15 September 2022
Usually about this time of year we explain why we’re leaving all the stalks and dead plants in the wildflower bed (to help insects through the winter, by providing hiding and hibernation places). We do cut down some of the really untidy stems, and we clear a few patches of earth to sow poppies into, but we do know it looks untidy. So it might come as a surprise to learn that we spent a couple of hours this morning clearing most of the plants, stems, dead leaves and so on out of that bed. This is why.
We knew that poppies thrive on disturbed ground; that’s why they spring up along new roads (often helped by being part of the wildflower seed mixes that are sown to help colonise the bare earth once the work has finished). That’s why we’ve cleared bits of that end bed every year.
But what we didn’t fully appreciate until recently was that poppies thrive on newly-disturbed ground, which is rather harder to achieve. A few years ago, a passer-by congratulated us on achieving a good display of poppies year after year, when they’d have expected them to gradually stop coming back; and we didn’t understand why that would be. He explained they grew best on newly-disturbed ground, and when we looked into it a bit further we realised that we’d have to radically change the way we manage that end bed. We decided to leave it alone for a couple of years, clearing only a few small areas, and not really disturbing the soil at all; and then we’d dig it over really thoroughly, in the hope that would count as ‘newly-disturbed ground’ for all the ungerminated poppy seeds that’ve been added to it over the last few years.
And this is the year we did that. Today we cleared most of the old plants out of that bed and forked the soil over quite deeply; we did leave a few clumps of perennial wildflowers, to continue the display after the all-too-brief few weeks when the poppies are in flower, but most of the earth has been turned over and broken up. The bed looks unnaturally tidy, and indeed we’re well aware that it looks unnatural without the mass of leaves and ground-cover plants like black medick and self-heal that have covered it in recent years. But hopefully, a few showers of rain, yet more poppy seeds sown and raked in, and a cold winter to nudge them into germinating, and we should have a great display of poppies once again next year.
Watch this space!