Sunday 26 May 2019

Lyndi’s field, Chapter two

Success and failure

A work still in progress
It’s nearly three years since I sprayed off the five foot high weed on Lyndi's very heavy clay soil. There has been no cultivation other than kicking holes made by rabbits and mounds made by moles.
I wish those folk who insist that their clay is so heavy that they must dig could see its beautiful soft crumbly structure.
I made my first visit this year in late February. The soil was a delight. I have seen this often before when the combination of frost mould and copious casting of worms work together to create wonderful soil.

It had rained heavily but with the cohesive  settled soil I was able to spray
Of course in last Summer’s drought there were cracks all over. It’s the nature of clay that when it dehydrates it contracts and this happens. It is nothing to fear - in fact in nature it is a very good thing. Cracks reopen in exactly the same place each cycle of drought and in uncultivated soil provide permanent aeration and drainage - right down into the subsoil. Roots penetrate into them and perennial plant roots continue to thrive within and alongside - sometimes for years.
Although benefits of none cultivation kick-in in the first year it is now that the serious benefits really come through. Long term improvement - as long as you don’t start fluffing around  destroying the structure

Regular readers will know that I have a similar project on Cathi's grass verge  (formally ground elder)

Many years ago I did the same for client and now friend Jackie Barber when I sprayed off the turf in an old horse paddock alongside Pottery Lane (subtle hint) to make three huge herbaceous borders with zero cultivation. Jackie had the advantage of very ample supplies of spent mushroom compost to mulch with. Her clay soil underwent the same transformation  - and you have never seen herbaceous plants better.

It is  bulky organic matter of course that speeds the transition - and unimpeded action of such as roots, fungus and worms. In Jacky’s case with the aid of her compost and decay of the original turf. 
For Lyndi the extra organic matter has formed from the original weed, organic root exudations in the rhizosphere, sprayed 'annual' weeds and animals and birds. In both cases organic build up is unimpeded from excessive oxidation by stirring the  soil!

Still weed free in early April
My February visit was the first for two months. I was in some dread that it might be very weedy. On my previous visit there had been more newly germinated weed that I would care for. 
It was now remarkably clean. I conclude I must in December have struck a perfect herbicide sweet spot - still conditions, warm spell and no rain for several days after spraying (not to mention fortuitously getting herbicide concentration optimally right)
It took only an hour to spray round - just half my knapsack -and the only obvious weed was some still surviving white and purple dead nettle which is becoming a bit of a problem as it is not very sensitive to spray. There was far too many poppy seedlings which I had foolishly allowed. Most of these were sprayed.
At that time of year glyphosate is very slow acting (but still efficient) and it must have taken most of the two months for the weeds to die after the December application

Mid May most of the Spring bulbs are over
Now nearly three years into the project it has almost achieved my original aims. They were always narrow, mainly defined by my self-imposed restrictions on my time and at seventy seven being no longer prepared to expend a great deal of energy in other people’s gardens for free. 

Cathi's verge in May
(I continue to do the village plot and do some specialist spraying in Bolton Percy churchyard and other than mowing and hedge trimming do Cathi’s garden which in truth I regard as my own. Readers will know I claimed anno domini as my reason to discontinue maintaining Worsbrough cemetery 18 months ago - it was such a long drive. Wonder how it looks now?)

Lyndi’s field looks really pretty for four months of the year and clothed with spring bulbs it has been like this three seasons now. The sparser Summer bulbs and still establishing fescue grass now make lovely little cameos for my pictures but overall it is generally scruffy. I just don’t show you!

You don’t usually see the pile of concrete originally dumped in the overgrown field or an old abandoned metre bag of sand, ladders stored next to the fence or rusting debris in the far corner. Lyndi’s former gardener never learnt that the field was not the place to dump his mowings! The site cries out for a few trees to be planted and weed free drifts to receive some herbaceous planting. My now self seeding fescues and certain other plantings would look better for an occasional light strim.

Because the only grass allowed is Chewing fescue it comes true from seed - pity about the wild grasses that blow in
The unusual feature for me in Lyndi’s field is that I am  attempting to grow un-mown tufty growing gorgeous green Chewing Fescue grass as a backcloth and ground cover to the bulbs and the other limited planting. This is in contrast to Cathi’s similar 800 square metre fescue grass verge where I have popped in monocotyledon herbaceous perennials at every opportunity. 
As readers know I have been selectively spraying out weeds with my knapsack for fifty years now; my philosophy being ‘take care of the weeds and the plants will look after themselves’. The only change now at both Lyndi’s and Cathi’s is that fescue grass is now allowed as an honorary plant. All other turf grasses are ruthlessly sprayed out as a weed. (You don’t need to know what the grasses are as long as you recognise fescue)
I had rather expected that such selectivity would have much increased the time of spraying. In practice this is not so and compares very favourably with my normal methods. Indeed on the village plot where I have established a substantial amount of fescue, weed control is speedier as the grass suppresses weed germination

Part failure and amended plan
There will be more Summer colour and unlike here at Cathi's, at Lyndi's I have this year sown annuals
Despite the above comments I have been very tardy at Lyndi's in getting the fescue grass going. I deliberately delayed starting scattering much grass seed in the first two seasons until the soils’s seed bank had been diminished and I now confess to being deficient in throwing grass seed around - albeit it only takes ten minutes of flinging each time I sow. At best there is only twenty percent ground cover. Last August the first fescue flowered and seeded and this has speeded up the process. Currently there are thousands of new tiny self sown grass plants. In fact I will leave future sowing to nature. (Only fescue, no other grasses remain and any new germinated coarse grass seed that blows in is pounced on with a very well directed low pressure spray)

There are substantial bare patches especially when the multitude of Spring bulbs die down. Most of such soil is now covered by moss and looks rather nice.

New plan
I have not previously mentioned that there are now some well established patches of a lovely mildew resistant forget-me-not that reseeds itself each year. Elsewhere Love-in-a-mist fulfils the same purpose. (Not to mention the over exuberant poppies). These clumps are entirely grass free. I take this as ‘proof of principle’ that I can establish a much wider range of summer flowering annuals in my many spaces. I have purchased from Mole Seeds two annual ' throw and grow' flower mixtures’ to broadcast in mid April.
Please note that such techniques will never work in normal vigorous grassland. Indeed I will only scatter in bare patches.
I hope that Lyndi will have a colourful Summer.

My own throw and grow mixture at home last year
The above scene as I write looks exactly the same this year from entirely self sown seed from last year's plants.
Read that post here


  1. I like how your project has developed. Interesting about the clay soil. We once lived in a 6 unit building with a common garden with lots of clay in the soil (it was not far from a clay quarry). One of the people in the building thought the way to treat the soil was to dig it up, put it in a tub with water and compost, then pour it back into the hole. I just about pulled out all my hair while I lived there.

  2. We have self sown hardy annuals popping up on the allotment around fruit trees that have kept going for years. Perennials too like aquilegia that keep producing a huge variety of colours and flower shapes.

    1. I have just got back from Bolton Percy churchyard and the nigella and aquilegia look lovely

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