Spalding Guardian Gardening 30 August 2012
When we bought the Patch in 1990, there were few birds other than wood pigeons. There were also few insects, other than the cabbage white butterflies that floated over the 5-plus acres en route to the brassica fields at the back, and the wasps which made nests in the dyke banks, lying in wait for any unsuspecting person who might feel the urge to cut the grass hiding them. Not that Iím grumbling about wasps in general, as they keep aphids in check, so they do have a purpose in life.
The introduction of trees over the last twenty-odd years has brought a wide range of birds to the Patch, and including patches of wildflowers has provided them with a good selection of ready-made meals in the form of visiting and breeding insects and seedheads, while those beasties that benefit the gardener and farmer by gobbling up many pests means we now have a balance of wildlife requiring no chemical intervention. All right, there are seasons when the cabbages in my raised beds are decimated if I donít net them, and many years the Viburnum opulus in the wood are stripped by midsummer by viburnum sawfly caterpillars, but, in general, things look after themselves. Even the rabbits are now kept to a minimum with the arrival of Mr and Mrs Fox and family in the area.
Those who know the field will remember there is around half an acre of ornamental and special trees before the wood of native trees and bushes start. This is known rather grandly as the Arboretum; it was sown with a wildflower/grass mix before the trees were introduced, and we now have a good selection of insect-attractive flowers throughout the summer. We mow paths through this regularly, while the rest of the herbage is allowed to grow uncut until all the flowers have set seed.
This is now the time for mowing this long grass and spent wildflowers. I cut it with a rotary mower at its highest setting, leave the clippings on to dry, then rake them off and spread them elsewhere in the field. The seeds fall through the sparse vegetation onto the soil, so increasing the wildflowers year on year, while the spread clippings transfer any remaining seeds to other parts of the Patch. For the rest of the autumn, I mow the wildflower areas regularly and the grass thickens up to make a pleasant-looking sward that allows the daffodil shoots to come through easily in late winter.
For any readers who think they might like to try their hands at a similar scheme, this is the time of year to start, as grass and wildflower seed will germinate quickly and healthily in early autumn. You donít need half an acre, just a reasonably sunny corner which wonít bother you if it starts to look a bit shaggy as the summer progresses. Most seed companies sell suitable mixes at a very reasonable cost, and youíll be surprised how the garden ecology changes for the better in a very short time.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian