Summer, grass and falcons

Summer (meteorological Summer, at any rate – the season which started on 1st June) began with two days of gales and clattering rain, which was both unseasonal and untimely. The ground was littered with broken twigs and branches, and many perennials were bashed about most unhelpfully. The rain itself, of course, was welcome as it remains essentially pretty dry. Since then we’ve had a run of warm and sunny days, punctuated only by a real (if brief) downpour at breakfast time this morning. 

Mowing lawns becomes the single dominant gardening activity at this time of year. At The Farm the various patches of grass, some more refined than others, get a weekly mow. In the Walled Garden I have adopted a slightly more ‘flexible’ approach, with some areas being left unmown on a rotation basis. They are not rich enough in wildflowers to be regarded as true meadows, but I let the buttercups, daisies and clover have their day in different patches by turn – and thus allow the bees to have their fill of nectar – before cutting short again. The effect, with a neatly mown strip around the edges at all times, is pleasing and nature-friendly. It also provides a ‘graded’ margin between the short lawn grass and the longer stands of comfrey, nettle and cow parsley. 

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The pair of Mute Swans are more or less resident

While a lot is written about the value of wildflower meadows and leaving grass uncut to insects, it’s worth remembering that short cut grass is also also a valuable habitat. It’s interesting to see Blackbirds, Pied Wagtails, Carrion Crows, and even Green Woodpeckers homing in on the newly-cut grass at The Farm in search of food. Presumably some of the bugs in the grass (and under it) have been disturbed by the mower, while others are more easily found when the grass is short. 

At the Almshouses the grass is modest in scale, and cut by a colleague – so my work is largely confined to the flower beds and borders. Recently I removed a large Sarcococca confusa which had outgrown its space. To replace it I planted a Buddleia ‘Longstock Pride’, a hybrid of B. lindleyana with lightly silvered foliage and an upright habit. In late Summer and Autumn masses of long panicles of pale purple flowers are produced on stems from each leaf bud. This variety – bred at the Longstock Park Nursery by Peter Moore, is attractive to butterflies and is apparently a favourite of Humming Bird Hawkmoths. It doesn’t get too big either, which is a bonus in a small and well-stocked border. 

Working there yesterday, I could hear the regular calls of the Peregrine chicks on the Cathedral tower, presumably whenever the parents arrived with an unlucky pigeon or somesuch. When I started out as a birdwatcher four decades ago, I would never have thought that Peregrines would be nesting right in the centre of my home town – and virtually every other cathedral in the country. 

At the same time, sadly, Kestrels – ubiquitous in the 1970s on motorway journeys, have declined significantly. I had a great view of one at The Farm this morning, as I frequently do; but they are becoming a notable sight, where once they were rather taken for granted. The lesson being that one should take nothing in the natural world for granted – Cuckoos, Bullfinches, House Sparrows – ‘common’ birds all, and yet now suddenly become scarce before our very eyes.

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