Strange how we see things so differently. After my post a few weeks back about Mien Ruys’ garden, a question arose about meadows – whether we can do them here in Australia, and if so, how. I just thought the author of the question had taken herself off on a happy, irrelevant meander along a very sinuous psycho-garden path, but when I went back to the pics, saw that there were meadows in there. I hadn’t even noticed. What to one person was the whole point of the image was totally overlooked by another.
To make identically the same point again, I once had a client that asked for a garden inspired by Bolobek – a famous old garden here in Mt Macedon, Victoria. “So you mean, something highly geometric, with long straight vistas and interlocking focal points etc?”, I asked, giving my best shot at summarizing it’s most obvious features. She looked at me quizzically, and replied “I can’t say I even noticed the geometry at Bolobek!”.
Anyway, I promised I’d address the point of meadows. I’m not really comfortable with this, as it was never my intention to use these posts for direct transfer of knowledge – I mean, how boring is that? I was supposed to be the one asking the questions. But I’ll give it a go. Actually, lets start with a pic
This was taken at Kew Gardens in May 2008. You’ve gotta love a Botanic Garden that lets it’s lawns grow shaggy. And at their very simplest, meadows can be little more than this – unmown grass (yep, I can see the charming white cow parsley in there, but you get the point. It would still work without it). What makes unmown grass look deliberate, and starts to send meadow-messages to the brains of onlookers, is the contrast between unmown, and mown, zones.
It’s incredible how much interest you can add to a big area of roughish grass, just by mowing paths through it. You save on time, mower fuel, mower maintenance, and gain a grid (see the fabulous mowing at Le Jardin Plume) or virtual labyrinth of paths at the same time. It’s so win-win.
I’ll chuck another image in beside this, just to show that the cow parsley isn’t a necessary part of what’s going on above. If you click on this to make it bigger, you’ll see there’s some art-on-sticks in there, and a very few flowers, but the real point is height and textural difference. Having tried this, I can add that it’s much better if the mown part is always mown short. If you just mow down already long grass, the paths will be little more than leafless, course stems, and will brown virtually immediately after being cut.
The pic above is the same garden as in the pics in that earlier post (look for the images with the red chairs to identify the location). The others were taken in early May, and the above in early June. There’s nothing floral amongst those grasses now – any old patch of dead-ish grass would look as ‘good’. But there’s a couple of other important things going on. There’s the very groomed, crisp hedge behind, which is comforting proof that this isn’t just a display of gardener-laziness. More importantly, it’s provides a perfect counterpoint to the shagginess of the grass, as does that very smart mown edge of green grass along the path.
Looking down on the orchard from the tower at Sissinghurst in May there’s no great density of wildflowers visible. At this distance it may as well be nothing more than short mown paths through unmown, or at least rarely-mown grass.
Obviously in country gardens in Australia there can be fire issues with long, ripe grasses, so it may all need cutting before mid-summer, but the effect can be fabulous in late winter and spring. Furthermore, it’s not necessary to leave the longer grass entirely uncut. I’m often just recommending to my clients that the paths get cut weekly (say), and the rest monthly, or bi-monthly depending on the vigour of its growth.
It really can be that simple – at simplest. The next level of difficulty involves annual cultivation of the soil. But I’ll get to that tomorrow, or the next day.
Yikes. This is all sounding freakishly didactic.