How to restore a meadow, part two – clearing the débris

As the two volunteers and I jumped into the meadow for the first time that November day to start restoring the meadow in our local park, we were surprised by what we found.

The first two volunteers on site, November 2019

The park in which the meadow sits is extremely well used by people every day of the year. Yet, behind the flimsiest of wire fences, was a quite different world that we had not expected.

Grass and leaves from the trees had fallen on to the meadow for three years, covering the surface in what looked like a uniform mass of vegetation. Yet, the original path down which my mother and I had walked three and a half years earlier, could still be identified.

We were ready for whatever would come at us, dressed in thick clothes, wearing heavy-duty gloves and carrying short-handled shears and scarifying rakes, and we prepared to deal with all sorts of horrible things – dog foul, needles, broken glass.

Second secret to a wildflower meadow

Our first task was to remove all the vegetable debris that had built up over the years, scarifying the ground with rakes as we did so, and then repeating until the ground was about 50% bare earth.

At the end of our first day we had cleared an initial layer of débris from the meadow

The reason for such rigour is that wildflowers grow not only in poor soil achieved through removing each year’s growth but they also need space to germinate and grow. Traditionally farmers herd flocks of sheep on to their meadows to do the job but that was not exactly practical in Camden.

We had only our hands.

As we got to work that first morning, cutting and then scarifying, we found instead an extraordinary layer of perennial wildflowers, such as campion and wild carrot, thriving under the under the dense layer of grass- and leaf-fall. Each time I left the meadow over the following month, it felt like I had been working in the country.

I used the débris from the site to mulch the guerrilla gardens nearby and as berms to retain water

The débris itself was a beautiful material, far to good to be thrown away. I don’t yet have any compost bins so, at the end of each day, I placed it straight on some of the guerrilla gardens as mulch and edged some of the tree pits with it to act as berms prevent water run-off the following summer.

I also dug up and removed the crouch grass that became visible as it regrew after the first cut, removing it from site. It was too late in the year to do anything about the docks which I had to remove in the following spring.

It was hard work and was to take a month to complete and draw in a handful of volunteers. But, when we had finished, the meadow was ready to be seeded.

A month later, in December 2019, we were ready to seed. Note the route of the original path

What you can do…

Is there an area of vegetation near you that has been neglected? What about clearing the land one autumn and seeing what comes up the following year.

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