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.

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