A wildflower meadow for Skerries

Charlie Heasman:19th Jan 2021

[This post should have gone up last October; due to an oversight it did not. Here it is now]

South Strand – what nature can achieve if given the chance

Sustainable Skerries have partnered with the Educate Together School to create Skerries’ first wildflower meadow.  This is part of our Biodiversity Action Plan and it is hoped that it will prove to be the first of many such areas..

The site is particularly well located in that it runs the length of the school grounds just inside the fence where everyone can see it.  If we achieve the colour and diversity that we hope for next summer it may inspire other clubs, organizations and resident’s associations to do the same.

So what’s involved?

The first thing to consider is that (rather paradoxically for anyone with a gardening or growing background) the soil is probably too fertile.  Rich soil encourages strong grass growth which outcompetes and swamps the intended wildflowers.  Again, we appear to be lucky with this site in that the builders of the school look to have done an excellent job back in the day of spreading low grade subsoil when they levelled the site

Nonetheless, we decided to remove as much organic matter as we could.

First step was to stake out the area and get the school groundsman to mow it as tight as possible.  Unfortunately this proved ineffective; he cut it as tight as he could, but nowhere near tight enough.  Having considered our options we decided to strim it.

This was the most tedious and protracted part of the operation.  It took four days in total but at the end of it we had the whole lot down to bare earth.  The result was threefold: not only could we remove the cuttings, but having done so we would have good ground contact for our seeds.  Meanwhile the grass had been knocked back hard in order to give the seeds a chance to germinate and grow.

Next was the fun part.

The call went out and last Saturday a team of volunteers turned up armed with garden rakes.  Every last inch was combed and the spoil barrowed away for composting elsewhere.  With a plot 100 meters long and ten wide crowding was not an issue and everyone could spread out into an empty space.  More than one person was heard to remark that it was pleasant to get out and about and actually meet people again.

Emily Mullen-Jensen hard at work with her Dad.

At the time of writing it looks like we’ll soon be back in lockdown, so once again we were lucky in that we did it when we did.

The next day we scattered our seeds and now all we have to do is sit back and wait.

But where did the seeds come from and what were they?

To answer that we go back to last summer.

With a project such as this it is highly recommended that seed should be sourced as locally as possible, thus protecting its genetic purity. Local species have evolved over time to match local conditions, and are thus best suited to thrive in them. Most of our seeds came from either Ardgillan or the Ballast Pit.  Marion could be seen out and about collecting, then taking them home to dry and store.

Naturally we concentrated on the most important pollinator friendly flowers and these included Red Clover, various Vetches, Campion, Mallow, Knapweed and Poppies.  Because we want not only a lot of flowers, but also a long flowering season, we also included Devil’s Bit Scabious, a late flowering species that will go on way into September and is a lot prettier than its name might suggest.  This is another native but we had to go a little further afield to collect it; County Wicklow in fact.

Finally, and possibly most important of all, Yellow Rattle.

This unassuming little plant only grows to a height of 15” and is easily overlooked, but it has one important trait: it parasitizes grasses.  By tapping into their roots and sucking out nutrients and moisture it keeps them in check; one of its colloquial names is Meadowmaker.  It will never completely eradicate grass because then it would have deprived itself of its own food source, a balance is reached.

So that’s it, all done, now we have to see how it turns out.  I’m off to hibernate for the winter, wake me up in May.

One Comment on “A wildflower meadow for Skerries

  1. Congratulations 👍 Looking forward to seeing the wildflowers through the spring and summer🌈

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