Thursday, 31 October 2013

Autumn: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

To autumn by John Keats (1820)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

  Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
   Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies

Friday, 25 October 2013

How to create an annual flower meadow

Annual flower meadows are very attractive, easy to create and flower in summer and autumn if sown in spring. You can quickly cover large areas with colourful flowers and provide important foraging habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. If initial ground preparation was thorough annual meadows are largely maintenance-free once established. They are ideal for areas which would otherwise lie idle and as you only commit to annual meadows for a year the ground will be free again the next year for something else. If you want to enjoy your annual meadow year after year you have to resow every spring with fresh seed as annual meadows do not regrow well in the second year if left alone and weeds would take over.

Bombus terrestris/lucorum in a Californian poppy flower

Follow these simple steps below to create your own annual flower meadow in your garden or allotment next year:

A colorful seed mix with poppies and cornflowers
1. First you have to choose the seed mix you want to use. There are many different annual seed mixes available; low-growing mixes, tall-growing mixes, cornfield seed mixes, seed mixes with different colour schemes and a lot more and most seed companies offer at least one annual seed mix. All you have to do is choosing one you like. There are also some seed companies which have specialised in colourful meadow seed mixes such as Pictorial Meadows based in Sheffield.
You aim for a sowing rate of about 2.5-3g/m2 so make sure you buy enough seed for your chosen area.
2. Chose the meadow site: Annual meadows grow best in full sun on fertile well-drained soil which does not dry out in summer. Ordinary garden soil should normally be good enough to grow an annual meadow but if in doubt you can add fertiliser to the soil.

Careful ground preparation is essential before sowing
3. Ground preparation will start in early spring once the soil is starting to warm up. If you have not done so already dig (or rotovate) the ground and remove any weeds you see. Look for roots of perennial weeds such as Couch grass, Ground elder and Bindweed and remove every little piece as they can grow back from tiny root fragments. To prepare the seed bed level the ground and rake the soil to a fine tilth. 
4. Do not sow immediately but wait a few weeks (ideally you have a period of warm and moist weather) to let weed seeds germinate. Kill off all weed seedlings either by hoeing or by using a weedkiller such as Glyphosate if you do not mind using herbicides. By doing this weed growth in your meadow will be considerably reduced. 

Mix your seed with sand to help with sowing
5. Once your seed bed looks relatively weed-free you are ready to sow your annual seed mix. Mix the seeds with dry sand (about 1:10) so you can see were you have sown already. It will also help distribute the seeds more evenly over the area.
If you have a small area to sow you can just scatter the seed/sand mix evenly over the whole area. If you have a larger area to sow it helps to split the area into several sections and divide the seed/sand mix within each of these areas.
After you have scattered the seeds rake lightly. If no rain is forecast you can water your meadow a few times until the seeds germinate if the area is not too large.

Scatter the seed evenly over the area
Rake lightly after sowing
7. Sit back, relax and watch your annual meadow grow. Also enjoy all the bees, butterflies and hoverflies the meadow will bring into your garden.

Below you can see the flower meadow I have sown on my allotment this year. The meadow looked great until July but suffered a lot in the heat wave we had in summer and finished flowering early in August. In a wetter year the meadow would have carried on flowering until the first sharp frosts.

6 May 2013, meadow sown
15 June 2013
29 June 2013
5 July 2013
14 July 2013
21 July 2013