Wildflower meadow management
The grass in this orchard is maintained by Bridport Town Council (BTC) and volunteers. The majority of the grass is regularly cut by BTC with a tractor mower. However, a large swathe of grass is maintained as a wildflower meadow, and this needs specialist management to provide a diverse range of wild flowers and associated wildlife. So this meadow area is not normally cut by BTC.
Areas of grass surrounding the fruit trees (we call them “tree circles”) are cut by volunteers using scythes or a petrol mower. This is done to ensure the tractor mower doesn’t have to get too close to the trees and so avoids damaging them. We also use the mower to cut grass on the paths, edges (either side of the main central path) and central grass ‘circle’ that is used during performances.
Flowers that are found growing in the meadow include lady’s smock (cuckoo flower), corky-fruited water-dropwort (a member of carrot family that is nationally scarce, but locally common in Dorset), knapweed, hogweed, self heal, bird’s foot trefoil, betony, rough hawkbit and ox-eye daisy.
Yellow Rattle, which flowers in June, is a very useful wild flower, because it suppresses vigorous grass growth by being semi-parasitic on it. This in turn allows other wild flowers to become established and thrive. To this end, the plant is encouraged in the meadow area. It was introduced to the orchard during 2011 and 2012 and further sowings of this important annual plant are being made until the required distribution and density has been reached.
The fertility of the soil in the meadow area needs to be reduced, so it is important that the cut grass is removed and composted, which prevents nutrients seeping back into the soil.
In order for meadow wild flowers to flourish, the meadow grass needs to be cut three times a year:
- March Normally by petrol mower, though occasionally scythes if the grass length is of a suitable length
- Mid summer This will always be by scythe, between June and August, and will alternate between mid June one year, and early August the next. This will ensure that at least every other year the earlier cut will be easier as there is less likelihood of the grass having been ‘flattened’. Also, these alternating times will favour a different range of wild flowers that go to seed at slightly different times, so ensuring that a broader seasonal range of flower types is maintained and perpetuated.
- October This cut is by BTC, with the cut grass removed by hand by volunteers. It is done just ahead of Apple Day, and is the only time each year that the whole of the orchard is cut this way.
- The mid summer scything is followed by a cut with the petrol mower to get an even shorter cut, and this is particularly necessary when wild flower seed, such as yellow rattle, is sown
- The condition of the meadow area is monitored at key times of the season, paying particular attention to the state of the grass (i.e. its length, and whether it has been flattened by rain etc) and any emerging yellow rattle plants, for decisions as to when the specialist scything is best done
- For the meadow area, the intention is to always remove and compost freshly cut grass from the meadow area
- For preparation ahead of any seed sowing (especially yellow rattle) the ideal approach is to scythe the area first, then to cut the whole area as closely as possible with the petrol mower, and then to scarify, and finally to sow the seed. This would most likely take place in late summer.