Pondlife

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The Pond, June 2016

We spent September, October and November 2015 digging a pond, making a terrace, and re-landscaping the garden around the house…. The rest of the garden is going to remain as the semi-wild naturalized space it always has been.

The Pond is the biggest venture so far. I’ve never water gardened, I have no idea about the plants or the maintenance, and, I have tried to design it so that we can use it as a natural swimming pool (it is really only suitable for a dip)….

What I have learnt so far is that the plants can be brute: so you need to chose your varieties carefully and manage their growth by ruthless yearly pruning. I’ve learnt that in order to keep the pond clean you have to balance three things; the oxygen level, the nitrogen level and the ammonia level…. This is done primarily with the planting, with pumps and UV filters stopping fluctuations in vegetation and seasons becoming imbalances…

I always wanted a body of water in this part of the garden…. What I never imagined was how much the water would “lift” the garden… This spot was a dark shaded place that divided us from the landscape beyond…. The pond completely reversed this: light is reflected back into the garden and draws the landscape beyond within.

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Pond is planted, June 2016

I’m hoping that the pond will add to the wildlife… All the machinery work and the dogs (all landscapers have dogs!!) have put them off… Please come back and let me give you a home.

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Water lilies, June 2016

 

When we first came the animals were bold. Owls hooted at us when we arrived back from the pub at 10 o’clock and talked too loudly as we opened the door. A badger interrupted a game of hockey with my 3-year-old son as it chased another boar off its patch. And every morning at 6 o’clock on the dot a barn owl would float across the cow meadow below us, skimming the top of the sunlit long grass in a stunning silence.

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Pond is filled, October 2015

Now, 6 months after the pond’s construction and with the planting in, the creatures are just starting to come back. Almost straight away there were tiny larvae and water fleas. Then, in May, there were tadpoles…. We hadn’t even noticed the frogspawn… then suddenly there were literally hundreds of black fishtailed dots bombing about the pond.

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Tadpoles, May 2016

Then in June we couldn’t mow the lawn for froglets.

IMG_2281Then the invertebrates started to show up: water boatmen; diving beetles; damselfly; dragonfly; and pondskaters. With the invertebrates came the birds: pied wagtails; yellow and grey wagtails; and the swallows, who have taken to using the pond as a ‘dipping’ pond. They circle and scream at each other, and then in a seemingly-impossible flying formation, take it in turns to “dip”.

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Dragonfly, very difficult to photograph!

 

The gardened meadow

IMG_2360This is the Walnut meadow and the Blossom bank.

IMG_2358A mass of cornfield annuals: oxeye daisy; poppy; corn cockle; corn marigold and corn chamomile.

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These are a one-hit wonder: they won’t be here next year and they’ll only last about a month.

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The cornfield annuals are what are traditionally thought of as “meadow flowers”… But they aren’t… They are plants of the cornfield, they need for the surface of the ground to be disturbed (ploughed/tilled) and clear of vegetation in order to grow. They can grow on fertile ground; unlike many other meadow mixes.

Meadows are different. Dame Miriam Rothschild believes that a meadow only really comes into “being” when its about 15 years old… and even then it is not really “established”. Strictly speaking, meadows are areas of land that are man-managed, but, have their own unique grassland ecosystems.

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Railway meadow, July 2015.

My “meadows” are not “farmed” or large fields of land, so, I have to manage them differently and in many ways they function differently… These are extended areas of the garden and I am learning as I go how to create and maintain small areas of wildflowers and long grass within a garden. And, because they are part of a garden, they need to be decorative and sit within that setting while still being a meadow rather than a flower border.

The railway meadow is about 100 metres by about 12 metres and is now in its third year…. It is cut at the end of July and all the hay is cleared and piled on the railway bank for the animals (mostly badgers) to use as nesting material. It is as near to a conventional meadow as I have.

The Walnut meadow is a “stylized” bit of long grass. This area is close to the house and I wanted to make sure that it looked like a deliberate feature rather than a bit of unmown lawn….So, it has nearly 600 bulbs planted within it so that it always has some colour.

Narcissus “Thalia” and Anemone Nemerosa in April

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April 2016

Camassia Lechtlinii in May

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Allium “Purple Sensation” in June

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I sowed this area and the bank behind in October last year. The topsoil and the turf were scraped off and the subsoil was then raked and sown with a meadow mix for chalk soil and cornfield annuals (as a nurse crop).

