For some, endless time and money can be spent in keeping lawns pure, producing the ultimate in soft, green velvet carpeting, set off to perfection in alternating stripes. Wondrous to behold, and an admirable garden element for those with the energy and inclination to produce it.
For the rest of us, our grass is most likely already sharing shoot space with daisies, buttercups, clover and a host of other ‘weeds.’ Pretty enough in season perhaps and a hardwearing, ground-covering green foil to our other plantings. But, if we are looking for an environment enhancing change, how do we go from this to the much celebrated wildlife friendly, ‘Wildflower Meadow?’
Letting the grass grow longer might seem the obvious, labour saving way ahead. But those that try the no-mow technique soon discover docks, nettles and thistles will take over. Thick, rank grass growth is encouraged too, which proves an impenetrably dense barrier to fine flower establishment. The problem is too much nutrient availability, and the solution is usually years of hard work. Strimming or scything and the regular removal of all top growth eventually thins out the grass and reduces fertility enough for the prettier native flora to begin to thrive.
There is however something of a shortcut that can be taken in this otherwise lengthy and exhausting process. Encouraging the lovely wild flower Rhinanthus minor or ‘Yellow Rattle’ into the mix is the answer. This pretty annual grows to about one foot tall and is worthy of your interest for its bright yellow flowers alone. They are sometimes described as ‘baby canaries clambering out of their shells.’ See them and you’ll see what I mean.
Although innocent enough on top, it is underground where its story gets interesting... Yellow Rattle is a vampire at heart, stealing sustenance from its neighbours. Its roots penetrate the surrounding grass, taking nutrients and weakening them considerably, thus providing the essential openings for all the other wonderful wildflowers we are seeking to encourage.
It is an easy enough plant to get growing. Just sprinkle the seeds about in September and let the winter do the rest as they need a good long period of cold before coming up in the spring. As its name suggests, Yellow Rattle’s seeds rattle out of their pods when ripe at hay-making time. Thereafter, each year they will go on to do the double duty of slowing down grass growth and decorating the wildflower meadow...