Wednesday, 6 August 2014
Formal gardens with a wildflower feast
Since I was born 60 years ago 99% of species rich grassland in Wales has disappeared; victim of modern farming and gardening practice. But great things are happening at a dozen National Trust properties to champion these grasslands, to restore hay meadows brimming with wild flowers and to inspire people to have a go with their own pockets of land. The result is beautiful and creates a paradise for bees, butterflies and other insects.
To raise awareness of this project I was asked to make some YouTube films at three of the properties; Powis Castle, Erddig and Bodnant. It was a privilege to meet the gardeners, to see and hear how they manage their grasslands.
Steep terraces rise up from the Great Lawn to the red Powis Castle on the skyline. Giant topiaries and manicured lawns at the top, then lush herbaceous borders and, on the lowest slopes, trees and shrubs in a sea of tall grass packed full of ox-eye daisies. The wild, natural flora complements the formality and landscaping. Dave Swanton explains:
I’d not been to Erddig before, really impressive but a different look and feel to Powis. Over 2,000 orchid spikes were in bloom on the canal banks near the great house – up until the 1980s these would have been mown down the moment they lifted their heads out of the ground. Glyn Smith explains:
At Bodnant we did not go to the usual places but started in Old Park Meadow which was only recently opened to the public. Here, as at the other properties, I was introduced to the wonders of yellow rattle, a magic ingredient which reduces the vigour of the grass, creating pockets for wild flowers to colonise. Bill Warrell explains:
Suitably inspired I have bought a 500g bag of yellow rattle seed to sow in different parts of my lawns and grass banks this autumn. It needs to be done at this time of year so that the seeds are exposed to winter chills, a prerequisite for germinating in the spring. Would putting them in the deep freeze achieve the same purpose? Thinking even further ahead I have booked myself onto the scything workshop which is being run at Bodnant on 19th August – no point growing a hay meadow if the beauty and tranquillity is then chewed up by a noisy strimmer!
Many thanks to the National Trust and to Natural Resources Wales for making this happen.