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Page 17Grass Management and Maintenance

A personal view by Monica Fleming, Wildflower Grower 

Wildflowers are Worthwhile

The next time you look out your window and see a summer breeze blow across your hay meadow, you should know that the grasses and flowers in the field form one of Ireland's richest ecosystems.  From the tall blue butterfly attracting Field Scabious to the yellow rattle whose seed capsules rattle in the wind.  There are various types of grasslands that evolved since the Ice age from acid and upland pasture to the flooded Shannon Callows, from dry esker ridges to the Burren. Farmers created pasture for grazing and meadows for cutting hay. Hay is sun-dried grass, swiftly cut, sun dried and stored for winter.  

Hay once provided the winter animal feed of the traditional farm.  Hay meadows have evolved over five thousand years into an ecosystem (inter-dependent farming).  Fields too small for tractors are still cut by hand with a scythe or strimmer.  Once the entire farming community "saved the hay".  Haystacks are great places as long as they are kept safe.  The sweet aroma of new mown hay reminds us of the long days of summer sun.  In reality, hay making was a matter of survival and the whole process was hard but rewarding work which had to be completed before the weather changed.  Field-by-field, hay meadows were cut across Ireland all summer long, a patchwork of colours

"Forty shades of green".

After a meadow was cut, it was fed manure and grazed when the grass re-grew in Autumn.  On dry fields stocks were over wintered on the grass.  During winter or in wet weather, traditional hardy breeds of farm animals would scratch the soil surface creating bare patches.  In these patches new seeds germinated.  Seeds were spread by animals or blew into the fields.  Seeds are time-travellers who can remain dormant for many years until conditions are right for germination.  When spring arrived, they hay meadow was "closed off" to animals and then the grasses, flowers and seedlings all grew for summer to provide the next crop.  Most of Ireland's old meadows are now extinct so too are cornfield meadows.  An Irish cornfield was a sea of colour.  Amongst the oats and rye were Scarlet Poppy, Cornflower or Blue Bonnet.  While Yellow Marigold and Redshank grew in fields of beet.  Times have changed however, efficiency in agriculture has caused serious decline and in some cases total extinction of these plants.

Corn Cockle, Corn Buttercup and Corn Chamomile are extinct in Ireland.  So too would be the Cornflower and Corn Marigold if Design By Nature had not the foresight to save them from extinction in the late eighties.

For many years DBN has saved flowers from extinction and educated thousands to the needs of the wilderness and wildlife.  We "work on the wild side", growing and caring for wildflowers.  

With thanks and by kind permission - Monica Fleming, Design By Nature