PHYLLIS ODESSEY

NO NO NO NOT SOIL

Amy Winehouse’s words… “I said NO, NO, NO…” had a different meaning coming from James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology in the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield. 

I wanted to say, “BUT, BUT, BUT…” but I refrained and just listened, for once.

Olympic Meadow

All gardeners know that soil is the bedrock of all horticulture endeavors.  In the case of meadow-making, Hitchmough has a different protocol, that calls for the absence of what we novices call soil.  In the UK, Hitchmough’s meadow communities are sown in situ using a gritty sand as the base.  This coarse layer provides a sterile surface for plants to germinate.

The photo above was taken at the Oxford Botanical Garden.  Hitchmough was recently hired as a consultant to plan three meadow areas in the botanical garden.  This area feature three different plant communities:  South African  Prairie and Mediterranean plants.  Each area was planted in the same fashion, using seeds.  The only exception were a few stipa plants to give the area a little interest until the following season.

“The overriding reason why we don’t do urban meadows is that this is an alien concept to many traditionally trained horticulturists.  The sustainability gains are however clear, increased biodiversity, increased visual drama and seasonal change …

The critical factor in public support for meadows in urban parks is that they must produce a sufficiently dramatic floral display to be seen as a positive addition by the ordinary person in the street” Hitchmough

After a week in Sheffield, looking at many meadows in blighted urban areas, even those planted in construction rubble, I’ve changed my mind, perspective and ambitions.  If you see sawdust in a fallow area on Randall’s Island, don’t worry it’s just me sowing seed.

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