Is it a meadow or a patch of weeds?
There was a patch of the garden that was covered in rough grass and brambles with a of 40 cm high soil mounds created by red ants who had been left undisturbed for a long time. I can feel my heart a little heavy now at my destruction of this habitat and yet that is what I did. This is the sunniest part of the garden and somewhere I too wanted to enjoy along with the wildlife but it was impenetrable to me. I had a vision of a wildflower meadow with long grasses and beautiful wildflowers with paths cut into it and small areas we could sit and enjoy the sun throughout the day, and I hoped the wildlife would forgive me and return to enjoy it too.
I normally do all my own garden work by hand but this patch felt too overwhelming and so I hired in help. At the beginning of May 2019 the top surface was gently scraped away with a small digger, well as gentle as you can be with a machine! I asked for the soil to be piled along the woodland edge, as I didn’t want any living thing taken away from the garden. The bramble roots were dug out along with other large roots from long lost plants to create a smooth surface. A water pipe was also dug up which spouted its presence and was only stemmed after a few frantic hours with the skill of a friendly plumber who was working nearby.
The final raking was done by hand and rolled to create a smooth firm surface for seed sowing.
I chose a standard general purpose meadow mix from Emorsgate Seeds which contains:
The birds were watching intently on the 16thMay 2019 as the seed was scattered and enjoyed picking over the seed on the freshly prepared soil but I was quietly confident they would leave enough to grow as well.
The weather was then very kind with many weeks of sunshine and rain, just perfect for seed germination! And the seeds did germinate, the ones that I sowed and the ones we woke up in the soil!
This picture was taken just one month after sowing, 14th July 2019.
And then things really took off and it began to look like a huge patch of weeds and my heart began to feel a little sad. Had I really disrupted a wonderful nature habitat only to create what looked like a complete mess of weeds without the diversity there was before I started and without the flowers my heart and soul desperately wished for?
The patch was full of Bindweed, yellow thistles, Fat hen, Docks, Nipplewort, brambles and Pale Persicaria with no sign of the wild flowers I had sown. I was reading on the internet about letting your garden go wild and heal itself and so I was utterly torn inside whether to “weed” out the plants I didn’t want to allow the ones I did to come through. Was I tampering with nature just like I had done for all these years? Had I really changed or was I just fooling myself? How did I balance my needs with the needs of the Earth and all its creatures? After much soul searching and arguing in my own head I decided to dive in and take out the plants that were leaving no space for the wild flowers I had sown. In a truly wild environment deer and wild boar would be foraging and trampling the land and keeping the plants in balance just as I wanted to do. I was going to play the role of the wild animals that aren’t on my land anymore. Was I tampering? Yes I was. I need to balance my mental and spiritual health too. I need to have a space in the garden alongside the rest of nature and I want to encourage diversity too. I headed in and took out bucket loads of Fat Hen and pulled and pulled bindweed and along the way I have been learning the names and strengths of each plant. I will never be able to remove them all and that is ok but I have created some space and light for the newer seedlings to thrive.
Some of the wildflowers I sowed have started to thrive and bloom now including Musk Mallow, Poppies and Cornflowers and I can see many more coming up and it makes my heart sing. The bees, hoverflies, wasps and butterflies are back in force along with the ants, slugs and frogs. I still hope to take out a few more Docks and keep on top of the Bindweed and Fat Hen but I am relishing being in amongst it all rather than a passive and excluded observer.
I have no idea how the meadow will look in a week from now, or a month or six months or five years but I know I will be part of it along with all the other creatures that call it home.
It feels like I am transitioning from being a gardener to being a guardian and a guardian is not someone who stands back and lets chaos and thuggery win. A guardian nurtures the land with diversity and beauty for all.