Five years ago, the team here at Lismore set about turning the previously lawned orchard into a meadow. It was one of the first jobs that Darren Topps, our Head Gardener, implemented on his arrival and since then more areas have been turned over to 'wild' grassed areas. Darren brought with him a deep knowledge of native wild-flowers, grasses and meadow management and over the past few years the meadows have become more and more rich in biodiversity. With continued correct maintenance, a truly wild-flower meadow can be established anywhere! Even on the smallest patch of ground, in the most average of gardens, where providing natural habitat for our native flora and fauna is becoming ever more vital.
The best way to maintain the correct growing environment for meadows, is to ensure the soil is kept hungry. Natives don't do well on rich soils, so it's important that grass cuttings are removed from the meadow before they rot back in. By far the most efficient and pleasurable way to maintain a meadow is by hand scything. We use Austrian scythes, which are much lighter and more agile than the old heavy English and Irish scythes that you see hung up in old sheds. Scythed grass falls into neat rows called 'wind-rows' and since the stems are cut as a whole length, tidying up the grass later is easy as pie, you just roll the rows up with a pike when they're dry and load it into the trailer. It's good practice to allow the grass to dry before collecting so that any seed can drop back onto the meadow for next year, or you could save it, the way any other hay is saved, to feed a pony through the winter.
Darren introduced scything to the team on his arrival. We were hesitant at first, imagining broken backs and aching limbs. But it turns out, almost all of us love it and find it to be one of our favourite jobs in the gardening year. Far from being back-breaking, scything, once you have the set up correct and the blade sharp, is no more strenuous than going for a swim, or a brisk walk. The lovely thing about scything is that you set the pace, you can fall into an easy rhythm and daydream to yourself, listen to the wind through the grasses, the gentle swish of the blade and birds going about their business. You have time to notice the finer details of the meadow as you cut, all the varieties of plants in there, the shape of seed-heads, the colour of stems. Nature also has a chance of getting out of the way. Despite looking fearsome, with its connotations of death, the scythe blade is probably the most harmless way you can cut grass. Creatures (mainly mice or frogs) hear it coming and have time to move out of the way and most of the time you spot them, so can stop and give them space to escape. Moths, beetles, bees and butterflies sheltering in the stems simply flutter themselves out and fly or amble off.
Scything is not a new religion, it is though, an old skill that has an important and relevant role to play in modern land management. The application of the scythe is efficient and enjoyable. It provides an opportunity to slow down the world for an afternoon and think about the earth you're tending. It exercises your body at your own pace and to your own ability and is suitable for men, women and children of any age.. well, perhaps not very young children.. I think it might be frowned upon if you gave a three year old a 16inch razor sharp blade...
If you would like to know more about meadow maintenance and scything, the team at Lismore Castle Gardens have a scything workshop coming up on July 6th (2018). The day-long (10am-4pm) workshop will teach you the basics to get you going, like blade care, how to set up your scythe, the best technique to use when scything to ensure comfort and efficiency and of course, there will be loads of chances to ask the team all about meadows. Lunch is included and booking is essential!
Cost for the day's course is €80, €70 if you are a member of our friends scheme.
To enquire or book, click on 'Events' on this website, or call 085 54061