Wildflowers and Grasses

June 22, 2016 - Andrew Cannell

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The Garden Team have received a number of negative comments about the long grass at the Museum recently, so I wanted to provide my views on the more relaxed state of the banks and verges this year, which for me, are incredibly exciting.

We have some wonderful areas where nature has provided us with a free, flowering spectacle.  In the spring, I adore the primroses and bugle and now, alongside the main pathway from the car park we have a patch of hawksweed (Hieraceum) which is buzzing with bees and butterflies and carpets the area with bright spots of yellow.  The vertical accent and movement of the long grasses and their tawny and soft purple colours really balance the bright yellow perfectly.

On the banks in Mount Vernon there is a small geranium with pale lilac flowers that are electrified with magenta veins and is complemented beautifully with more hawksweed and grasses.

Perhaps my favourite grass that I’ve spotted so far is on top of the bank above the Tepee. It is the delicate, dangling quaking grass (Briza media) which has subtle, oval-shaped flowers tinged with purple held to perfection on fine stems away from the main stalk.  I sat and watched it one evening dancing gently in the breeze with its more sturdy cousins and was spell-bound.

I am really pleased to see the common spotted orchid reappear, in greater numbers than last year, on the bank opposite Reception. By delaying the strimming last year, we have encouraged the orchids to spread and hopefully next year they will be even more profuse.

In the future I have plans to try to increase the diversity and number of the wildflowers by sowing yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), which is a hemi-parasitic plant that steals nutrients away from grasses and allows more space to develop for wildflowers. I have noticed huge swathes of it on Bath Golf Course and the meadows between Widcombe and Bathwick Hills; the effect is eye-opening.

I can understand that allowing the land to relax can feel like we’re ceding control which can be rather scary but the benefits are multiple – we have a new aesthetic to admire, we are doing our bit for the humble bumble bee and wider ecology, we are saving labour and fuel and importantly we are encouraging a relatively rare commodity – calcareous meadowland – to flourish.

Of course, I don’t fully intend to cede control to nature. Gardening is, if nothing else, all about control and our ability to shape the landscape around us.  We will be endeavouring to keep pathways well-defined and the driveway clear of overhanging grasses and if anyone does have concerns I welcome them to chat to me about them.

Figure 1

Figure 1 A distillation of a wildflower meadow using plants from the Museum’s grounds

Figure 2

Figure 2 Close up of the vase with ox-eye daisies, Briza and smooth hawksbeard

Figure 3

Figure 3 Painted lady butterfly enjoying a hawkweed flower next to the visitors’ pathway

Figure 4

Figure 4 Goatsbeard, yellow rattle, plantain and docks on Bath Golf Course – yellow rattle brings out wonderful sward diversity

Figure 5

Figure 5 Common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) multiplying on the bank