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On a Chalk Hillside June 2020

Letting the grass grow 2:- late April to Chelsea Week!
Following on from last month where I reached around St George's Day in terms of what wild flowers were coming up in my grass as I let it grow longer, this month I will carry on from the last week of April and see what grows.  How have you been getting on?  I bet you are now sporting not just daisies and dandelions but also buttercups?  My neighbours had a carpet of buttercups in their long grass at the bottom of their garden which they had not cut for over 2 years, but in the main, buttercups in this garden appear in my flower beds rather than the grass, and as our first cut in the orchard is usually in the last week of April, (to allow me to harvest the dandelion flowers as I mentioned last month) I can keep on top of them flowering, though their distinctive leaves are everywhere.  The sort of buttercups I get are called Creeping Buttercups (Ranunculus repens):-

Not surprisingly this is because they have a creeping habit.  They make a longer leaf or flower stalk which bends down with the weight of growth, and roots where it touches the ground - no wonder next door ended up with a carpet of them after 2 years!   Last year because of us not being able to mow our grass this is what the orchard looked like on 20 May – covered in buttercups!:-

Here are some shots of leaves of various flowers that were growing in the grass in the last week of April – some had been visible from earlier in April, but none had flowered yet.  
Firstly Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris in dappled shade under the apple tree:-

Then both a patch of clover leaves (these are white clover  - Trifolium repens), and some of the Spring Vetch – Vicia lathyroides, followed by a close up of the Vetch leaves to help identify it from the common, bush or tufted vetch:-

 And finally, my pride and joy – orchid leaves.  Yes really, I have wild orchids growing in my grass that JUST APPEARED when I didn’t mow!  They are Common Spotted Orchids, (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), and every year I search for the leaves appearing amongst the Mouse-eared Hawkweed leaves, (Hieracium pilosella) and here they are on 5th April:-

 For us here the first three weeks of lock down in April were hot and dry, but in the last week of April we had two days of heavy rain, with a gap of a showery day in between, ideal conditions for this to happen in our grass:-

Do you see what looks like jelly fish have landed in the grass?  Here’s a close up:-

This is in fact a jelly fungus – one of the Exidia fungus, probably Exidia plana.  It is the fruiting body of a fungus that lives on deciduous wood.  It should not be coming up on a grass hillside with no trees nearby.  In fact, as we excavate into the hillside to make beds we find huge old tree roots from before this hillside was grassed over by a previous owner.  The fungus waits til it rains then makes a fruiting body in spring that looks just like a jelly fish stranded on the beach, and as it ages gets darker and crustier.  These pictures are from 1 May, two days after the fruiting bodies appeared, so are not as transparent and jelly-like as they were when I first noticed them (but couldn’t get an in focus shot of them!)

At the beginning of May the Bellis Perennis and Veronica chamaedrys (Daisies and Germander Speedwell) were still looking fine in the grass:-

At the beginning of May the Spring Vetch - Vicia lathyroides - comes into flower:-

And here is the common vetch – Vicia Sativa – (larger flowers, tendrils at end of some leaf spikes) also in flower in early May:-

Both of these Vetches make seedpods that turn black, and then twist open when dry with a cracking noise, throwing their seeds a distance from the parent plant.  On a hot early June day you can hear the crack as you sit with a cup of tea in the garden:-

The Cow Parsley has become a cloud of froth under the apple tree showing why another of its common names is Queen Anne’s Lace:-

Isn’t that worthy of a Chelsea show garden?  We try so hard to grow cultivated versions of these white lacy umbels for our borders all year – it’s a very “in” plant – I’m thinking Ammi Majus or Ammi visnaga, Orlaya Grandiflora etc etc, and here, the cow parsley is making  a show-garden worthy splash without any help from me!
So what other lovely wild flowers were blooming in my grass during Chelsea week last year?  Well, what about some Columbine - The purple Granny’s Bonnets (Aquilegia vulgaris) which were just round one plum tree when we moved here have spread all round the grass areas and were flowering by the middle of May:-

(Perhaps you can see the Common Ragwort by the fence too?)  This plant flowers for a long period - here’s a picture of its flower from July last year:-

