As part of the community gardens at our allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Community, we have been developing several meadows trying different methods and different styles of planting. Some we have just left to grow to see what wild flowers appear, in some we have stripped the soil bare and seeded wildflower mixes and others we have left to develop and then added further plug plants. In different parts of the site we have found completely different varieties of grasses dominating. A few meadows have a noticeable percentage of strong growing grasses which tend to dominate meaning that wild flowers struggle to flourish.
This is where the wonderful plant called Yellow Rattle comes in. We scarified areas of meadow and sowed the seeds of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor. It has a lot of common or local names such as Hay Rattle, Cockscomb and Rattle Basket. The “rattle” in its names refers to the noise the seeds make in their pods when ripe. They really do sound like a baby’s rattle.
The reason we grow it is because it is “hemi-parasitic”, meaning that it survives by stealing its nutrients from the roots of the tougher grass species, but it can also feed in the more normal way getting nutrients through the soil, rain and air. We can take advantage of this by sowing it where tough grass species dominate. It took a few attempts before we managed successful germination. After researching germination details we found that it need a period of cool winter weather. Once we got it right the germination rate was most impressive.
By stealing the nutrients of the tough grasses they lose vigour and the reduction in competition lets the less dominant wild flowers thrive. We are already seeing this happening. When we visited a “Yellow Book” garden recently we saw how effective it had been in acres of meadow.
This little flower doesn’t just do its job quietly beavering away unnoticed, it is actually a very beautiful plant so deserves being grown just for that. It also attracts bees and beneficial insects with its main pollinator being the Bumblebee. This clever little plant though will pollinate itself if there are not enough bees around to get the job done.
Now we have it established it should spread well working away lessening the power of the strong grasses and letting the desirable wildflowers get established.