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Notes from the Nursery Gardens - May

Read Darren's latest Journal entry about the beauty of Cornish hedging and wildflower meadows.

This spring has been particularly slow to get moving in the garden with the cool nights but in the last week or so the wildflowers in the hedgerows have really got going. Such beautiful combinations of flowers that naturally occur make any walk or drive around the lanes of Cornwall a treat at this time of the year. Bluebells, Campion, Stitchwort and Buttercup grow so beautifully together lining the banks of the Cornish hedges with a whole host of others waiting to grow through, such a diverse habitat and a real asset to the county.

A fact I have often heard repeated but no less impressive for being so, is that there are approximately 30,000 miles of Cornish hedge. Enough to wrap round the equator 1 ¼ times. A craft practised by hedgers utilising local stone and with distinctive regional styles, marking boundaries and stock proofing fields for centuries. The habitats created by the hedges allow for such a diversity of plants and are vital culturally and environmentally to the identity of the Cornish countryside. The Heritage Crafts Association has listed Cornish hedging as one of 17 ancient crafts on the charity’s ‘red list’ endangered skills that could be lost if action is not taken. Thankfully they are now embarking on a training and educational programme to ensure this is not the case.

A couple of years back a wildflower meadow was sown on the right of the drive into the nursery. With so much of this habitat lost in recent decades (97% since the 1930’s) any small area dedicated to wildflowers will benefit our struggling pollinator populations. It has looked a bit scrappy for a while but now seems to be filling out as the perennial plants gets established. It has been grazed heavily by the local rabbit population for a couple of years, but this has probably helped the perennial wildflowers build a good root system at the expense of energy put into flower production. It also sits very wet in winter and is baked solid in the summer. One plant that is more than happy in this environment is Silene flos-cuculi, ragged robin, and is now flowering away. The sweet vernal grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum is also up and flowering, usually chomped by the rabbits by now, but this year will hopefully set seed, as will the ragged robin allowing their numbers to increase.

The plan is to manage the meadow the traditional way, with a scythe. I was introduced to the scythe many years ago by a friend who was involved with the resurgence of the scythe as means to effectively mow wildflower and long grass meadows. Once trained in their use and the art of maintaining a sharp blade, scything has proved to be an effective and enjoyable way to maintain small meadow areas and as long as the rabbits stay away, there should be enough of a meadow to mow this year.