wildflowers

Sea Lavender Skies

Sea Lavender at Holkham in Norfolk
Sea Lavender at Holkham in Norfolk
Sea Lavender at Holkham in Norfolk

 

Sometimes muted grey skies can be a blessing in disguise, as was the case with this shot. High contrast full summer light can be tricky to contend with during the day. This soft pastel palette of sea lavender in Holkham bay was only possible thanks to some heavy leaden grey cloud skies creating soft even light conditions. Taken with the new Olympus 300mm pro-lens.

Lawn,Yawn…

Selfheal amidst white clover meadow

 

Selfheal amidst white clover meadow
A combination of Selfheal and White Clover makes a wonderful, low-maintenance turf-lawn alternative

With our our increasingly busy lives and long commutes, many people these days seem to detest the idea of  spending precious leisure time mowing their lawns every week in high summer. So much so that sales of block paving, pea shingle and even artificial plastic astro-turf are soaring. According to a report by the Committee on Climate change, in the 5 years to 2013 around 55 million square meters of block paving was installed in England, 92% of which was non-permeable.

This is a tragedy for humans, the eco-system and wildlife alike. Most especially because there are some truly beautiful, natural, wildlife friendly alternatives out there , are far more attractive than block or shingle replacements yet are still vastly less effort to maintain than a traditonal turf lawn.

Flooding has become a real issue in urban areas due to block paving of front gardens for maintenance or driveway purposed, so much so that planning permission is now required for non permeable paving with no drainage. As awareness grows of the flooding and ecosystem impact of artificial surfaces, people are starting to look into greener alternatives to paving that avoid resorting to higher maintenance traditional turf lawns. At the same time wildlife gardening is rapidly increasing in popularity as we become more conservation minded.

Grass lawns themselves are a monoculture habitat with very poor biodiversity. Aside from the odd snail or earthworm it has little to offer wildlife, as well as limited visual appeal to the human eye. With a little imagination your dull, bland green lawn could be transformed into an artistic and aromatic patchwork quilt of low level, slow growing wildflowers that will shelter and feed bees, insects and butterflies. Many of these plants are native or long naturalised so cope with our long dry summer weather far better than garden centre grass mixes will do.

Probably the star performer for an alternative turf lawn is white clover, perhaps with a sprinkling of purple-blue selfheal and speedwell dropped in, but there are a whole host of options including the lovely idea of fragrant and herbal flower lawns grown with chamomile, thyme or mint, an innovation first dreamed up by the Elizabethans.

Depending on what flower lawn mix you sow, you may still need just one or two mows on a high setting in spring, but from then on you can leave the sward completely alone through the main summer period, sit back and enjoy the flowers before mowing again once or twice in autumn.

Below is a list some of the best known low growing flower-lawn options to go for as an alternative to a bland green turf lawn, but many  other wild flowers will adapt to low growing and flowering height with regular mowing. You could even plant in some spring bulbs for extra colour.

Blue / White / Pink Flowers for Alternative Low Flowering Lawns

  • White clover (trifolium repens, native, flowers: white, Jun-Oct)- a star lawn alternative, tough and resilient and simply wonderful for garden bees. It is a caterpillar host plant for 14 moth species, in particular burnet, heath, mother shipton and silver y moths. It has a prolonged flowering season and the leaves of this legume stay green during the height of summer unlike most lawns. Note that its relative red clover grows much taller than the white.
  • Selfheal (prunella vulgaris, native, flowers: blue/purple Jun-Oct ) – a good companion to clower, this semi-evergreen herb with beautiful violet flower spikes can flower well into October. As its name suggest, the herb has a long history of medicinal use for healing wounds.
  • Germander Speedwell (veronica chamaedrys, native, flowers: blue Apr-Jun) A host plant for the heath fritillary butterfly, this variety of speedwell displays bright blue flowers in spring and its name references its historic status as a good luck charm for travellers, to speed them well on their way. Other creeping speedwell varieties include Common Field Speedwell (v.  persica) , Grey Field Speedwell (v. polita) Green Field Speedwell (v . agrestis)
  • Ground Ivy (glechoma hederacea, native, flowers: lilac, Mar-Jun) nothing to do with its larger relative it looks a little like bugle and is low growing spring flower oft seen with primroses.
  • Bugle (ajuga reptans, native, flowers: purple Apr-Jun) a member of the mint/dead nettle family with purple flowers on little stalks in spring
  • Yarrow (achillea millefolium, flowers: white to pink, Jun-Oct) a pretty feathery leaved plant in the daisy family with erect flower spikes that flower low with mowing. Great for butterflies and plume moths.
  • Sweet Violet (viola odorata, native, flowers: lilac to deep purple, Mar-May) low growing spring flowers. Sweet violet spreads via rhizomes. Its relative common dog violet flowers a little later.

