Teme Valley Musings, September 2020

by Stephanie Mocroft

In May I wrote about the wildflower charity Plantlife’s “No mow May” campaign, which was aimed at providing extra nectar for pollinating insects. I was therefore very pleased to see the following headline in my daily newspaper in June, “orchid’s blossom like never before as shaggy lawns enjoy record sun”. Two photographs accompanied the article, one was of a jolly scarecrow holding a “No mow May” placard and the other showed a brightly coloured orchid. The orchid depicted was unfortunately a tropical moth-orchid, a variety highly unlikely to have pitched up on anybody’s lawn, but the thought was clearly there.

Trevor Dines of Plantlife was quoted in the article and he explained that the combination of a mild winter and a warm and sunny spring had brought a bumper crop of bee orchids to people’s lawns. Bee orchids are happiest in their stronghold habitats in warm Mediterranean countries, but 626 hours of bright sunshine in the spring of 2020, a record 3-month total for the UK, helped them on their way here in Britain. The scarecrow, dubbed by Plantlife the “scare-mow”, was an idea thought up by the charity to encourage children to enjoy creating something that might deter their parents from getting the mower out of the shed – a bit of fun that clearly worked.

I had a go with no-mowing this year too, but for quite a different reason. I was motivated by a garden visit last year to the Sussex home of early twentieth century gardening journalist William Robinson. He wrote a very influential gardening book called “The Wild Garden” in which he advocated growing bulbs through grass. Inspired by his ideas, I set to last autumn to plant a selection of cultivated bulbs including crocus, fritillary, star of Bethlehem, Tenby daffodil, Poet’s narcissus and camassia into circular patches of my grass. Unable to mow until the bulb foliage had died down, I had my own no-mow experiment and found buttercups, daisies, lady’s smock, common catsear and common mouse-ear flowering in the grass between my non-native flowers.

I had not grown the Tenby daffodil before and found it very good. It differs from the usual wild daffodil, which is a two-tone flower, by having the crown and trumpet both of the same bright golden yellow. It traditionally grew wild in the Tenby area and in surrounding parts of Pembrokeshire, though no-one knew where it had come from, nor why it grew nowhere else. It became popular in the Victorian era as a garden plant and thousands of bulbs were dug up to satisfy demand from gardeners. By the 1940’s only a few fields in the area had abundant flowers remaining.

In the 1970’s there was fortunately a revival of interest in the plant, after a chance enquiry at the local tourist office from a visitor keen to buy Tenby daffodils to take home. Spotting a marketing opportunity, Tenby decided to plant up its public spaces with its own unique daffodil, both for a beautiful spring display, and to capitalise on a local botanical treasure. Its survival was then ensured.