Meadows and Biodiversity
A lifelong, very amateur naturalist, I always intended that this should be a garden that works for humans and wildlife.
When we started restoring the gardens in 2001, there was one pair of nesting swallows. In order not to jeopardise their breeding, we cut holes in the doors of the sheds as we repaired the roof. A swallow’s migration is becoming increasingly precarious so we are proud that there are now six nesting pairs. (Nevertheless we wait anxiously every year for their return.)
The next challenge was to make the most of our terrible soil. It is a mystery why anyone built this garden: in a frost pocket, on limestone, with barely any topsoil, but it has turned out to be a blessing. It gives us an opportunity to grow some of the richest of all meadow flora including scabious, pasque flowers, knapweed, cowslips, rare clovers, wild marjoram, salvias and, of course, orchids.
We have created four meadow areas that increase in diversity every year. The Cedar Meadow is filled with spring bulbs from mid January-early June and is the first to be cut. The terraces and rose meadows are rich with summer flowers. While the terraces are very steep and dry, there is more clay content and moisture in the rose meadows. Different areas suit different colonies of flowers. In one corner of the rose meadow, vetches have almost taken over, while in another, orchids have appeared. Finally we have two tiny meadows by the history room filled with crocuses and spring bulbs. They prove that even a small garden can have the magic that we see all summer.
The spin-off to all this is a marked increase in insect life. We still have some way to go to attract all the species that could thrive here (certain blue butterflies would appreciate the anthills for instance) but, as everything is connected, the increased insect activity means more food for birds and helps to stabilize our swallow population.
When you visit I urge you to take some time to really look at what is happening around your feet, on the terrace meadows and on the edge of paths. Those wild violets are left intentionally just as the nettles over the hedge are too. Pause and listen to the birdsong in the big trees or watch the intense concentration with which a bee feeds. I hope you find the peace and hope that the natural world gives to gardeners every day.
With best wishes
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