James Hitchmough, celebrated for his annual meadows for the London 2012 Olympic Park, has designed our newly-sown, drought-tolerant perennial meadow.
Building on the popularity of the annual flower meadows of 2012, we are delighted that James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at the University of Sheffield, has devised a new drought-tolerant perennial meadow planting for the semi-circular bed just to the east of Cory Lodge.
The overall concept uses a low layer of mostly winter evergreen or semi-evergreen herbaceous plant as a multispecies tapestry punctuated by hemispherical bump-like forms, tall grasses and semi-transparent flowering emergents, set off by the dark green yew hedge .
The plants chosen are all adapted to survive moisture stress and will knit together to give a long flowering season from April to October. There’s a strong emphasis on Mediterranean and steppe environments from the Colorado plateau through to central Europe and Asia, but with species also drawn from the dryer parts of the North American prairies and the summer rainfall regions of South Africa. The selection should do well in our dry Cambridge climate.
The Demonstration & Display team first laid a 7.5cm layer of sand – that’s 60 tonnes all shifted and spread by tractor and spade! This created both a sterile barrier to prevent weed seed infiltrating and out-competing the germinating meadow, and also a perfectly free-draining seed bed. Some species will be carefully plantined through the sand as plants and plugs, with foxtail lilies, Eremurus, and Galtonia featuring in number. The bulk of the meadow, however, has been direct sown in deep winter as several species need to undergo stratification (prolonged exposure to cold) to break dormancy. In fact the team had to scrape away the January snow in order to get the seed in!
Recognising our research roots and commitment to horticultural experimentation, James has recommended some challenging and seldom-seen plants, including the Indian paintbrush, Castilleja integra, for example. So while we won’t have the instant flowering gratification of an annual meadow to enjoy this summer, it will be very rewarding to see how this experiment in growing a global drought-tolerant perennial meadow develops over the next couple of years, both from the visual and horticultural point of view.