From oxeye daisy to yellow rattle, Richard Strange explains how he has been increasing floral diversity on Christ Church Green as part of Wanstead’s Grow Zones initiative. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson
I spend a lot of time in Wanstead and have taken an interest in the Grow Zones within Christ Church Green, which I regularly check up on during dog-walking duties. These zones are areas where the grass is not mown, so a variety of wild flowers and grasses can establish undisturbed. They could be described as mini-meadows.
Grow Zones were created as part of a project by Wild Wanstead, Redbridge Council and Vision RCL, and form a network across the borough. From time to time, volunteers add plants to the areas to further improve their diversity. It’s a great initiative, and part of the project is to encourage residents with gardens to take a similar approach. Through intensive maintenance of our open spaces and gardens, we have allowed the variety and quantity of wildlife to rapidly diminish. This is a way to help reverse that trend.
In 2020, after getting permission from the Grow Zone team, I started helping enhance some of the zones, as I love all things related to meadows and the resulting wildlife they attract, especially the butterflies.
There is an unseen and unnoticed chain of life that, given time, slowly develops in meadows, as each species of wild flower supports a wide range of insects, forming part of their life cycle. These insects are, in turn, food for birds and bats. Long grass also creates cover for small mammals, thus providing foraging habitat for owls.
The process I use to enhance the areas is to remove small sections of turf, picking areas where there is just grass growing currently. I then seed the bare soil with wild flower seed to introduce more diversity, interest and flowers. In the first summer, a few new plants established and flowered, but this year, there are many more. The plants so far established include ragged robin, lesser knapweed, wild carrot, oxeye daisy, musk mallow and yellow rattle.
Yellow rattle is one of the species especially treasured by those wishing to develop meadows. Its name comes from its yellow flowers and the rattling sound made when the seed pods dry out. This plant is unassuming but plays an important role and is known as the ‘meadow maker’ because of its parasitic properties, especially to grass. This means the plant causes the grass to weaken, allowing other plants to establish, thus improving the meadow. I have managed to establish yellow rattle in a few of the Grow Zones on Christ Church Green.
Working by hand is a very slow process, so the areas will slowly improve over the years, but I take great pleasure in watching how they develop. Once species are established, they will also hopefully spread without my involvement.
I encourage everyone to follow the Grow Zone principles and allow part of their lawn to grow long and see what comes up.
For more information on Grow Zones in Wanstead, visit wildwanstead.org