As some will remember, we had the exciting opportunity in Sept 2011, to help sow a native wildflower meadow seed mix on one acre of Keith Parker’s land in Flixton at one of our Bungay Community Bees apiary sites.
In some ways the site was challenging because it was a sloping site over which had been spread a large amount of clay subsoil that had been dug out of the very large wildlife pond that Keith had created next to the meadow site. It is generally recommended that wildflower seed mixes be sown into poor soil – and many people actually scrape the topsoil off a site to leave a poor substrateas wildflowers flourish best in nutrient deprived soils. We hoped that in some ways the clay subsoil would mimic this method, being a lot more nutrient deprived than the fertile clay soil that was there..
However, after drilling and then hand broadcasting a broad mix of native wildflower seed and non invasive native grasses over the whole site in September 2011, we had a very surprising and very long drought here in East Anglia, which lasted right through the winter and the following spring and early summer – as a result the clay subsoil stayed pretty much as rock hard solid lumps (not ideal germinating medium!) – until the desperately needed rains finally arrived in summer 2012, along with some warmth.
As a result, we saw almost no growth at all on the meadow site until late summer – the only thing that seemed to grow were the creeping thistles, which had already been present over a large part of the meadow. Keith kept the thistles down with repeated mowings – especially in July (“Cut a thistle in July and it will surely die!” – old Suffolk saying). We felt somewhat down after our initial excitement about al the wildflowers we had hoped to see emerge in 2012.
Wildflower seeds are notorious for being sometimes very slow to germinate. Some seeds can lie dormant for many years until the right conditions spur them into growth. So it was with some relief, when Keith and I walked the meadow carefully one windy afternoon in September 2012, that we began to realise that much more variety of plants had begun to germinate and grow over the summer months, than we had dared hope after all the disastrous weather conditions. Not all of these wildflowers came from the seeds we sowed – some must have already been in the soil’s existing seed bank or were blown in or brought by birds, but it gave us renewed hope for the potential ongoing development of this meadow.
So this is what we saw:
A lot of Birds Foot Trefoil – in great carpets – this was in our seed mix!
Carpet of Birds Foot Trefoil
Birds Foot Trefoil and Clover leaves
In some places the trefoil intermingled with other plants such as white lover and wild carrot…
Birds Foot Trefoil and Wild Carrot
White Clover and Red Clover could be found all over the site…
What was very heartening and surprising was that there were also great swathes of Yellow Rattle across one side of the site. Yellow Rattle is included in most native wildflower seed mixes because it is parasitic on grasses, weakening them and thereby creating more opportunity for wildflowers to flourish. But it does not always do well on heavier soils… so I was very pleased to find how happy it seemed to be on this clayey site…
There were quite a lot of plants emerging, where we could see the basal rosettes of leaves – a promise of flowers to come in 2013 – Common Knapweed and Oxeye Daisy basal rosettes could be seen all over the field…
Common Knapweed basal leaf rosette
Oxeye Daisy basal leaf rosette
Across the whole site too were creeping patches of Black Medick, one of our native, nitrogen fixing plants (like Birds Foot Trefoil, Vetches and Clovers)… We had sowed quite a lot of Black Medick, so it was very satisfying to see it taking a hold…
Black Medick Flowers
Black Medick Seeds
Also across the whole site, we found a common plant for clay meadow soils at this time of year – the little yellow Autumn Hawkbit – which looks like a dainty little long-stalked hawkweed or Dandelion…
Another plant that was happily colonising the whole site was Self Heal – (one of my all time favourite wildflowers!)…
Other plants sporadically dotted over the whole meadow were: Yarrow, Corn Mint, Scarlet Pimpernel, Speedwell, Spear Thistle, Broad Leaved Willowherb and what looked like Cut-leaved Cranesbill…..
Broad Leaved Willowherb seed pods
Cranesbill (Cut leaved?)
It will be interesting to see what comes up in the meadow this year, whether there will be other wildflower seeds that we have sown that haven’t germinated yet – and how diverse a sward develops.
We also planted up the wildlife pond in late summer with native aquatic and marginal plants, with Elinor being the most daring with her brave, slippery mud wading plantings! It was hard to judge where to plant the marginal plants such as the burr rushes, Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Marigolds, Yellow Flag, Water Forget me Nots etc… the water level in the pond was still rising, so we tried to make an educated guess…. It now looks like we were way out in our calculations because the pond water level has risen four feet over the winter – so most of our marginal plants look like they have drowned! It remains to be seen this spring, what has survived.
Some pond planting pics…
It takes a lot of patience, trial and error and persistence over time when working with nature and habitats – every year is a slow learning process. Somehow I have come to really like this slow organic process of learning and development – and the unexpected surprises and rewards when one sees a gradual increasing diversity and web of wildlife develop in a habitat.
Keith Parker told me that 3 years ago the Suffolk Wildlife Trust put up a barn owl box in the trees beside the meadow. In the two years it was nested in by stock doves – and then last year a pair of barn owls moved in and reared their young who seemed to then move to a neighbouring farm once they had left the nest. In the mean time, Keith had another barn owl nest box put up in a mature hedgerow tree on the other side of the meadow – and the adults from the first box moved to this new box after rearing their young. It remains to be seen whether the original and now empty barn owl box will attract a new pair of barn owls in 2013. It’s all very exciting!
by Rose Titchiner; Bungay Community Bees