Yellow / Orange / Red Flowers for Alternative Low Flowering Lawns

  • Bird’s foot trefoil (lotus corniculatus, native, flowers: yellow to orange, May-Sep) – Not everyone’s cup of tea with its vivid yellow “bacon and egss” but this is an excellent moth and butterfly caterpillar host plants used by Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skippers and Clouded Yellow butterflies.
  • Creeping Buttercup (ranunulus repens, native, flowers: yellow, May-Jul) one of Britains native  buttercups. Leaves are comparatively large and it does have quite a vigorous creeping habit so be sure you want plenty of glossy yellow flowers before including it in a mix.
  • Daisy (bellis perennis, native, flowers: white-yellow, Apr-Oct) Every perfect lawn should have some. No British summer is complete without a daisy chain and a game of “she loves me, she loves me not”.
  • Scarlet Pimpernel (anagallis arvensis, native, flowers: red, May-Oct) Made famous by the French rebel, this is a delicate tiny little red flower that opens in the morning when the sun shines and will close up in less clement weather.
  • Dandelion (taraxacum officinale, native, flowers: yellow Apr-Oct), a marmite plant hated by many traditional gardeners for its habit of invading lawns, but a whole field full can be a sight to behold.
  • Cat’s Ear (hypochaeris radicata, native, flowers: yellow May-Oct), often confused with dandelions as it alsow grows as a rosette, but its more delicate and low growing with flowers on spikes and is very popular with meadow butterflies like skippers and meadow browns and gatekeepers.

Fragrant or Herbal Flowers for Alternative Low Level Lawns

  • Creeping Thyme (thymus serpyllum, naturalised, flowers:May-Aug ) – a fragrant creeping herb that originated in the mediterranean and was brought to Britain by the Romans.
  • Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, native, flowers: Jun-Aug) – another aromatic plant used for tea, this herb became the height of fashion in the Elizabethan era and it was the Elizabethans who first came up with the idea of planting it en masse as a feathery soft lawn fragrant underfoot. A non flowering cultivar is also available.
  • Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii, naturalised, flowers: purple Jul, Aug) – Introduced from Corsica, Sardinia a low growing mint family plant.

Green / Non Flowering

  • Moss (bryophyta)- overlooked and underrated, particularly good for shady areas, it is a gorgeous rich green and bouncy underfoot.

Traditional Wildflower Meadows 

If you don’t need a low level lawn like effect and the height of plants is no issue you could even consider a wildflower meadow patch. For the extra effort of an annual hay or winter cut you could consider a dense flower meadow mix for birds and bees. These are designed to be left overwinter for seeds and are cut around February or sowing a traditional natural grass and wildflower meadow. This has a similar regime timed as a hay cut in late summer.

Abandon your Mower

So there are a whole host of options that can mean your mower is left to gather dust in the garage most of the year, leaving you free to enjoy your low flowering non turf lawn for its natural beauty and the wildlife species it brings into your garden. Not all lawn alternatives will tolerate heavy footfall, so a little thought research and tailoring is required to find the right option and perfect blend for your area.

But whatever you do –  throw that block paving brochure into the recycling and start growing an exciting low maintenance beautiful space for wildlife!

Further Reading

Emorsgate Seeds offer a ready made flowering lawn mix (EL1) and have written a short article

http://wildseed.co.uk/articles/2012/06/06/flowering-lawns-give-your-mower-a-holiday

Reading University research shows what can be done creatively

http://www.grassfreelawns.co.uk/

The Committe on Climate Change’s 2014 Paving Survey Report

https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/7-ASC-paving-survey-report_for-publication.pdf

Wildlife Meadow Matting for Birds and Bees

http://www.meadowmat.com/meadowmat/meadowmat-birds-bees.html

Red campion and bird bath in the old rose garden
Red campion, daisies and bird bath in the old rose garden

 

Buttercup and speedwell can be low growing alternatives to a turf lawn
Buttercup and speedwell can be low growing alternatives to a turf lawn

 

Wild Carrots and Red Admirals

Wild carrot flower bud

A first play with a new lens – the Olympus 300ml f4.0 pro. After a crazy circling autofocs experience I’ve updated my EM4’s firmware and can now focus without seasickness.  With a minumum focal range of 1.4m it works for less confiding butterflies. Yes its sharp. Yes you can get bokeh….

