Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A botanical Rant

Having a little botanical rant here.

Summer solstice, and the local grass verges are looking amazing. I am lucky in that I live in Cumbria in the middle of nowhere and that the County Council doesn’t get round to mowing our verges till the autumn. Also that the nearest large village is surrounded by what the CC designates “special verges” of high botanical importance.

All this makes me dubious when people in other areas post photographs on social media of big urban areas which are sowing “wild flowers” in “meadows” (quotation marks for irony). These are sown with seed mixes containing arable annuals, including non-natives such as the California Poppy and French Spinach (Red Orache). The result may be pretty but by definition, these are not meadows, which are permanent grassland not arable fields. It’s gardening – admirable, well carried out, eye-catching, but not, as some claim, restoring degraded habitat. It’s more colourful and a bit more diverse than super-mown grass verges, and it saves the councils some expense, which is a fair enough reason to do it, but outside of urban settings it’s inappropriate.

I fear for the natural British flora at the hands of well intentioned but uninformed gardeners.

As I mentioned above, I’m in a rural area. Step out of the farm gate with me, onto the lane which is an ancient drove road, in its heyday a route for cattle and goods being walked into the industrial towns. It’s mown once a year now by the Council, in September or October. I don’t suppose it held as much flora or insect life in the old days as it does now – travelling hooves and teeth will have seen to that. But there were meadows and moorland either side of it and when the hooves and teeth disappeared, it came back.

The verges now are astonishingly diverse.

Walk 200 yards each way with me. Instead of the scientific binomials that I have come to prefer I’ll give you common English names, which to a writer are as much of a joy as the flowers and plants themselves.


  1. Grasses: Rye grass

  2. Rough meadow grass

  3. Wavy hair grass

  4. Quaking grass

  5. Sweet vernal grass

  6. Yorkshire fog

  7. False Oat

  8. False brome

  9. Cocksfoot

  10. Ferns: Male Fern

  11. Lady Fern

  12. Shrubs: Northern Downy Rose

  13. Sherard’s Downy Rose

  14. Summer snowflake (an escape from my garden, not planted)

  15. Geranium macrorrhizum (an escape from my garden, not planted)

  16. Giant Bellflower (native but an escape from my garden, not planted)

  17. Wood cranesbill

  18. Meadow cranesbill

  19. Herb Robert

  20. Nipplewort

  21. Meadow vetchling

  22. Bush vetch

  23. Birds-foot trefoil

  24. White clover

  25. Red clover

  26. Feverfew

  27. Cinquefoil

  28. Silverweed

  29. Meadow buttercup

  30. Bulbous buttercup

  31. Common chickweed

  32. Mouse-ear chickweed

  33. Common sallow

  34. Eyebright

  35. Great willowherb

  36. Lady’s mantle

  37. Water avens

  38. Mouse-ear hawkweed

  39. Rough hawkbit

  40. Marsh thistle

  41. Spear thistle

  42. 3 different species of dandelions

  43. Common daisy

  44. Ox-eye daisy

  45. Germander speedwell

  46. Field speedwell

  47. Meadowsweet

  48. Betony

  49. Self-heal

  50. Hedge woundwort

  51. Harebell

  52. Crosswort

  53. Common sorrel

  54. Cow parsley

  55. Black Knapweed

  56. Garlic Mustard

  57. Hedge bedstraw

  58. Lady’s bedstraw

  59. Foxglove

  60. Yarrow

  61. Welsh Poppy

  62. Ribwort plantain


  1. Grasses: Rye grass

  2. Rough meadow grass

  3. Wavy hair grass

  4. Sweet vernal grass

  5. Yorkshire fog

  6. False Oat

  7. Cocksfoot

  8. Ferns: Male Fern

  9. Lady Fern

  10. Common Polypody

  11. Shrubs: Common sallow

  12. Bay willow

  13. Blackthorn

  14. Wild plum (Prunus domestica)

  15. Hawthorn

  16. Bird cherry

  17. Ash

  18. Hazel

  19. Northern Downy Rose

  20. Sherard’s Downy Rose

  21. Wood cranesbill

  22. Meadow cranesbill

  23. Herb Robert

  24. Shining cranesbill

  25. Meadow vetchling

  26. Bush vetch

  27. Tufted vetch

  28. Birds-foot trefoil

  29. White clover

  30. Red clover

  31. Cinquefoil

  32. Silverweed

  33. Meadow buttercup

  34. Celandine

  35. Common chickweed

  36. Mouse-ear chickweed

  37. Broad-leaved willowherb

  38. Lady’s mantle

  39. Water avens

  40. Wood avens

  41. Rough hawkbit

  42. Marsh thistle

  43. 3 different species of dandelions

  44. Ox-eye daisy

  45. Goat’s-beard

  46. Germander speedwell

  47. Field speedwell

  48. Meadowsweet

  49. Betony

  50. Self-heal

  51. Hedge woundwort

  52. Crosswort

  53. Common sorrel

  54. Cow parsley

  55. Pignut

  56. Raspberry

  57. Wild strawberry

  58. Barren strawberry

  59. Common Dog-violet

  60. Blinks

  61. Brooklime

  62. Black Knapweed

  63. Melancholy thistle

  64. Garlic Mustard

  65. Lady’s Smock

  66. Wood forgetmenot

  67. Changing forgetmenot

  68. Cleavers

  69. Hedge bedstraw

  70. Lady’s bedstraw

  71. Hogweed

  72. Foxglove

  73. Yarrow

  74. Red Campion

  75. Welsh Poppy

  76. Ribwort plantain

  77. And the odd nettle and common dock, but not many because everything else keeps them in check.

These lists are from memory alone…And that’s without going half a mile up the road where the verges are graced by Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid and a myriad of their hybrids, plus Bilberry, Lemon-Scented Fern and Hard Fern. All on the roadside.

If I went out with a clipboard throughout the year and noted everything I saw either side of our house I could easily list up to 100 species of plant in a quarter-mile of road. 

Lots of plant diversity brings lots of insect diversity, plentiful insects bring diverse bird and animal life.

Many other verges can be as diverse as ours if they are not mown to within an inch of their life by lawn-obsessives – and if they are spared the attentions of the sow-a-meadow apostles.

Yes, OK, sow native annuals where you have already got a degraded grass verge.

But leave the good’uns alone please.


Diane said...

Gorgeous post.

Alyson Kakakios said...

I love love love this post. Thank you Sue for your wise words and lovely lists.