing three pears which is why I decided to let annuals self seed every year. The first manifestation is a carpet of candytuft.

    1. Candytuft is a great survivor Sue
      I forgot to mention in the post your own lovely photographs in your recent blog post. Your 'thumbs up' means a lot to me.

  2. Absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately most "wildflower" seed mixes sold in this country give disappointing results for a variety of reasons. They give an initial pop of color then go into decline.

    1. Yes it is something of a paradox Jason. Relatively inexperienced gardeners get magnificent early success - especially good for kids showing an interest - but it needs skill to keep the beds going throughout the summer season and on to a new sowing next year

  3. A wonderful result Roger. Most people, including some garden ‘experts ‘ don’t know the difference between wild flower meadows and corn field flower meadows.

    1. Good to hear from you Brian. In Lindi's field I am considering a mix of the two types -I have already small stands of fescue grass and I am considering elsewhere the sort of thing I have done as in this article - in the field after the bulbs. A future blog post no doubt


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