Bernie Bell: I can hear the grass grow

Well, I can’t actually hear it, but watching it is a pleasure.

When we moved into our house (that’s not the Royal ‘we’, that’s me and my husband Mike) the front garden was just lawn, with a bank at the side containing venerable dockens and nettles which, according to our neighbours, hadn’t been touched for about 20 years!

spirals Bernie Bell

Photo B Bell

Mike had long wanted a wildflower meadow, and I love spirals, so….. First we cut out some corners for trees, shrubs and flowers and then we drew a plan for the meadow, which included a central spiral, with paths running through the meadow to the various sections of the garden. Mike then set about clearing the bank, and, as he cleared it, I planted it up with anything that anyone would give me!

The first year, we just left the grass to grow, and that was a delight – so many different grasses, and so beautiful! We don’t know what they are, but, who cares? They are lovely, like the waves on the sea, when the wind ripples over them.

As the years have passed, other plants have turned up in the meadow. I throw seed about, and, as Mike clears the vegetable patch each spring, he transplants any ‘weeds’ from there, into the meadow: forget-me-nots, alchemilla, campions.  The bank has turned into a jungle, which is a home, and refuge, for all kinds of critters.

Bernies pond

Photo B Bell

A few years ago, we also made a pond, using the soil from the hole, to make a mound which gives a bit of shelter to the pond itself – this is Orkney, and it’s very windy!

So, the different plants have attracted lots of bugs, butterflies, moths, all sorts which have, in turn, attracted more varieties of small birds than there used to be. We also have voles in the meadow, which attract a short-eared owl, a pair of hen harriers (never at the same time though) and a kestrel.

The pond means we have frogs – taddies are there, as I write!  Also damsel-flies, water boatmen, various beetles of unknown variety, gazillions of tiny, tiny things, and the neighbour’s ducks – there isn’t a more joyful sight than ducks enjoying a pond!

As the meadow develops and progresses, more things arrive, some disappear – that’s just how it is – gardens aren’t static.

We also have regular visits from hedgehogs. We’ve just installed a little hedgehog house, under a bit of hedge in what we call the ‘tree corner’.  It looked lovely, then we covered it with stuff for insulation, which seemed a shame, but, the point is for the hedgehogs to live in it, not for us to look at it!

Our neighbour gave us some pampas grass when I was planting up the bank, and that is now sometimes simply dripping with birds – sparrows or swallows. Oh, and the fungi – all sorts of fungi started to turn up, on the paths. I presume that the conditions, in between the long grasses, make a difference – warm and sheltered, and a bit more moist?

This isn’t to do solely with the wildlife, as such, although it is well worth remembering that humans are only one of many, many worldly species. Folk do like to come and walk the spiral, and the garden; this is a very soothing thing to do. It also means that some of them like the idea so much, that they go home and let some of their ‘patch’ go wild, too, which all helps.

I could go on and on about this, but I think I’ll leave it there. You may be thinking: “It’s OK for them, they have a big garden.” But, it doesn’t matter about the size of your plot – our neighbour left a patch behind her garage to go wild – it has one tree in it, and some long grass and flowers, and the bugs and butterflies like it just as much as they like our bigger meadow.

wild flower meadow

photo F Driver

This piece first appeared in Scottish Nature Notes RSPB Community 

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