Wild carrot flower bud
Wild carrot flower seed head
Red admiral butterfly nectaring on garden privet hedge
Red admiral butterfly nectaring on garden privet hedge

Emerald and gold

Butterflies are having a bad year and are thin on the ground, so I have been entertaining myself with other little beasties. This beautiful, iridescent emerald-coloured beetle is a member of the flower beetle family with the name Oedemera nobilis. It has several English names too such as thick-legged flower beetle or swollen-thighed flower beetle, although only the females have the fat thighs. It eats flower pollen and nectar and is pictured on a common-rock rose.

Emerald thick-legged flower beetle on a common rock rose flower
Emerald thick-legged flower beetle on a common rock rose flower

A Poppy for the Somme

Common red poppy blowing in the wind
Common red poppy blowing in the wind
Common red poppy blowing in the wind

In a momentous week that has witnessed a constitutional crisis in the UK and political skulduggery to rival Machiavelli, perhaps the most important event of all was remembering that, only a hundred years ago, Britain was in a state of war with another European country. Our grandfathers were about to face the onslaught of the Battle of the Somme, the most fatal of all battles in the “War to End All Wars”.

A simple poppy blowing in the wind serves to remind us that many, many men gave their lives for our freedom.  The peace , prosperity and personal liberties that our European generation has enjoyed until now was won only through the greatest of sacrifices that most of us in our modern lives can’t even imagine – the blood spilled by our forbears.

Our week’s events when viewed from this perspective suddenly seem all about petty self interest and almost inconsequential. But we can’t afford to take the life we lead today for granted, things could easily be far worse. Intolerance is a slippery, treacherous slope and can at first seem quite innocuous.

Above all we should not forget what the European project was all about when it first started.

In One Word:

Peace

 

Orchid delight

I was volunteering with Butterfly Conservation at Foxley Wood NWT recently and just had to stop and take a photo of the delicately coloured common spotted orchids that have done well there this year. Nothing common about them at all – very elegant and refined I’d say.

Common spotted orchid
Common spotted orchid

Raising a Yellow Flag…

Yellow flag, or yellow iris is a really beautiful native pond wildflower common in wetlands and marshes and is widespread across Norfolk. It can also make for a wonderful addition to wildlife garden ponds. It can become a little too vigorous in particularly favourable conditions so may be best grown in containers in smaller ponds or bog gardens. Fortunately mine has plenty of companion planting and competition that has so far seems to have kept it in check.

Yellow flag iris and wildlife pond
Yellow flag iris in our wildlife pond

Springtime in der Eifel

Spring has well and truly sprung with a couple of weeks of glorious weather in the UK and the continent. Here a small selection from a short trip to the beautiful Eifel Nationalpark on the German-Belgian border, with lush meadows dripping in springtime wildflowers and vivid dappled green woodland trails bursting with life…

Spring stitchwort flowers
White spring stitchwort flowers
Spring apple blossom
Spring apple blossom
Woodland path in dappled light
Woodland path in dappled light
Lush green springtime tree canopy
Lush green springtime tree canopy

Sea Lavender Sunset

Late July into August, the oft-times bleak and blustery North Norfolk Coast becomes cloaked with a carpet of lilac sea lavender flowers and paints a vivid picture of tranquil beauty at sunset…

Sea Lavender Sunset at Stiffkey Saltmash on the North Norfolk Coast
Sea Lavender Sunset at Stiffkey Saltmash on the North Norfolk Coast

Green-winged Orchids

Early purple orchid flower

The arrival of May means we are entering late springtime, augering the arrival of warm days and our early orchids. Here are two you can see readily in Norfolk, the Early Purple Orchid (orchis mascula) that can be seen in ancient woodland where it is often a companion plant to bluebells, and the very small Green-Winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio), a later flowering orchid happiest in open unimproved grassland.

