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On a Chalk Hillside July 2020

Letting the grass grow 3:- June onwards

After the excitement of Chelsea week in our wildflower experiment of letting our grass grow last month, this time we are moving into June to see what comes up in our lawns.  This is what is happening in mine – how are your lawns looking? 
I will start by showing you a very long area of my uncut grass in mid-June to give you an idea of how things are progressing here:-

Do you see the yellow flowers?  These are the Mouse-Eared Hawkweed, (Hieracium pilosella.)  If you don’t mow, as here, it can get to 80cm in height, but if you mow intermittently it can flower from about 20cm high.  It flowers later than the dandelions, but as you will probably notice the flower heads around in the back ground of other wildflower photos it has a very long flowering season, coming back time and again even when mown down.  
In the main here I have very pale lemony-flowered hawkweed – as you can see here:-

And here is a view from the side to give you an idea of their shape which you can see is quite different from the squatter and more chunky dandelion:-

The close up above shows the colour of the Mouse-eared Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) with a male Chalk Hill Blue butterfly feeding on it.  The bud behind is an unopened hawkweed flower. It has single flowers as you can see.  The Common Hawkweed is taller and more branched and can grow to a meter - like the time it grew through my leaf mould bin where it was not mown at all!  It is very beloved of bees as you can see:-

However, I have a few areas where I get a very choice hawkweed – Fox-and-cubs (Hieracium aurantiacum) popping up.  When you see the picture below of it in flower in June you will see why it gets its name:-

This is a very nice plant, and one that many people grow in their borders – I send seed of this to the Hardy Plant Society for the seed swap as many years as possible.  However, as with several of the wild flowers I find in my grass when I let it grow, it prefers to STAY in my grass, refusing to be happy in the border here.  
I expect you may have had clover growing in your lawn as a patch of leaves for a long time.  In our garden we have both the red, (Trifolium pratense), of which we have only one patch, and the white, (Trifolium repens) of which we have a lot as it has a creeping rootstock and spreads vastly.  They both seem not to flower til June.  Here are some flowers of each from 20 June last year:-

As you know clover is a livestock feed, and enriches the ground it grows on because it has little nodules on its roots which fix nitrogen in them (like peas, runner or french beans do.)  The flowers are very nectar rich being composite (like the dandelion flowers I mentioned two months ago) and are an important source of nectar for bees.  Did you know that the clover leaves fold up if it rains and at night?  If you have a carpet of white clover like this one taken on the last day of June last year:-

Before the clover flowers you might find this strange-looking flower spike coming out of the middle of the patch of leaves:-

This is a parasitic plant called Orobanche minor or Common Broomrape here flowering in early June, note all the clover leaves around it and its own lack of leaves.  It derives all its sustenance from its host, the clover, so doesn’t need to have chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows plants to get synthesize their food from the sunlight, so its stems are that unhealthy-looking purplish yellow.
A plant of the chalk grassland that you might not see on clay or other soils is Vipers Bugloss – Echium vulgare.  Here is a close up showing why it has that common name, from 20 June last year.  

Do you see the Vipers head and tongue?  This is a spectacular wild flower that grows to a meter round in the border (and unlike all the others I have mentioned it DOES happily grow in my borders as well.  In the grass where it is competing with the grass for nutrients and water it is much smaller, as you can see here from early June, but no less spectacular:-

Vipers Bugloss is beloved of bees and butterflies, and very long flowering, as it starts opening flowers from the bottom of its spike and gradually works its way up to the top – reaching its last flowers in September, so a very valuable source of nectar for insects throughout the high summer.   This plant manages to have my favourite garden flower colour combination in one flower – deep blue and deep pink.  Elsewhere in the garden I struggle to get two different plants to flower at the same time through each other or next to each other, one deep blue, the other deep pink (eg Geranium 'Johnson’s Blue' under my Rosa ‘Lavender Lassie' in my border up by the house), but here nature does it all in one stunning bloom.  Wow.  
You may remember me mentioning the Cinnabar Moth last month in relation to the Common Ragwort which is a food source for its stripy yellow and black caterpillar – well here is a picture of the Cinnabar Moth on some Vipers Bugloss growing into my Jerusalem Artichoke bed at the end of June two years ago:-

As the lower flowers go over they make large black seeds.  The whole spike is STAGGERINGLY spikey going straight through gardening gloves as it is designed to stop cattle eating it – perhaps you can see the seeds in the following picture from the end of July last year – note the blue flower still out at the very tip of each spike:-

Vipers Bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a biennial, so that means it grows a neat rosette of pointy leaves one year, which are low growing, so if you don’t mow on your lowest setting will survive til the following year when it will make its dramatic flower spikes.  To show you how it manages to survive hostile mowing/grazing, here is ONE plant I dug out of my artichoke bed this April – remember the picture above with the Cinnabar Moth in – well the seeds from these plants went into my artichoke bed and made what looked like lots of neat rosettes during last Autumn.  When I dug it up, it became apparent they are in fact all one plant!  The first photo shows the neat rosettes that the Vipers Bugloss makes, and the second shows the amazing root system (which I had snapped off some of to get it out, so this is only PART of its root system.  I hope my hand in the shots gives you some sense of scale:-

Another plant that appears in July in our garden is Few-Flowered Fumitory (try saying that fast a few times!).  Fumaria vaillantii is very local in Britain (which I think means it is in small patches in certain places and not widely distributed.)  It is an edge of arable land plant (we have arable fields in the Avon valley below us).  As you can see from the photos below it has beautiful glaucous filmy foliage and a very pretty flower that doesn’t last very long:-

It is so “local” that it didn’t appear in either of my Wild Flower books not even the one that claims it’s a Complete Guide to Wild Flowers!  I sent these two pictures that I had taken to my Mum (who had plenty of time to look out her old wildflower books whilst she was in shielded lockdown) and told her that from the leaf shape I thought it was some sort of corydalis.  And she identified it for me.  Well done Mum.  
A very common flower here in my grass that seems to love chalk is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  This shot is from July last year, but it can be in flower much earlier – though I cannot seem to get its cultivated cousins to be happy in my borders:-

Of course many of the flowers we saw first flowering in April or May are still flowering and will carry on all high summer – here is Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) still flowering strongly in July:-

And I still have daisies and some dandelions as well as lots of Hawkweed.  
I hope you are still having fun finding out what grows in your grass – leave me a comment below and let me know if you have all these 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.   
Next time I will tell you about my orchids in some detail and also talk a bit about how I try to ensure I get more wildflowers next year, and “manage” my wildflower meadow.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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