A Wildflower Meadow For Boxted

I’ve always loved the idea of a wild meadow or lawn, filled with my favourite flowers from Nature and showcasing beautiful, naturalised bulbs in Springtime.

I created my own modest version in my front garden 2 years ago by planting a host of Narcissus bulbs suited to naturalising in the lawn – and have really enjoyed the difference that it makes to the enjoyment of my garden.

When the opportunity arose to join the Boxted Village Biodiversity Group, I decided to become a member in order to get involved with the planning and care of the new Village Green – which was created when the new housing development was built close to my home.

A village green is something that’s always been missing from Boxted – and the idea of creating a beautiful area for residents and visitors to enjoy – as well as encouraging wildlife back to the village – was too hard to resist !

Together with fellow Biodiversity members/gardening buddies Karen & Lisa, I started thinking of a plan that could be implemented quickly in order to provide flowers for Spring 2022 – and change a rather forlorn area of patchy grass with encroaching brambles into something special for all to enjoy.

Proposed Wildflower Meadow Zones

We firstly surveyed the village green area, referring to the above plan that Jon (our Biodiversity Group Coordinator) had drawn up from the original housing development plan – and then set about considering which varieties of Bulbs and Wildflowers would work well in the different areas.

As part of our research, we also spent a rather damp but enjoyable morning visiting the Wildflower Meadow area at East Bergholt Place – the beautiful garden which is home to the Place for Plants Garden Centre. Lisa and I have visited many times because of our interest in gardening – and I have hundreds of photographs of the special plants that grow there.

The most wonderful array of springtime flowers adorn the meadow area during March & April – with naturalised Snowdrops, Narcissi, Wood Anemone and Crocus – closely followed by one of my all-time favourites, the Snakeshead Fritillary – Fritillaria meleagris. The meadow features both purple and white forms.

Fritillary, Anemone and Primroses – all perfect candidates for Boxted Village Green.

This romantic, chequered bloom grows wild in damp meadows, although there are only a few strongholds left in the UK. One such location is the Fox fritillary meadow in Framsden, Suffolk – where I first saw this amazing flower. It grows beautifully in the damp conditions at East Bergholt Place, as well as succeeding incredibly well in my own garden border – the latter being neither damp, nor meadow-like. As it has been noted that parts of the village green area have been quite damp (plus the success I have had with it spreading and thriving in my own garden just a few hundred yards away), we think that the Snakeshead Fritillary would be a worthy plant for the wildflower areas on the new green.

Here are some more views of Spring bulbs naturalised in the Wildflower Meadow, which have further inspired us for the planting at Boxted -:

The Boxted verge areas, the periphery of the green and the sections where there are new and existing trees/hedgerows would seem to be a perfect place for the naturalised Narcissi, along with woodland species, such as Cyclamen, Anemone, Snowdrops, Snowflakes, Bluebells and Muscari. A fine example of how this would work perfectly can be seen only a short distance away in Mr Reese’s garden at Hill House Farm.

Although the Wildflower area at East Bergholt Place is at its best in Spring and Summer – we thought that a visit in late October would show us how our own ‘Boxted’ version would shape up in the quieter, less glamorous months … We were pleased to see, despite the rain, that the area looked very natural and neat – much tidier than our fledgling Village Green back home in Boxted.

Autumn View of Wildflower meadow, showing mown pathway.

Sarah Eley, the garden owner, advised me that the wildflower area is only mowed once a year and suggested that we left ours as late as we possibly could, weighing up the benefits of that for self-seeding versus the need to have an aesthetically pleasing area of grass. It is important to remove any grass cuttings to keep the area free from anything which would serve to nourish the grass. The latter tallies with expert opinions at out meeting. The Biodiversity Group have already agreed on having regularly mown paths around the wildflower areas – both to enable people to walk and enjoy the Village Green, as well as delineate the borders of the wildflower zones. This is also the situation at East Bergholt Place, which has a mown path through and around the planting zones (see above).

Sarah also stressed the need for Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor – to be sown through our proposed wildflower areas. This serves to control the dominance of the lawn/meadow grasses by living a semi-parasitic life, feeding on the nutrients in the grass roots. It enables the more delicate wildflower species to establish themselves within the planting scheme. It also adds to the summer flowering by producing yellow, tubular flowers from May to September. Following a quick search, I’ve found that getting Rattle seeds sown by the end of November will get our project off to the best start – as the seeds benefit from about 4 months of temperatures below 5 degrees C in order to germinate successfully in Spring.

Yellow Rattle

The above photograph is courtesy of the Independent’s gardening correspondent Anna Pavord, whose success with Yellow Rattle meant that Orchids were able to flourish in her wildflower meadow.

We had all discussed the pros and cons of a Wildflower Lawns versus Wildflower beds at our first Biodiversity meeting. Following our visit to East Bergholt, we believe that flowers naturalised within grass would create a more pleasing effect – as well as fitting with our theme of bringing the countryside into the heart of the village.

