A question at a public lecture at the University of Gloucestershire (bet you didn’t know that Glos. had a Uni. …. well you do now!) last night made me think I should write this up from my PhD. A long time ago (late 1990s) I decided I would run a small-scale experiment on growing perennials in rough grass. I wanted to see if it was possible to create a ‘perennial meadow’, where the grass was cut only once a year. Around the same time James Hitchmough (now at the Uni. of Sheffield) had a similar idea. He, needless to say, was larger-scale and more scientific. Our hope was that we could come up with an alternative to just boring mown grass or long shaggy, but rather untidy grass.
Not actually a great success, but not without some hope.
Problem is, nearly all ornamental perennials have a dormant season, during which our native grasses (which makes up both lawns and pasture) and pasture forbs (like dear old creeping buttercup) are growing, give ‘em a mild winter and the things will grow for 365 days a year. So, perennials are immediately out-competed. This is why you get (or one reason why) you get such fab wildflower meadows in places with freezing winters where nothing can grow Oct/Nov to April, like the Alps, eastern Europe etc. – everything here starts off on a level playing field. Our British/NW European long growing season is just too grass/creeping buttercup+other winter-green forb – friendly.
So, we sprayed off (with Roudup) or dug out circles of grass and planted and watched results. Almost inevitably, both James and I found that plants in year 2 and onwards were so much smaller than we were used to seeing them in borders, out-competed and weakened by the grasses. Very few were able to survive and prosper. My conclusions in my thesis say:
• Effective basal cover, combined strongly with:
• Early emergence
• At least some ability to effective spread by ramets, (ie. new shoots)
• Root competition may also play a part – further research is indicated.
Which means geraniums, especially G. endressii, G. versicolor, G. x oxonianum types,(see pic at top) big inulas (e.g. I. racemosa - see pic below), Rudbeckia laciniata and that's about it. Asters did ok for a few years then got slugged. Euphorbia cyparissias did ok with its manic runner production. Meanwhile James found that Lychnis chalcedonica and Papaver orientale did respectably well too.
Those on planet Academia can check out these:
Hitchmough, J.D. (2000) Establishment of cultivated herbaceous perennials in purpose sown native wildflower meadows in south west Scotland. Landscape and Urban Planning. 714, 1-15
Woudstra, J. and Hitchmough, J.D. (2000) The enamelled mead: History and practice of exotic perennials grown in grassy swards. Landscape Research. 25,1, 29-47
Hitchmough, J. and Woudstra, J. (1999) The ecology of exotic herbaceous perennials grown in managed native grassy vegetation in urban landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning. 45, 107-121