Educate Together meadow – One Year On

Charlie Heasman, 12th Sept 2021

It’s exactly a year since we started the wildflower meadow in the Educate Together School so it was recently due its first haircut.

The basic idea was to leave the area unmown all through the Spring and Summer and see what came up, once it had flowered and set seeds it was time to cut it to the ground and carry away the grass. We left it as late in the year as possible to allow the seeds to develop and fall.

It’s generally held that it takes about ten years for a meadow such as this to fully develop so we cheated a little by collecting seeds locally and scattering them last Autumn. It turned out we almost not needed to have bothered at all, much of our seed didn’t take and instead nature provided Ox eye Daisies, Knapweed, Campion and many others. One totally unexpected surprise was the appearance of Cowslips, an iconic Irish wildflower now very much in decline. Stop mowing and you’ll be surprised what happens!

In fact mowing and cutting of one sort or another is a major cause of the decline of our native flora. There was a time when hay was cut once a year and the flowers were able to reseed themselves, but with the advent of silage making whereby a field might be cut twice or even three times a year they simply don’t get the chance. Having been largely evicted from farmland they might find refuge on our roadsides and open spaces but, guess what, we insist on mowing them too! Remove the flowers and you remove the pollinators. Remove the seeds and you remove the birds and other wildlife that feed on them. The world becomes a poorer place.

We had one further surprise during the cutting phase, this little fella turned up:

Fortunately unhurt, and totally unfazed about being handled, he was relocated elsewhere in the school grounds where he would be out of harms way. But not before a delighted group of after-school kids had had a chance to admire him.

So the grass was cut and a call sent out for volunteers to help rake and take it away on the Saturday. What was especially pleasing was that a lot of parents turned up with their children and the kids had a great time.

We’d assembled a fleet of wheelbarrows to wheel it away but they couldn’t keep up. Cathal had a bright idea and nipped home for a large tarpaulin which he figured could be filled and dragged by an adult at each corner. It nearly worked. The trouble was that no sooner was it filled with grass than it was even fuller of laughing children hitching a ride.

Nice try Cathal!

The reason, incidentally, for removing the cut grass is twofold: obviously it tidies the place up, but it also serves another purpose in that it helps reduce soil fertility. That probably sounds counter-intuitive to most gardeners but the fact is that wildflowers do much better in poorer soil. It might not be so much that they prefer it as such, but in fertile soil they get smothered by the much more vigorous grasses. In this regard we have secured the help of an ally.

Of the various wildflower seeds we scattered last year only one species really took hold, happily it was the one we most wanted to.

This is Yellow Rattle, an insignificant little plant with a yellow flower and seed pods that rattle when ripe

The thing about this plant (native, by the way) is that it semi-parasitises grass roots, sucking out moisture and nutrients, thus helping to keep grass in check. Another name for it is Meadowmaker.

This looks to be firmly established and has reseeded, so we can look forward to a little more help next year.

The growing year is pretty much over, but come next March or April things will be moving again. Keep an eye as you walk past.

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