Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Getting into a routine

This spring, we have passed the hardcore stage of getting control back over nature, fighting with brambles, nettles and the like. After 4 years of - relatively - regular maintenance the meadows are starting to perform beautifully and the woods and hedges are also under control. We are now entering the stage of a more gentle maintenance regime, which also means that we can start to be more precise with the species we do encourage.

This is further helped by our new giant hardcore lawnmower. One that is twice the size - and power - of our current one. to only does it go through bramble and young sapplings but it can also cut grasses over a metre high. It is so powerful that it can pull itself up our steep banks easily. We can now do the whole property in half a day instead of 2 or 3. We will need to be careful not to go overboard.

There is - and will - obviously still be things to do, but they are the enjoyable bits, the ones where you create as you go along, those that you can do in a slow and gentle way, some form of pottering in nature. And it leaves us time to do the new improvements we are excited about, such as de-silting the ponds, create a few mini cascades in the streams that feed them to create the noise of water. And, this autumn, planting a few flowering shrubs, trees and climbers to add gentle touches of colour and perfume in the landscape.

The orchard has had its spring treatment: weeding, bone and blood, rotted manure and a thick layer of mulch. The paths giving access to them have also been cut, as well as a small area where nettle was trying a come back. Overall though this meadow has reached a stage where the grass is weak enough to allow flowering plants to succeed. It shows the success of the meadow cutting regime in time as this is the area that has had regular care in the last 4 years. A few of the tulips we planted are in bloom and the wild gladioli are getting ready for their magenta show. The hedge that had been loosely laid is reacting well. We will lay the west one next winter to increase its quality as a windbreak.

The clearing that I weeded last summer twice is stunning ; it is a carpet of wildflowers: primroses, violets, euphorbias. A number of the magnificent marsh thistle have seeded and I cannot wait for their sculptural foliage to rise to 2 metres and bloom with their delicate flowers that attract an abundance of butterflies, especially the large peacocks, red admirals and a large brown butterfly. 

The only sad point is that no bluebells are to be found. I wonder if it is due to the denser mat of plants on the ground that outcompete them. We also transplanted a few young oaks last year to add to the young hornbeam which together should create a shadier area that will limit the arrival of more competitive perennials such as grasses in the hope that the bluebells can get a foot in the door. It will be a slow process though.

Last October, we had two tree sergeants and two lumber jack for a week to fell about 40 dying poplars and various subtler shaping of the landscape. This has made the whole landscape much gentler and happier - it used to be dominated by the melancholy of the old poplars who were generally the tallest trees and covered with mistletoe.

The other striking change is the creation of a gap in the hedge between the meadow and the new wood which gives a fantastic sense of depth to the landscape. It has also revealed a stunning hawthorn which I can't wait to see in bloom as well as a few alders.

The tulips that were planted two autumns ago are back. They seem to like this area of dry meadow. The gladioli bysantheum are also doing well.

Success at last in the battle against nettle in the meadow. The areas that we have been regularly cutting are now being colonised by dandelions and docks. The effect of the former in bloom en masse is a stunning bright yellow. Grass is also starting to arrive, slowly.

In damp areas in the new wood, swathes of ladies smock have spread. The effect is ethereal. The petals of the cardamine pratensis seem incredible thin and are a rare tone of white with a slight hint of mauve that reinforces the fresh quality. The orange tip butterflies that breeds on them have arrived en masse as well. They are white butterflies, with a bright orange tip for the male. When they close their wings, their green underside camouflages them in the plant.

A bit of Provence in front of the house

During the last 6 months I have focused my work on the creation of paved areas and planting lavenders, thyme and rosemary in front of the house. 

The aim of this design is to keep an empty horizontal mineral expense in front of the house, the original farmyard. The existing ground is a mixture of gravel and other aggregates accumulated over the history. A sprinkling of low vegetation softened this zone when we bought the property. It formed a very thin lawn of fine grasses and daisies. During the building work, this vegetation disappeared. We wish to encouraged this to establish again simply by mowing the zone and letting the seeds in the soil germinate.

Essentially a series of large planters edged by low drystone walls form a trough lined with pebbles at the feet of the house. When it rains, the water falls into it from the gutter less roof in parallel lines and it is drained away.  This moment is magic, the lines of water form a curtain that can be seen through the windows of the house.

The added Mediterranean vegetation has been chosen for its low height, the scents and subtle flowers and its capacity to thrive in the dry soil of the raised beds baked in front of this South facing wall.

The paving and dry stone walling has been made from the spoil of the demolished leantos of the house. A clean approach to the entrance of the house has been created using the few cut granite stone that were left. Flat, pale green stone have been used for the rest of the paving. The planters walls are made of the rougher browner stones. The pebbles of the trough are also found on site and have a rounded quartz transluscent quality in various tones of white and greys of different shades.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Shaping the trees

Last October we had a group of see surgeons and lumberjacks come to maintain the trees on the land and get rid of 30 dying poplars. Poplars are amazingly powerful trees in terms of speed of growth and scale but they don't last and these trees, all planted 50 or so years ago, have reached their end. As they have the tendency to fall at each tempest and we don't like the impact they have on the landscape, we have decided to have them all brought down. at the same time, we have created views by cutting gaps in hedges and removing trees that are blocking our gaze. The result is a landscape that is softer, with a great sense of depth through or land and also borrowing views of neighbouring fields. It is also brighter, with more visible sky to the East.

The meadow with the newly made gap in the hedge to the new wood giving a subtle sense of depth whilst still keeping the separation between the two parts of the garden. The poplars are still standing.

Same view closer

Same view at sunset

We have found a sycamore. This is the only one we have. The only other maple family is our native field maple.

The tree surgeons have also discovered a Japanese Walnut tree in the old wood.

The effect of the hedge with the new wood behind after most of the poplars have been taken down, there are still a few on the left and in the old wood in the background.

The following morning, deers came to say high in the misty dawn.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Late flowering late perennials and bays

Various native perennials in bloom last september. They are all rather tall, a minimum of 1.5m. 

Already many bays colour the landscape, the wild roses, the hawthorn, the deadly nightshade.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Orchard meadow

This is the first year when the orchard meadow is getting close to our aim. Softer grasses leave space for flowering perennials and annuals.

The trees planted last autumn are doing well - no doubt thanks to a wet and not too hot summer as well as much mulching. We will even have one plum, one pear and many peaches.

 The meadow near the barn.

 The new wood has been thinned in some areas but we are keeping some areas as screens.

My new favourite plant.

A lot of weeding in the spring flower clearing

Thursday, 30 June 2011

My favourite native plant

Is the marsh thistle, it is stature and sculptural quality of the foliage is glorious and the flowers attract huge numbers of butterflies.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Ashburnham Meadows

We had a fabulous walk at Ashburnham Meadows on Staurday. It is a truly magical place in this seasons, fields of daisies and mouse-ear. Keith Datchier, who manages the estate, was amazing at explaining the history of these ancient meadows and how they manage it and extend.

There is a wealth of informative videos here.

Don't miss the "Diversifying an existing meadow" by the head gardener of Great Dixter.
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