I captured the following image at Helmingham Hall Walled Garden during the winter months. This shows an area of wildflower planting in a very striking design. It is only one small part of the garden’s make-up and the fact that it is bare for a large part of the year is not detrimental to the overall garden design. I feel that this would not work for Boxted’s village green, as I believe that bare earth would look very boring for most of the year and would require lots of weeding maintenance to keep it from appearing untidy. Grassed wildflower areas would therefore seem much more appropriate.

To conclude; my fellow members Karen and Lisa are busy drawing up the lists of potential plants required for initial planting, in order for the group to create a pleasing display for next spring. Enquiries are also underway to find out more about funding for these plants – and to hurry along the weed killing required to remove the brambles and other persistent weeds from the green area.

We hope to be doing some serious bulb planting very soon !!

Helmingham Hall Plant Heritage Autumn Fair

 

I was delighted to be asked by Maggie Thorpe, President & Chairman of Suffolk Plant Heritage, to take photographs at the society’s Autumn Plant Fair on Sunday 15th September.

A wonderful array of plants and garden accessories was on show, together with glorious September sunshine – all against the wonderful backdrop of Helmingham Hall; with its gabled, red brick facades and grand drawbridge across its wide moat.

One of the main aims of Suffolk Plant Heritage is to rediscover and reintroduce cultivated plants that are under threat of extinction – and there were many examples of such at the fair. Members ran a special stall from which I purchased some ‘Lucifer’ narcissi bulbs to pot up for Spring.

Keeping to tradition, there were 800 paper bags containing bulbs of Tulipa linifolia (Batalinii Group) ‘Bright Gem’ distributed to eager visitors as they arrived at the Suffolk Heritage Marquee. They will be my only example of early tulips – and my only ‘Botanical’ ones. Botanical Tulips are the ancestors of the Hybrid Tulip, the former having bred naturally and so focus on survival. This means they are able to bloom year after year and their study low-growing habit makes them more resistance to bad weather conditions. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how ‘Bright Gem’ compares to my fancy, hybridised varieties !

Visitors collecting their free bulbs

The marquee also had examples and information about some of the rare plants as well as listing the important National Plant Collections. I was thrilled to find that Mickfield Hostas ( who have the largest National Collection of Hostas in the UK) had brought along some potted examples of a beautiful and uncommon small Hosta – ‘Remember Me’. It’s a sport of my favourite Hosta ‘June’ – so was bound to attract my attention.  Needless to say, I was the 1st person to reserve my own plant to take home !

 

The National Plant Collection of Sir Michael Foster’s Irises was represented by Lucy Skellorn, Sir Michael’s Great-Grandaughter. Sir Michael was responsible for the first hybridisation of the Bearded Iris, back in the 1880’s. I would love to have purchased an example of Lucy’s 2 favourites – ‘Mrs Horace Darwin’ and ‘Mrs George Darwin’ – both delicate white flowers with purple veining. Perhaps I will have to visit her early next year when I replan my pond border.

Lucy Skellorn

As I had arrived early, I was able to wander around the stalls as the owners were preparing their wares for the public. There were many selling interesting garden ephemera, as well as a host of autumn plants. I was especially interested in the large number of galvanised buckets, tubs and troughs with the potential to display my planned tulip display next Spring.

There were several artisans working as they displayed to the public …

As well as ‘everything garden’, there were stalls selling vintage collectibles, clothing, bags and hats. This young lady and her friends caused quite a stir by sporting bright-coloured summer hats, which led to a succession of impressed ladies visiting the hat stall. They were soon to be seen throughout the fair. Unfortunately, my coveted pink version was not to be, because the stall only accepted cash.

This young lady started a craze for the colouful hats on sale …

Dogs are always welcomed at Helmingham – and here are a few of my favourites.

Helmingham Hall, owned by the Tollemache family since 1480, has Grade 1 listed gardens  – as well as its extensive grounds and deer park. Lady Xa Tollemache is responsible for designing the present gardens and conducted a special tour of them for a small number of visitors. It was extremely interesting to discover the reasons behind her design choices, both creative and practical; especially as the walled garden is one of my favourites.

Other entertainment was provided by musical performers, dancers and birds of prey. Suffolk Plant Heritage also held a number of informative talks throughout the day – such as Matthew Tanton-Brown’s on choosing the best shrubs for autumn colour.

There were many happy customers at the Fair, including myself – and the Plant Creche had an amazing number of purchases in its care.  My favourite purchase, a vintage potato fork, can be seen below.

Riverside Bulbs, with Imogen Long’s captivating smile and bubbly enthusiasm, succeeded in encouraging me to buy 5 more varieties of Tulip to add to my online orders – which sent me off in pursuit of yet another galvanised tub !

I had a fabulous day, surrounded by happy visitors and friendly stallholders, in one of the most picturesque places in East Anglia.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity given to me by Maggie Thorpe and extremely pleased with my purchases, as seen below – back at Marlborough House.