Meadow maintenance is not as easy as sowing the seed and leaving it. After the season’s flowering, the spent plants need to be cut back – not too short, but short enough. One of the keys is to try to control the plants you don’t want … dock weed, fat hen and nettles … and not to allow too much green matter to rot down to over-enrich the soil. It’s also about providing some light and space for the wildflower seeds we do want to come up again. The best way to do this is with a scythe.
Luckily, at today’s workday, we had two doughty scythepersons on hand. It’s taxing work, but they managed to clear both the perennial meadow area and half the long annual wildflower strip.
Of course, it was then a case of having to rake up the scythings, and wheelbarrow them to a collection point. We’ve created another mountain of green waste that now needs to be taken for recycling into soil enhancer. Some of it we’ve kept back to create bug-friendly areas further along the Greenway.
We did more cutting back too of the large shrubs, in particular, the thuggish buddleja. Buddleja davidii ‘Empire Blue’) were originally planted in only three locations on the west side, but as buddleja will, they have invaded right along the west wall and the east fence. They can be absolutely beautiful plants with a pleasant scent and intense purple or white flowers. They attract butterflies (hence their common name of butterfly bush) and provide food for a range of insects, who then provide food for other wildlife, in particular birds.
But – and for an urban site like ours, this is a big but: they grow very fast, invade and swamp out other species. Their seeds are easily dispersed. And at this time of year, with rainfall, they tend to fall over the path, with the result that people divert onto the meadow, creating muddy areas. They block light and sight lines down the pathway. They are potentially destructive; they are also hard work.
To keep them in check, we are cutting them right back and quite possibly removing some of them altogether. Buddleja flower on new growth, so the advice is to cut right back to the ground in the spring. That is assuming stems that can be neatly pruned with loppers or secateurs: we had to use heavy-duty pruning saws on a well-established shrub today. Hopefully, we can gradually tame a number, while removing some of the ‘unplanned’ plants or keeping them fairly tidy.
Buddleja are non-native plants; Buddleja davidii comes from China. The genus was named by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus after an English botanist, Adam Buddle (1662-1715) while the ‘davidii’ acknowledges the Basque naturalist, Armand David (1826-1900) who brought plant specimens back from China. The first recorded presence in the UK was in 1922: a recent, but now ubiquitous, shrub.