Meadow restoration at Chartwell

Alliums in the Orchard Meadow at Chartwell

Undertaking meadow restoration at Chartwell is an important part of our conservation work within the gardens. We’re currently in the middle of a long-term project to restore a meadow at Chartwell. This will help bring the gardens back to how they would have looked in Churchill’s time with areas of wild and longer grasses.

Why meadows?

Restoring the meadow at Chartwell isn’t just great for historical accuracy, it also creates a brilliant new environment for wildlife and wildflowers. Concentrated around the orchard and around the front of the studio, the meadow will help us to soften and blend the formal areas of the gardens into the parkland and countryside beyond.

Thanks to this project, the grass and wildflowers are allowed to grow long throughout the growing seasons of spring and summer. We refer to this area of combined grasses and wildflowers as the meadow sward.

Long grass in the orchard meadow at Chartwell
Long grass in the orchard meadow at Chartwell
Long grass in the orchard meadow at Chartwell

What are we doing?

Grass Cutting

Each summer, the garden team undertakes the now annual long grass cut at the end of July – just as you would with managing hay meadows.

The arisings – all of the dead and now unwanted material – are then left there for a week after the cut, which allows the wildflower seed time to drop out into the soil.

After the week has passed, the arisings can then be gathered up and processed in our composting area. The grass is cut again down to 1cm, replicating natural grazing.

Removing the arisings at this stage is a crucial part of meadow conservation in order to stop them rotting down and releasing nitrogen into the soil. This also has the welcome effect of supporting the wildflowers when they are not being overwhelmed by the grasses.

The Chartwell meadow after the annual long cut
The Chartwell meadow after the annual long cut
The Chartwell meadow after the annual long cut

Re-seeding

As our current meadow sward consists of a high percentage of grasses, we decided to over-seed with a weald meadow mixture. An important plant species for managing meadows is Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). This grows into the grasses within the meadow sward weakening them, allowing other wildflowers room to grow.

In order to give the seed the best possible chance to grow, we created spaces within the meadow sward so the seed had direct contact with the soil. Using a compact tractor and an attachment that scarified the whole area, the garden team created pockets of bare soil, removing thatch build up from old grasses. This replicates the impact action that grazing animals have on the surface with their hooves.

As October comes around, reseeding starts. Up to 2kg of seed will first be mixed together with sand. This is then hand broadcast over the entire meadow area.

We also decided to experiment by over-seeding some areas more heavily creating what is known as inoculation strips. This is another method that aims to create a small but more populated area of wildflower species. These plants will then seed and spread outwards in the coming years.

As well as seeds, the garden team has also been busy planting thousands of bulbs into the meadow. These have included many thousands of purple Crocus tommasinianus, Snakeshead Fritillaria meleagris, the wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus and two different species of blue flowering Camassia.

Thousands of new bulbs planted in the Chartwell Orchard Meadow
Thousands of new wildflower seeds replanted in the meadow at Chartwell, 2019
Thousands of new bulbs planted in the Chartwell Orchard Meadow

This has already made a major difference to the development and enjoyment of this vital piece of the garden with all those many bulbs delighting visitors, becoming the opening stars of the meadow season every year.

Plans for the future

The process of cutting and re-seeding starts all over again every year. Certain species such as Knapweed Centaurea and Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi amongst others and grown throughout the year ready for planting this autumn.

Undertaking meadow restoration is not a quick process, it will take many years for wildflower populations to become established, with ongoing work throughout the coming years. It is an enjoyable process and it will be incredibly exciting to see what will come up next spring and the fruits of the garden teams’ efforts.