I have just returned from a week away working. Not much time in reality, but a sizable shift upon returning. When leaving, the meadows were still standing, alive with life and shifting constantly. Their energy had run to seed in a week or ten days and the farmer we knew was ready and waiting to harvest the hay before the goodness went out of it.
The official date to cut the meadows is July 15th and, as the day approached, the wet July cleared to blue skies and the dry winds and sun that make the cut viable. I knew this was going to happen whilst I was away, so we walked the fields one last time to soak them in. The Meadow Brown butterflies rose in front of us as we pushed our way through the track that we have walked into the Hospital Fields and my feeling of having to leave was part melancholy for being distanced from this place and part for losing the meadows to the season.
Huw sent images to keep me in touch and bang on time on the 15th, the hay was strewn and drying in the gold of evening sunshine. The next day the hay was windrowed in readiness for bailing. Windrowing or tedding is quite an art on our slopes, the fields transformed for one more day to dry and lined up as if they were braided or patterned in a giant corduroy. By the time I returned, the hay was bailed, the process done and the fields lying empty, still and temporarily silenced.
The aftermath of the cut is an interesting moment to be part of and one that sees the garden suddenly come into new focus. Our walks out and beyond are cut short for a while by the shock of the fields stripped bare and the jar between the garden and what lies beyond is immediately closer. Perhaps it has been a subliminal move on my part and a response to the fields being simplified, but the planting in turn kicks into another gear in the very same week. The colour pushes more strongly, and the floral content hits its stride to hold our attention whilst we adjust to the change.
It is good to have separated the ditch from the land that is harvested for hay and although our backdrop is suddenly changed after the cut, the softness of this near environment keeps our boundaries blurred. I have planted into the ditch with perennials that bridge the two worlds and the Inula magnifica do so just at the right moment, lighting the near foreground and removing any melancholy. I have just visited to soak them in and their elongated petals are fluttering brightly amongst the meadowsweet. The butterflies, interestingly, are busy here this week, moved from the now empty meadow, perhaps, to live the summer out where we leave things long.
The ditch and its sense of profusion has been an inspiration for the garden and I have drawn the yellows up so that the inula and the garden proper can talk to each other. Night blooming Hemerocallis altissima, still open and perfumed in the morning, draws the moths into the nightscape garden. Where the cut meadow is quiet, the garden is a feasting ground as dusk descends and the spires of the Digitalis ferruginea are busied.
As the greens darken in the landscape acid yellow dill, run to flower, Euphorbia ceratocarpa and Euphorbia wallichiana provide the bright undercurrent within the intimacy of the garden. Fiery pinpricks of red enliven the immediate foreground and lead you along the inner paths. Potentilla ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’ and softer red Lobelia tupa, whilst a dance of Hemerocallis ‘Stafford, perhaps the best of the reds, reaches out towards you on their beautifully balanced stems. Bright now is good I find, the light suiting true colour, but I have kept things soft towards the edges so that, as the fields recover from their shearing, the garden does not jar. Pale willow herb, and Thalictrum ‘White Splendide’ which smatters a pure clean white and allows your eye to travel to the ditch, the meadowsweet and the sanctuary provided by the places that are allowed to be and escape the harvest.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 24 July 2021