Early purple orchid flower
Early purple orchid flower
Green winged orchid flowers
Green winged orchid flowers

After the whites greens and yellows of early spring now pinker palette emerges among our countryside wildflowers. Amongst others, both the pretty red campion (silene dioica) and herb robert (geranium robertianum), one of several elegant native geranium species, come into bloom during in the month and if you’re lucky, you might even see an early poppy.

Lush Green Springtime

Spring stitchwort in dappled woodland light

For me, springtime is all about pure whites and lush greens, a fresh, vibrant background colour palette against which the more vivid yellows, pinks and lilacs that pretty spring wildflowers display their wares to early pollinating insects. At this time of year the woodland floor becomes a pastel mosaic of early spring wildflowers such as greater stitchwort, water avens as well as bluebells and campions all in a mad dash to flower and seed before the renewed tree canopy shades their light for the summer season until autumn leaf-fall arrives.

Spring stitchwort in dappled woodland light
Spring stitchwort in a dappled woodland glade

Signs of Spring

Snowdrops in shaft of light

At last…the first days when you can feel the warmth of the sun on your back… aconites and snowdrops in full bloom… realising sunset is well past 5 o’clock…it must mean spring is on its way. These photos of pretty snowdrops and winter aconites were taken on a recent snowdrop walk on the Norfolk Lexham Estate in aid of their ancient church.

Snowdrops in shaft of light
Snowdrops in a shaft of light
Winter aconites amongst flint stones
Winter aconites amongst flint stones
Winter aconites in churchyard
Winter aconites in churchyard

Lest We Forget…

Silhouetted Red Poppies at Dusk

Coming up to 100 years since the start of World War One, sadly renamed after losing its uniqueness as “The Great War” to end all Wars. So here is one more poppy image, offered humbly to commemorate and with a little prayer that someday we may start to see fewer conflicts in the world…

Silhouetted Red Poppies at Dusk
Silhouetted Red Poppies at Dusk

Feeling Summery

Essex skipper on corn marigold

Its high summer the bees are buzzing and the butterflies fluttering. Our newly planted wildflower meadow has undergone a  transformation into a thing of beauty, enabling me to have a spot of just for fun macro photography in my back garden…

Essex skipper on corn marigold

Hoverfly on cornflowerRed Poppy and beetle

Early Purple Orchid

Early Purple Orchid

My so very nearly ready bungalow renovation has been swallowing all my time and is already showing a fun diversity of wildlife, today I saw partridge strutting on my summer house roof plus, doves, a pheasant, swallows, house martins as well as sparrows and other hedgerow finches and a couple of white and comma butterflies flitted past the new hedgerow… This is one of very few occasions I’ve been out with my camera, late in the day on my Birthday visit to Foxley wood for the bluebells, and this Early Purple Orchid shot is an even rarer occurence – that of a flower shot without my 180mm macro on my camera.

Early Purple Orchid
Early Purple Orchid

A faint whisper of spring…

Winter Aconite Peeping Through Snow

Winter Aconite Peeping Through Snow

 

Even though we have had thick snow on the ground for a week and a half now there are still faint augurs of spring all around us if you look hard enough.

This delicate yet plucky little flower is a winter aconite and is one of the very first herbs to flower in the new year; peeking its cheery yellow buttercup like head bravely up even when it has to tunnel through thick snow to do so, when all the while the more famously celebrated snowdrops are still little timid shoots only just starting to appear.

Eranthis Hyemals is perennial herb and a member of the hellebores family. It was first introduced in the 16th Century before naturalising itself in England and can now be enjoyed in many parks and woodlands, particularly in the East of England.

The little aconite is a symbol of hope when all around is still bleak and harsh and, for that, I love it all the more.

 

Poppies at Sunset

Wild red common poppies silhouetted at sunset

Poppies are one of Britain’s most iconic flowers. One evening I visited a poppy field near my village. Right at the end of twilight after a cloudy sunset the sky suddenly flooded for a brief few moments in vivid pinks and purples.

The vivid  colours were so fleeting I only managed to grab three or four shots before the sky faded into twilight.

Wild red common poppies silhouetted at sunset
Red poppies silhouetted at sunset

 

Photo Of The Month July 2011 -Poppy Field At Dusk
Taken: Letcombe Basset  Oxfordshire