­­­“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” AA Milne

The wildflower meadow is coming to the end of its summer. The flower heads are turning brown, but are still, I think, rather beautiful. They give height and texture to the meadow, gently cascading down the slopes beyond the south lawns towards the Park.

There is a broad, winding mown path running though the meadow diagonally for visitors to enjoy. Just walk quietly, listen out for all the noises of the insects – it is so busy and an extraordinary testament to the flower meadow’s success. It is also a haven for Mike Withers’ bees and gives them late autumn nectar for their winter sustenance.

We began to create this area over ten years ago, taking time to harrow the ground for two years to break up the existing grass so that the wild flower seeds could establish themselves with less “aggressive” competition. The mixes of seeds chosen were geared towards traditional Hampshire chalk grassland species and, over the years, it has developed, changing in colour and deepening in variety. In about six weeks we will harvest the seeds (which we package to sell), before cutting and removing the hay to maintain the low fertility on the area which is vital for the wild flowers.

The photos above show some of the diversity from Field Scabious, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Harebell, Vetch, Eyebright, and Milkwort. These are names and plants that recall earlier medicinal purposes.  For example, scabious (scabies) seemed to help with healing boils and skin maladies – much needed in this area during the plague years, although unfortunately over 30% of the population died without being able to treat their lesions. Selfheal (applied to wounds to promote healing), whilst Lady Bedstraw repels fleas in mattresses as well as giving a yellow dye which was used to colour cheese such as Double Gloucester. Common vetch, for example, has been used for fattening cattle or perhaps as part of an early diet for people.

The Downton Abbey film crew always hoped it would come into its own early so that they could film picturesque scenes of the ladies with parasols walking through it. I, on the other hand, really enjoy riding through it on my Arab mare who, whilst she is growing older and more responsible, begins to dance and think it is just to place to spin round and gather some speed up the slope back home.  The picture below shows Sheila the sheep out for walk too, infinitely better behaved and more willing to walk to heel than the dogs tend to be. There are undoubtedly good moments in life, and often the simplest ones are the most satisfying.