Corncockle, Agrostemma githago, is a favourite plant. Not because it has special qualities, but rather as it seems a plant worth standing up for.
Corncockle seems to have arrived in the UK from Europe in the Iron Ages. It’s a “cornfield annual” – that is to say, it grew in disturbed ground and was commonly found in corn fields. It has been seen as an agricultural weed for long enough that persistent herbicide treatments mean that it only rarely grows in the wild. Unlike the iconic poppy and better known cornflower, though, it has a pretty low profile and is not often missed.
The corncockle isn’t showy. Although it’s a vigorous plant its purple flowers are relatively inconspicuous compared to the vibrant blue, yellow and red of cornflowers, corn marigold and poppies. It’s not, consequently, either noticed or promoted. When gardeners think of cornfield annuals these other plants are what they want in their seed mix. It is these consumers who are keeping them in the landscape.
Not only is corncockle less blousy than some other cornfield annuals, but its seed presents problems for the retailer too. Firstly, it’s poisonous, which (unreasonably) tends to put people off. In fact the whole plant is poisonous, which the Press gleefully pointed out last year when Kew’s Grow Wild seed packets included corncockle. The way it was reported you would have been forgiven for thinking its virtual eradication over the last 100 years was unequivocally a good thing, potentially saving hundreds of lives. Secondly, the seeds are big, like peppercorns, which precludes them being included in a small seed packet.
It doesn’t even seem to be a particularly “good” plant for pollinators either, according to my “Plants for Bees” book.
I’m making a point of growing it this year in our annual beds though, and the first flowers are now appearing. It should make a really lovely show.
More on Archie’s meadow – the two acres of demo we started work on next to the A303 last year. I went down there after Archie cut it earlier this week to spread some of the hay about and weed some of the margins. It has been divided into two sections, one of which, our special meadow mix, has been spectacular as we sowed it with a “nurse” of annual wildflowers. The other section looks much less ostentatious, but is now going nicely too. It is a mix of perennial wildflowers, Yellow Rattle and grasses from Julian at local supplier Goren Farm. Although Archie has cut most of the area we’ve left a strip of this mix for a few weeks longer. In addition to some interesting grasses and the Rattle, even this duffer botanist could see lots of plantains, Hawkbit, Fleabane, Red Clover, Sorrel, Yarrow, and Buttercup. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more species I haven’t spotted. Very encouraging, very easy – and to think I was worried about it a couple of months ago… We’ll clear the hay off the rest after a few days so that any seed in it will have chance to drop to the ground.
Related Posts: Meadow Magic Archie’s Meadow Goes Bananas Archie’s Meadow Update Archie’s Gravelpit Meadow Local Seed For Meadows
We’re off to Glastonbury this afternoon, so I thought time for a bit of gardening psychedelia. You might remember in spring I sowed some annual wildflowers in a bed next to gardener Mike’s veg garden extension, to show what they would look like in a formal garden setting and as part of my companion planting. There was an old greenhouse there previously, so lots of hardcore and rubble. Perfect. Well, time for an update. I’m not sure what an aesthete might think about the rather lively combination of Cornflowers and Corn Marigolds with nasturtiums, but I love it – as do all sorts of helpful insects. Glasto here we come!
Time for a quick catch up on the meadow areas ahead of our courses at the end of the week. There’s nothing very photogenic going on in Caroline’s new patch, which at the moment features a whole load of Rattle, clearing the way for more seed in the autumn. At least it has taken well and the bumblebees are enjoying it. All the wildflower annuals we have here this year are spring sown, so still not in flower yet, and interestingly it looks like no Cornflowers or Poppies have made it through the dry spring. In contrast to Archie’s meadow! This is the meadow we stripped of top soil and sowed last year in the corner of one of Archie’s potato fields on the A303, just east of Sparkford. We not only seeded it with a mix of perennial wildflowers and grasses, but splashed it with annuals too for some early colour and to help suppress the weeds. As a point-and-click photographer I haven’t done it justice, but what do you think?