You may know that Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is poisonous to horses, but did you know that it is the food source of the caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth, a most beautiful bright red and brown day-flying moth whose stripy black and yellow caterpillars feed on the plant, and will stay on it even if you pull it up and put it in your wheelbarrow and leave it overnight before disposing of it.  (I actually did this one year and was amazed that not a single caterpillar had left a single plant!)
By 23 May, there is a carpet of another of my all-time favourite wild flowers Ox-Eye Daisys (Leucanthemum vulgare) in the long grass:-

Now isn’t that a show stopper?  You can grow this beautiful cousin of the Shasta Daisy in the border too, but if I try that, it “walks” rather than seeding itself around where I put it one year, its seeds move away to places it wants to be – usually in my grass/gravel paths etc!
Here’s my husband’s pick of a show stopper - Wild Mignoinette (Reseda lutea) looking splendid for Chelsea week (and many weeks to come):-

This is one of my husband’s favourite wild flowers that appear in the long grass – he even mows round it when we do mow to make sure it stays – perhaps because it is larger and more imposing at about 80cm high and wide?  He likes Foxgloves and Lupins and the spike of pale lemon flowers on the Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) which open from the bottom of the spike and gradually open higher and higher up the spike over time mean the flower spike is looking floriferous for a long time.   It is very similar, though a bit shorter in growth than Weld, or Dyers Rocket (Reseda luteola), the way to tell the difference is to look at the flower which on Wild Mignonette has petals all round, whilst the Weld has a gap in petals at the bottom of the flower.  Dyers Rocket as you might imagine from the name has been used for centuries to produce a bright yellow dye.  

(Note the plantain flowering in the grass as well – I get hoary plantain here – Plantago media, which can be flowering from April.) 
Another plant worthy of Chelsea in my opinion and flowering in late May in the grass here is the Bladder Campion, Silene Vulgaris subsp. vulgaris.    This is a very striking plant that can grow to 50cm tall in long grass, and I have tried to transplant patches to borders with very varied success.  It is another plant that likes to grow where IT likes to grow, and will flower on much shorter flower spikes if you mow the grass monthly:-

Do you notice how the bladders have a very attractive ribbed pattern on them?  Such a handsome flower.  Unlike me you might get red or white campion in your garden – they grow to a metre, and the flowers look like this without the swollen sepal tubes behind the petals.  The white flowers on both the bladder and white campion come out at night to attract moths to pollinate them.  If you have both red and white campion in your garden you might find they have cross pollinated and make pink-flowered hybrids!  
The Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) whose leaves you saw round the orchids’ above, also provide a safe environment for the Hop Trefoil – Trifolium campestre –which does well in shorter grass:-

This photo may help you see how the Mouse-eared Hawkweed gets its name – the leaves are mouse-ear shape, with a white edge and hairs.  In the centre you may see some smaller more clover-like leaves with the tiny yellow flower heads of the Hop Trefoil around.  If you leave this flower to go to seed the fruiting heads turn brown and papery and look like diminutive hops.  I said the Hawkweed provides a safe environment and what I mean by that is that it forms dense flat mats of leaves which seem to press to the ground, and the mower, particularly if it is not set at its shortest setting goes over them leaving them intact – this protected the orchid leaves long enough for me to spot them and create a barricade round them to stop mower-happy men (you know who you are) blindly chopping them to bits.
Well, now we have finished Chelsea week in our wonderful wildflower-filled lawns, I shall stop there, and move into June next time to tell you about later-flowering wild flowers that appeared in my lawn when I let the grass grow.    I hope you are having fun finding out what grows in your grass – leave me a comment below and let me know if you have found all of these showstoppers in your grass, and what else you find.  By the way, it is not too late to stop or reduce your mowing and join in.   

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

1 Comments To "On a Chalk Hillside June 2020 "

Cynthia On 26.06.2020
What a beautiful , if different , garden, isn't nature wonderful when left to do it's own thing! I prefer to grow single native varieties anyway but this just shows what is in our soil if we give it a chance. Though I don't think we'll get orchids in our suburban garden any day soon !! Thanks for lovely photos & information Reply to this comment
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