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The Perennial Meadow Experiment

meadow planting, snapdragon's gardenI've never been one for tidy gardens, regimented rows of bedding, miniature conifers. I'm probably too messy a person to try to attempt it.

Even when I grew cut flowers commercially there was a whiff of wildness about the place and, if a cultivated plant looks like it belongs in a meadow, then I love it more.

When I decided to start again with my main garden, and to put it to sleep for a few under layers of manure and black landscape fabric, I gave away most of the plants that were growing there to friends.

meadow in june

But the ones we had left over, we planted on a slope of building spoil that goes from the airstream down to the workshop.

It was to be a weird perennial meadow - a chance to see which plants thrive in competition.

It isn't a massive space, but it would be difficult to keep as grass, and it is a bizarre jumbled mix of rubble and subsoil with odd pockets of gravel and top class loam.

The whole of my garden has been moved and ploughed and middened over the centuries - right at the edge of the farm so perfect for both digging out and dumping.

meadow in june

The plants that were popped into the soil were an equally bizarre mix - rosemary, peonies, sweet williams, iris, columbines, alliums, astrantia

There was nothing to lose as they were homeless and unwanted.

Once all the garden plants were in we threw handfuls of perennial meadow seeds - from Wallis Seeds - over the whole site, raked it in and waited for the rain to water it all.

Over the past 3 years what has emerged has been amazing - a mad meadow where every week is different and where - possibly because of the patchy soil - there are clear communities of plants forming.

meadow in juneIt is here - looking up from the workshop path or looking down from the airstream - that I get most of the inspiration for my botanical designs.

Teasels, topped by butterflies, tower above the path down to the workshop, bright blowsy poppies are scattered right across the patch, daisies keep to the edges, astrantia prefer the high slopes.

It isn't 'no maintenance' but, compared to the rest of the garden, it is 'low maintenance'.

Fiona keeps the docks and the creeping buttercup from taking over and nettles aren't encouraged in this patch (they are in the completely naturalised part of the field where no-one goes).

The seed heads are left over winter for the birds and the chaff is only cleared in March - an overwintering habitat for insects and small creatures.

What we have learned is that plants with fine stems thrive here - astrantia, sanguisorba, poppies, daisies of all kinds. Fleshier plants like dicentra struggle more. Peonies are still alive but not very flowery, rosemary hangs on but not happily. Teasels feel it is the best place to grow in the entire world.

In time I shall try introducing new things - I would love to see if small pom pom dahlias thrive - swaying in the breeze among the grasses.

Having an area of the garden as an experiment has been really liberating - it doesn't matter if everything doesn't work - indeed that is kind of the point.

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