The movement in the wind of the grasses we have used is as magical as the flowers. What happens next? In the short term there are more annuals to flower. The meadow is bursting with Corncockle, which will turn it purple (just coming into flower at the bottom of the Cornflower pic) – more photos to come in our gallery section. Once all the species have flowered we’ll cut it. I’m not sure whether it will be possible to wait until all the annuals have set seed; if it does we’ll use the green hay to seed an adjacent bare area. This will leave the developing perennials, which will then have time do to some further growing. The meadow will look quite different next year. It may increasingly look like the area we have at home, but as we prepared the ground so differently – by stripping off the topsoil rather than have the pigs on it as we did here – I’m not sure quite what it will look like… Our main meadow area at home is currently swamped in Buttercup and Rattle, with Red Clover, Oxeye Daisies and Sorrel also out: Related Posts: Archie’s Meadow Goes Bananas Yellow Rattle Archie’s Meadow – Update
As part of Gardener Mike’s fantastic veg garden extension we’re doing a fair bit of companion planting. In addition to some traditional annuals – Nasturtium, French marigold, and Poached Egg plants – we’ve put aside a bed for annual wildflowers. Not only will it look stunning, but it will be a nectar magnet for all sorts of helpful pollinators in high summer. We weeded a south facing sunny bed next to the base of an old greenhouse, so the soil is poor – full of hardcore. Perfect. I sowed a chunk of our Cornfield annual mix around three weeks ago, and now you can almost see the seedlings growing as you watch. This mix includes some of our most beautiful native flowers, like the Cornflower – now astonishingly rare in the wild. Frustratingly, many folk seem to leave their annual wildflowers to get on with it once they’ve sown them, with the consequence that they just disappear after a year. Ours will keep on repeating, as I’m going to follow Richard Brown of Emorsgate’s regime:
I can’t wait to post the pictures of what the bed will look like in June – or better a video, so you can see the bees, butterflies, and hoverflies zipping around it. Absolutely vibrant. I promise that you won’t be able to resist – better start thinking where you could fit one in now…
A new initiative from the BBKA – Adopt a Bee Hive – its first public fundraiser ever in its 136 year history. Sponsored by Saga and rather oddly supported by Raymond Blanc it aims to raise money for research and education and involve non-beekeepers. It looks like a great idea.
Raymond points out:
We can all help by planting pollen and nectar rich plants and trees and of course giving money to fund research into why they are dying.
I’m thrilled to say we will be supplying the BBKA with native seed selections especially for bees, which will be trialled at their Spring Convention.
Reading one of my Christmas pressies, the fascinating Dictionary of English Place-Names, it struck me how odd it is that we think of the “everyday” as being so unremarkable. We live in an area that’s been occupied for – well, at least 4,000 years – so it’s not surprising that we are surrounded by a rich and odd sounding collection of village names. We live in Lamyatt (pre Domesday Book, meaning “lamb’s gate”), next to Ditcheat (before 842, “gap in the dyke”, which was presumably on the Fosse Way running past the village) and Castle Cary (from the River Cary, pre Iron Age). We live on Creech (Celtic for “mound”) Hill, where there is an Iron Age fort that looks over to Chesterblade, derived from the Old English for “fort” as well. I’ve lived there for nearly 10 years and have an interest in archaelogy and local history, but hadn’t really thought much about the derivations of the words. I suppose it’s a fact of modern life that we’re not more aware of our surroundings.
I have the same problem getting people to think about buying native plants. Despite the fact that most of us couldn’t remember the last time we saw a wildflower meadow, because we treat these plants as commonplace we don’t bother thinking about them. Which is a pity really, because like the Cornflower I snapped in our cornfield annuals last year, many are no longer commonplace at all. At least our place names won’t go extinct – which thought gives me an excuse to play some Flanders and Swann…
Oh dear – I had hoped for a cheery missive to greet the New Year. Happy 2010!
Success ! You might not think this is the most exciting photo in the world, but it’s great news for Archie’s meadow. A month ago we sowed about 2/3s of it with our Special General Purpose mix and a Cornfield annual nurse, which is doing great guns. The annuals have germinated (and should look fantastic next year) and kick-started the meadow. You can also see grasses, which is all there is to see in the mix in the other 1/3 of the site, which we sowed at the same time with a local mix of grasses, perennials, and Yellow Rattle. I’ve been stunned at how easy it has been – so far – and I can’t wait to see it in 6 months time…
I’ve blogged before about the meadow we’re putting in at Archie’s farm (‘Local seed for meadows’). Over the summer we’ve been preparing a corner of one of his potato fields for sowing – you can see the pictures here. The idea is that it will attract people’s attention, as it’s next to the A303, visible from the Eastbound carriageway about half a mile from the Sparkford roundabout. It will also act as a venue for our meadow management courses which start next year, allow us to showcase some interesting seed mixes, and, of course, create a stunning new meadow for Archie (and, with a bit of luck, the odd Shrill Carder Bee).
Yesterday we sowed it. After a last minute weed and some tidying up of the margins with my trusty scythe we sowed two seperate mixes. On the western third of the site we are trialling a mix from the Blackdown Hills, which is as local as I can find and which should be fascinating. We hope to sell it next year, supplies permitting; it comes from Goren Farm, who currently supply our Yellow Rattle. Lots of Rattle in the mix, interestingly, and some beautiful grasses. We’re using well proven mixes for the other two thirds; our diverse Special General Purpose Mix of native grasses and perennials, over which we have sown Cornfield annuals as a nurse. These are both fantastic quality mixes from Herbiseed.
I hope we’ve done a reasonable job. The soil was damp (and got a lot damper !), the surface good and clean, and we used a fair bit of sand to bulk up the mix and to show us where we had been. We also regulated our application rate to have enough seed to broadcast it west/east and north/south, if you see what I mean. Hand sowing is, however, a bit of an art, and it did rain pretty hard yesterday afternoon,so fingers crossed. If we’ve left lots of gaps I’ll sneak out in the Spring and infill them without your knowing, anyway…