5 July 2013

Ambition and Neglect in the garden

“ I’ve bought you some new wheels,”  she said with a smile that I couldn’t quite place. With a significant birthday coming up I was hoping that she might have picked up on the non too subtle hints I’ve been dropping about that new road bike .  “ top of the range ... German “  she said , oooh German ....precision engineering I thought.... sounds interesting I thought trying to think of  German bike companies or German Tour de France winners.

"It’s in the garage if you want a look “ . It’s a few weeks until my birthday but I thought ,why not,  maybe I could take it for a spin .
The Wolf Garten  ‘ Ambition’ 48 A HW is indeed top of the range , it’s a top of the range self propelled lawnmower ! complete with  Briggs and Stratton engine  , red and yellow finishing like a formula 1 car , and it’s own grass collecting box. It carries the name ‘Ambition’  proudly on it’s side .

As my ‘ambition’ is to spend as little time as possible gardening , I’m hoping we are on the same wave length.
Our garden is definitely showing signs of neglect the grass  is longer than it should be the edges are overgrown with brambles , hogweed and dogs mercury, there are waterlogged areas  and the ‘lawn’ is at least 50% moss  ....... as a National Trust Ranger this could be embarrassing but fortunately for me much of  our native flora and fauna  thrives on neglect . Our wild wet mossy lawn is covered with traditional woodland and meadow flowers  speedwell , self heal, yellow pimpernel, meadowsweet  and  eyebright . These plants were once common in our hay meadows, but due to changes in farming methods , the greater use of fertilisers and the move from traditional hay to silage as winter fodder for the livestock they have become much less common . In Britain we have lost 97 % of our traditional  hay meadows in the last 60 years  and along with them birds like corncrakes and harvest mice  once a common site in our  countryside are now rarely seen ,  meadow flowers now only survive on ‘neglected’ patches of ground and  road verges .

Rangers  Hay Meadow surveying at Hill Top

Fortunately Hill Top farm  in Near Sawrey  ( the first farm that Beatrix Potter bought in the Lake District ) has some of those few remaining hay meadows and this week we have been monitoring the health of the meadows . I’ll be honest it’s not the most unpleasant job that we Rangers have to do , it involves wandering through the meadow with a quadrat ( a  small square of wire ) a hand lens  and a clip board . Every 10 paces we throw the quadrat down and record what species are found within it. By repeating this exercise ,sometimes up to 120 times ! we slowly build up a picture of the dominant grasses and flowers to be found in each meadow. We can then compare our findings with previous years to see if they have changed over time . The answer in case you are wondering is that the meadows at Hill Top continue to be quite diverse with a wide range of  flowers with wonderful names like   ragged robin, pignut,  mouse ear, yellow rattle , farmers knee and ox-eye daisy. These names are so great that I actually just made one up and your not sure which one it is are you !

           oxe eye daisy , eyebright and if you look carefully you might be able to see a farmers knee

If you want a bit of wild flower action in your own garden my advice is  give the lawnmower a rest and get out on your bike more ! Leave an area to go wild , cut and remove the grass once a year and see what develops, it might be more than just your calf muscles !
Paul Farrington
National Trust Ranger South Lakes