Being picky about Shakespeare

Whenever I read ‘A Midsummer Night’s dream’, I wonder whether Shakespeare ever actually saw a bank covered with wild thyme. Certainly not around Stratford on Avon, where it would surely be swamped by lush grass. Here, wild thyme readily grows on banks in the Pentland hills, but the peaty soil would never support the other flowers on Shakespeare’s list, such as musk roses, and certainly not oxlips, which like calcium. Still, in fairyland all things are possible. On my bank, there’s no chance of wild thyme. I do grow it though, round and over two huge stones which once, I think, were the base for the saw in the old sawmill:What does grow on my bank is moss. When you read advice about cutting and removing grass to reduce the fertility of potential wild flower meadows, you do not get a disclaimer to say that if you do this on a north-facing,  wet clay bank in Scotland, the build-up of moss is likely to stifle the ability of wild flowers to seed themselves. They also don’t tell you how long it takes. But after forty years of cutting the grass (first by scythe and more recently by brush cutter), it has definitely thinned down and the wild flower population is increasing. The white splodge in the picture is made up of oxeye daisies (leucanthemum vulgare) which are gradually increasing in number, as are the orange and yellow hawkbit.  About five years ago, the first Greater butterfly orchid (platanthera chlorantha) appeared – a good indicator of nutrient-poor soil. It’s now spreading, to my delight:Another relative newcomer is the Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) which appears in large numbers some years and very sparsely in others.So I have hopes to see a few more species arriving. The biggest menace to them is not actually the moss but the suckers of a nearby white rugusa rose, which spread out to twenty feet or more from the plant itself, and which no amount of cutting seems able to control.

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12 thoughts on “Being picky about Shakespeare

  1. A labour of love not lost but flourishing. I like the swooshing sound of a scythe (must have heard it in ‘The Victorian Garden’!) What is a brush cutter? Great to see the arrival of the butterfly orchid
    ” When daisies pied and violets blue
    And lady-smocks all silver-white
    And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
    Do paint the meadows with delight”

    • Hi Laura & thanks. Being able to use a scythe (my mother taught me) is something I’m quietly proud of, mostly because it is a skill that is totally redundant (until the oil runs out). A brush cutter would appear to be the posh name for a strimmer.

  2. Not sure which I like best, the butterfly orchid (new to me and so so pretty –hard to believe it just SHOWED UP) or that immense stone. (Really I am some kind of prehistoric throw-back the way I love stone.) As for that Midsummer’s play, we don’t have wild thyme but those “nodding violets” are wall to wall, like carpet in the woods. (I do like violets; I like Shakespeare’s plays even better.) And in conclusion, I’m very impressed about the scythe.

    • I’m sure you will be able to. It would go so well beneath the gatehouse, and would be entirely authentic in terms of period….And having watched the aerial video, there would seem to be enough space!

  3. There is advice available on how to increase soil fertility, but how does one reduce it ? I would like to have some of those wild orchids too !

    • Cut and remove the cuttings once a year, and keep on doing it! If you garden on fertile London clay, it may take forty years! I believe chalk and sandy soils need rather less time!. The (expensive) alternative is to remove turf and topsoil altogether, replace with a gravel/grit/sand and (minimal) compost mix, maybe add some lime to counteract acidity, fling on a couple of packs of wildflower seed mixture to act as starters, then wait and see what happens! If you start with a small patch, it shouldn’t be too resource-consuming…

  4. Most envious of your orchids, the Greater butterfly orchid is one I’ve never seen, what a beauty. Equally envious of you having a bank for them to grow on. I kept jokingly hinting to friends and family that I knew they were planning to surprise me on my 40th with a Walled garden on the Pentlands, complete with house, greenhouses, sheds and some chaps to help with the heavier lifting when I’m not well. Alas it was never to be, but at least with the new laptop I got I can happily continue to log my own tiny garden online and not rely on my flagging memory of where I put each new plant as they slip below for winter.

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