The art of low maintenance gardening
Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30
One of the few good things about the darkening autumn evenings is that they remind us it is time to plant spring flowering bulbs.
Crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils are on sale now in most garden centres and if you are planning on growing them in their hundreds, there are excellent wholesale nurseries which will send you their catalogues and supply the bulbs at a reasonable cost.
I have a friend who is about to start planting a four acre field with crocuses and while we might think this is perhaps a bit eccentric, well, why not? Once planted, spring flowering bulbs keep on multiplying and can be relied on to reappear each year with a minimum of maintenance.
Just imagine the glorious sight of four acres of multi-coloured flowers beginning to bloom in early March and lasting through to April. Surely there is nothing eccentric about enjoying that. The great advantage of growing flowering bulbs and corms is that, once planted in the right place, they need virtually no aftercare.
You can look forward to snowdrops and aconites in January followed later by the crocuses and daffodils and if you choose your species carefully you can have wonderful blooms on in to May. Don't forget to include some cyclamen. There are different varieties which will flower in either spring or autumn and they make a fantastic sight when allowed to spread in semi shade under large trees.
Bluebells create a stunning azure carpet on the forest floor in late spring. They are ideal for most broadleaf woods and will naturalise readily.
There is currently a craze for establishing wild flower meadows and one finds articles on how best to do this in virtually every gardening magazine.
Some of the advice given is, to my mind, ridiculous in that we are encouraged to spend large sums of money clearing vegetation, tilling the soil and spending more large sums on wildflower seeds.
Most of these articles ignore the fact that wild flowers will arrive naturally when given the right soil conditions. Some years ago I dug out an old pond that had been filled in over a century ago and the spoil was spread along the bank.
As this soil was very poor it was ideal for wild flowers which invaded in their
thousands and the lack of nutrition kept nettles, docks and coarse grasses from becoming established. It was not my intention originally to create a wild flower meadow and having spread the spoil, I sowed it with grass seed.
This however struggled and was quickly overcome by ribwort plantain, yellow rattle, birdsfoot trefoil, cowslips, buttercups and clover as well as many others whose names I cannot recall.
Wild orchids now appear each spring and are increasing in number annually. The only species I have introduced so far are Camassia, Cyclamen, Crocus and Fritillary.
You don't have to live on an Alpine slope or in the Burren to enjoy the sight of abundant wild flowers although I suppose it would help.
All you need is some impoverished soil and nature will do the rest.
It is best to mow your meadow in August or early September, spread the grass and allow it to dry.
Turn it as would be normal for haymaking. The seeds then get further dispersed and will germinate later on. The grass and herbs can then be baled and removed for fodder.
No great expense is incurred and the following spring and summer, bees and moths and other insects will benefit greatly.
During the summer months, in sunlight, bumble bees and butterflies will happily feed there and just around dusk, a multitude of moths of all shapes and sizes will appear and flit among the flowers and grasses.
This is low maintenance gardening at its best.
Modern farming practices have decimated our stock of wild flowers and insects.
Herbicides have had such a damaging effect worldwide that the best places to now produce honey are around the fringes of our cities where domestic gardens supply bees with the nectar they need.
Road verges and farm hedgerows can also be havens for wild flowers as they provide a refuge from crop spraying.
It's yet another good reason to take care to avoid spray drift and an example of why leaving a few unsprayed metres around the boundary of a field is a great means of helping wild plants and the insects and bird life that depend on them to survive.