The greatest difficulties I have found with meadows are:

  1. Most people want a cornfield not a meadow and are disappointed when the showier annuals don’t come back the next year. This is why I am experimenting with bulbs and introducing vigorous perennials (like aquilegia) in my meadows…. To see if I can get to something that could become a garden-worthy “meadow”.
  2. Perennial weeds. There is a pernicious perennial weed bank at the farm… Bramble, Bindweed, Hogweed, Thistle, Rosebay Willow Herb and Hemlock come back and back and back… having stripped and disturbed the soil we have brought these weeds back to the surface and it has been back breaking work weeding them out of large tracts of land. – Meadows are perceived to be “low maintenance”, but, I can assure you that this year we have worked harder on the meadows than the borders. My hope is that once the perennial grasses and flowers are established the weeding will reduce to spot weeding.

The Walnut meadow and Blossom bank will be cut in July. It will be strimmed (as I can’t scythe – need an extra from Poldark!) and the hay will be raked into a pile and (after a few days) removed.

I have sown the same “chalk” mix on my south-facing limestone bank…. However, the mix has been slower to establish here and the weeding has been incessant…. Literally thousands of Rapeseed, Hemlock and Thistle seedlings.

IMG_0771I have another mini-meadow bank (6m x3m) outside the Potting Shed. Here I have Primroses and Celandines and Pheasants eye daffodils, followed by cow parsley annuals (Ammi Majus, Anthriscus Sylvestris, and Ammi Visnaga) …. After these have set seed this area will be mown until the following Spring. This is an area of reasonably fertile soil (as in many gardens) and I am trying to get the meadow “effect” with vigorous garden plants within the grass.

And then I have my entrance “matrix bed”: a Piet Oudolf inspired planting that is designed to look like a meadow/ naturalistic planting, but, uses cultivated garden plants and grasses to mimic the naturalistic wafting transparency of a meadow in June…..

Are these all meadows, or pale imitations of them? Gardening really is the subtle chemistry of nature and man’s management of it. How far you go is a question of taste rather than horticulture.

 

Hedgerow

IMG_2237We drove down to Cornwall on the Bank Holiday weekend… I really enjoy this drive as its mostly off the motorway and across country… and, as I am not driving, I get to look and take in the scenery.IMG_2236

I took some photos of the hedgerow on our lane as we left. The end of May is the ultimate time for hedgerows, especially in Cow Parsley covered Somerset. Cow Parsley seems to have come back into vogue, maybe it’s the native wild plants being used alongside other perennials in a naturalistic style by Chelsea designers. (This year Cleve West’s garden and Catherine MacDonald’s garden were almost evocations of hedgerows)….

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Cleve West’s garden at Cheslea 2016.

Or, maybe it’s just a zeitgeist thing?…Or maybe we all want to put the wild back into our gardens? I hope so; because that is definitely the way I want to go.IMG_2231

I love Cow Parsley, I love the froth and the dancing filigree nature and as soon as I see it I feel a primal joy about the coming of spring. It is instantly recognizable and it assimilates really well with most grasses and cottage garden favorites.

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Woodland border, May 2016.

I have sown it in my mini meadow outside the potting shed and in the woodland by the house….If it gets too vigorous I pull it out, if it’s in the wrong place I don’t let it seed, it’s a bit like managing chaos, but, because its tap rooted it’s a really easy ‘weed’ to manage… My biggest problem is distinguishing it from the extremely poisonous Hemlock (which is a problem weed – but still beautiful all the same).

During the drive the hedgerows change from a sea of Cow Parsley and Pink Campion backed by Hawthorn to oxeye daisies, foxgloves, ferns and sorrel, eventually turning into banks of Bluebell, Foxglove, Campion, Sorrel, Ferns, and Bracken. These “banks” are old, stonewalls filled with rubble and the local acidic clay soil: the ultimate “living wall”.

The reason I love gardening is because it feels to me to be a direct contact with the natural world. In my garden I want to make plant communities that look and function sympathetically with how they evolved in nature. So that they don’t just look naturalistic, but, they are better adapted to their site, richly layered, and resilient.

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Fowey, Cornwall, May 2016.

So, on a patch of land by the house densely shaded by a laurel hedge, a conifer and deciduous trees, I have begun to plant out and seed what I hope will become a “hedgerow-like” planting. On a steep bank that used to hold the canal steps I have sown Foxgloves, Wood anemones, Snowdrops, and some Ferns… adding to the Harts tongue and Pulmonaria that were already there.

The rest of the planting is a mix of ferns, architectural foliage, ground cover, and a lot of dynamic frothy umbelifers and white rosebay willow herb that will hopefully take off in late spring and summer.

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Woodland Border, a hedgerow in progress, May 2016.

 

If you are interested this is the list….Woodland border

I have deliberately mixed “wild flowers” with garden species that can hold their own. I have also let some of the Oxeye daisies and Campion and Wood avens seed about, hopefully, in a few years there will be no bare soil just a patch of”cultivated hedgerow” (if there is such a thing).