I wanted to write this post in early June. The local meadows were ablaze with flowers. It felt a total privilege to be able to walk through and witness them.
I was going to talk about how amazed I was to find myself living so close to these beautiful meadows. Throughout the winter they just looked like bog standard grass fields. The spring transformation turned them acid green, then dandelion yellow. I assumed there was nothing special (although certainly wonderful) about this. County Durham is rightly famous for its meadows, but these were just ordinary fields.
It turned out that I was completely wrong. In late May and early June the brief weather window on this wet and soggy year allowed us to get away for some camping in Teesdale. Teesdale is well known for its traditional hay meadows. The key to these are the lack of ploughing, poor fertility, and the yellow rattle.
A pretty yellow flower that makes a rattling noise once the seeds are set, yellow rattle parasitises grasses. The grasses are weakened enough by this that more delicate meadow flowers get to flourish. It was only when I got back home to Crook after witnessing the Teesdale meadows that I realised that our local fields were easily as good as their’s.
I set out to count the different flowers in my local patch. The yellows of meadow buttercup and yellow rattle dominated, but there were plenty of others. The grasses weren’t getting a look in. Here is my list, just from following the footpath along the edge of the fields:
- lady’s mantle
- meadow cranesbill
- red campion
- meadow buttercup
- oxeye daisy
- cow parsley
- sweet cicely
- pineapple weed
- yellow rattle
- red clover
- white clover
- mouse-ear hawkweed
- black medic
- birds foot trefoil
- common vetch
- rosebay willowherb
- thyme leaved speedwell
- deadnettle (not in flower yet)
- thistle (not in flower yet)
- germander speedwell
- lady’s smock
That’s 32 species at least. I should point out that each field was different, and not all flowers were in every field.
For various reasons I didn’t write that post. (I blame the olympics). If I had, I would have told you about all the marvellous meadows in Durham and the North Pennines, how they are shaped by geology and human activity, and how the magic of meadows is not just confined to these specially protected wildlife reserves.
The reason I’m not telling you all this stuff is that the following week something amazing happened. Everything changed. It probably happened to every meadow in the County – in fact, everywhere.
The buttercups and umbellifers started to set seed, and suddenly the grasses took over. This wasn’t a bad thing – there were almost as many different grasses as there had been flowers. Take a look where you live: grasses are beautiful.
I took the same walk and counted 17 species of grass. I spent several nights scratching my head trying to ID them: grasses are hard, as well as beautiful. I’m not 100% confident, but here is my list:
- crested dog’s tail
- slender sedge
- perennial rye grass
- Yorkshire fog
- yellow oatgrass
- sweet vernal grass
- barren brome
- soft brome
- false oatgrass
- meadow foxtail
- annual meadow grass
- plus four I haven’t managed to ID
Other fields around Crook were now white with oxeye daisy, or dotted purple with meadow cranesbill, but mostly this was grass time.
We lose some of our meadows in June and July, as they are cut for hay or silage. Others get to live on, and a whole new set of flowers emerge in late summer. I’m looking out for harebell, knapweed and great burnet. I think this year will be different to usual, as it is so wet the fields are not being cut. I wonder if a new succession of flowers will appear in these fields, or will years of early cutting have stripped out late flowering species?
The point, well two points, this this: meadows don’t stand still. Each week will bring out a different view: dandelion, buttercup, cow parsley, grass flowers, oxeye daisy, thistle, knapweed, ragwort. There will always be something new to see, and each field, with it’s personal history and soil conditions, will have its very own mix – and succession – of flowers and grasses.
Actually, I have another point too (that’s three if you’re counting). You don’t need to live in a ‘special’ area to enjoy meadows. Just because you don’t have yellow rattle or great burnet, take a closer look at the cow parsley or even just the different grasses. You’ll be amazed, I promise.