What nonsense it is to shave it as often as foolish men shave their faces!

These wise words of William Robinson refer of course to the newly fashionable process of mowing the lawn - newly fashionable in the Victorian era since Mr Budding's lawn mower was invented in the 1820's.  These days face-shaving is in fashion in my part of England, but we are reverting happily to the idea of leaving areas of lawn unmown to welcome in the deliciously diverse wildflowers of the past. In fact William Robinson is back in vogue like formica kitchens and miniskirts. I have the 1977 version of the Wild Garden, with forward by the now venerable Robin Lane Fox.  In 1977 as now, the 'times were in favour' of cutting down on labour costs. It may be no coincidence with the world recession that there is a new edition of Robinson's book coming out in August - this time with photographs as well as the fabulous original woodcuts.

With 95% of England's meadow pasture gone under the plough and then 'improved' through fertilisation and pesticides we are very lucky in Kent to have Marden Meadow to remind us how it should be done. Owned and managed by the Kent Wildlife trust the three fields of just under 6 acres are easy to drive by, if you miss the discreet butterfly sign by the side of the lane.  

Once inside the meadow is a riot of green-winged orchids and meadow buttercup in late May, with thousands of the less showy adder's tongue for the eagle-eyed.  These will be followed by pepper saxifrage, dyer’s greenweed and yellow rattle as well as daisies, vetches, and wild grasses. The furthest and original field also has a rare wild service tree, and two ponds. The other two fields were bought in 1999 and are being recolonised gradually. The process is simple, following the ancient hay making patterns, with the hay being cut in late summer, left to stand (dropping its seed) and then removed (talking with it the nutrients not needed). Grazing would have followed in the past, treading in the seed and close cropping the grass to allow the flowers to compete.

William Robinson was also agin the Victorian practice of 'bedding out' of tender plants and in favour of 'placing plants of other countries, as hardy as our hardiest wild flowers, in places where they will flourish without further care or cost. ' Robinson was a great friend of Daisy Lloyd, creator of Great Dixter who followed his methods by mixing native and new, and whose son Christopher continued to make Dixter the Mecca of this methodology today. 

Not that Dixter advocates the 'low maintenance' approach, which Christopher Lloyd abhorred, calling it 'low braintenance', but the mixing of native and exotic is nowhere better demonstrated than the old rose garden, where Banana jostles with Rose and Clematis climbs Amicia.

As well as turning the rose garden into a tropical extravaganza Christopher Lloyd let the Topiary lawns grow up, and his head gardener Fergus Garrett is one of the great advocates and gurus of the Wildflower lawn today. At the recent Friends day he explained the the process they use, and showed us the newly re-annexed fields which are being returned to meadow with the help of willingly greedy sheep.

Each area of meadow in the garden has a slightly different flower population, depending on localised conditions. Daisy and Christopher Lloyd famously gathered their orchids from the local countryside - illegal today but perhaps an act of mercy before the sprays of the 1970's got to them.  It goes without saying that together with the native orchids and all-important yellow-rattle, you will find intermingled the North American native Camassia and eastern exotic Gladiolus byzantinus, both as happy in Kent as Dixter's Byzantine Head Gardener and its many American friends.


  1. Good post.

    A lot of people think that butterflies just need nectar plants, not realising that butterflies must first have many different native grasses to breed on. And apparently rye grass, which is very popular for lawn mixes, is not used by any native butterflies. Butterflies need bents and fescues.

    Is it practical for a small suburban garden to have a meadow? Well, if each small garden has a little bit of long grass, and there are lots of little gardens, then that all adds up to a big meadow!

  2. i once tried to grow a beard but thats another sad story...excellent article, i must try growing camassia and g.byzantine in the orchard one day...this is one 'fashionable trend' that is good and healthy...

  3. Hi Marian, what a fantastic blog you have, and yes, how lucky you are to live where you do. The view out your bedroom window would make anyone happy all the day. Meadows are making a comeback here in the states as well, even in my small side yard. :-)

  4. An interesting approach to view garden in term of biodiversity. Agreeably, it is not about laziness and lack of creativity, that garden should be allowed to evolve around the spirit of plants rather than the tantrums of the owners or gardeners.
    Cheers, ~bangchik

  5. Marian, I have camassia in my garden(just love it), but I am toying with the idea of planting some in my lawn, I think that I need a "flowery mead".

  6. Excellent post. William Robinson would be horrified at the American obsession with manicured lawn. They're so boring.

  7. Dear Marian, One does of course deplore the loss of traditional meadows throughout the English countryside so it is especially pleasing to read this posting which highlights this fact. It is, as we all know, not an easy task to establish a wild flower meadow - the best are surely to be found on poor, thin soil - and so it is reassuring to learn that in certain gardens, such as at Dixter and Highgrove, this is taking place.

    As a child in the 1950s I did, on occasion, visit Farley Mount near Winchester, at that time a haven of wild flowers and butterflies. I wonder if it is the same today? Happily in Hungary, where I spend much of my time, wild flower meadows remain common.

    I have much enjoyed this and previous postings and am signing up as a 'Follower' in order not to miss future ones.

  8. I have been trying to establish a wild flower area, if not quite a meadow in my garden for a year or so, with some though not total success. As a beekeeper I'm really keen on native species, and try to grow a good selection of nectar rich flowers. Excellent post, thanks

  9. All good points, but, meadows and prairies are the most labor intensive form of gardening where I live. It is a constant battle against native and invasive weeds, and the soil of these meadows bakes into hard pan under the hot summer sun. They are beautiful when managed, I'll grant you that.

    1. For a good wild flower meadow you need to start best with a poor soil. And to start introduce seeds of the kind of wildflowerrs and grasses wich would grow naturaalyy on that kind of soil. Those natural grasslands are plantcommunities with their specif insect fauna. Try to imitate nature and learning fom it is the best thing.



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