Betty’s Wood is named in memory of my Mum, and she loved poppies. Not the big oriental poppies, or the showy garden varieties, but the good old-fashioned red field poppies that crop up among the wheat and barley and rape in our fields each year, despite the best efforts of the agrochemical industry. Outrageously red, undeniably cheerful, but for her generation, a tinge of sadness, a reminder of the Uncles who did not return from Flanders’ fields in the Great War.
We wanted poppies in our new meadows, but didn’t include them in the basic meadow mix that we sowed – the reason being that we were trying to establish a perennial meadow, and annuals would be added in good time. I took the plunge and sowed just a few, a small packet of poppy seed, in the Spring, with the hope that a few dozen poppies would come up at the edges of our new meadows.
Little were we to know that after years of cultivation, there were thousands and thousands of poppy seeds in the soil of our new field. In amongst the hedge mustard, leftover rape and wheat, shepherd’s purse and scentless mayweed have emerged an absolute mass of poppies, some of the best I have ever seen. Not a monoculture, for below them, there are some other key plants, including the vetches, clovers, scarlet pimpernels, cranesbill, yarrow and ox-eye daisies. But a carpet, nonetheless. A beautiful memorial for my Mum, and perhaps a sign that she is pleased with our efforts.
Not just poppies, but other great signs that the meadow and new wood are transforming things for wildlife: southern marsh orchids in the damp patch that could not be ploughed for a few years, lovely large thistles to provide nectar for bees and butterflies, butterflies of all kinds including brown argus, common blue, meadow brown and large skipper, as well as small tortoiseshell, peacock and the four common whites (small, large, green veined and orange tip). Moths including the cinnabar and five spot burnet. Bumblebees and honeybees and hoverflies in clouds above the wildflowers. Partridge and pheasant among the tall plants. Hundreds of beautiful damselflies and dragonflies hovering around our ponds. A living landscape indeed.
Will the poppies come again next year? I hope so, but for now I’m happy to see their smiling faces, and enjoy them for what they are. The meadow will evolve, and that is part of the beauty of lanscape-scale transformations. I had not expected it to be so dramatic. I had not expected to see poppies everywhere.