This year I’ve been fortunate enough to travel abroad in search of plants, knowledge and inspiration by studying meadows and wild flowers in Slovenia, the Outer Hebrides (St. Uist) and Northern England. Travelling has always been a passion for me and is one of the reasons that I served in the military prior to my horticultural journey. So to be able to visit different countries in search of plants filled me with huge excitement and gave me a smile that I carried around the garden for weeks before I set off.
My particular interest in meadows stems from my own job at Sissinghurst where I manage the meadows as well as teach scything and traditional hay and meadow management. The purpose of my trip mainly was to discover how meadows were perceived and valued in Slovenian and Scottish cultures, compared to our own and the measures they are taking to protect them.
But before I begin, I must first give huge thanks to the Great Dixter charitable trust for allowing me to go on this fantastic trip by awarding me the Christopher Lloyd bursary.
I set off to Slovenia brimming with excitement in late May. From such an extensive trip it’s nearly impossible for me to even skim the surface of what I learnt and I wouldn’t do the trip justice in so few words, so for now I’ll share with you some of my highlights from Slovenia.
When I landed in Ljubljana, much to my delight, my first sight of this beautiful country were farmers scything and processing hay on the air field itself. I then travelled to the valley of Bohinji which is celebrated for its meadows and spent the next 9 days searching for different meadows and wild flowers.
I climbed mountains up to 1900m and saw the great alpine pastures full of flowers such as Gentiana clusii, Globularia cordifolia, Veratrum album and Lilium carniolicum. In the lowland areas I witnessed the traditional hay meadows which were full of Capanulas, Knautias, Salvias, orchids of all types and so much more, making me green with envy. I saw Astrantia major meadows and even an Echium vulgare meadow and I cannot even begin to explain its beauty.
While searching for plants I met local botanists who led me over hills and valleys hunting out over 15 species of orchid while also explaining Slovenia’s changing landscape over the years. I saw hundreds of plant and colour combinations, such as bearded irises Iris cengialti vochinensis growing wild with Sweet Williams Dianthus barbatus amongst Lilium carniolicum and I quickly filled an entire note book with different combinations that I could use back at home. I also loved noting how plants had colonised themselves and particularly the patterns created by them seeding, a method which Vita was fond of and one I also love.
I found the locals to be warm and welcoming and was invited to a village party where we scythed and racked hay in the hot afternoon sun, followed by singing and dancing in the evening. They fed me some very peculiar food accompanied with the strongest homebrew that could almost take your eyebrows off!
I managed to undertake an interview with a school and discovered how they’re teaching future generations about the importance of wild flowers. All the information I found taught me so much and allowed me to visualise the future of Slovenia’s meadows. I saw areas that had been destroyed and others which had been saved, and although they know the value of their meadows and are teaching their youngest generations, the future of their wild flowers balances on a knife edge.
Will increasing demand and population cause the decline in wild flowers the way it has in so many western countries or will tradition and heritage prevail and the meadows be saved? Everyone I spoke to had conflicting views, but only time will truly tell.