‘We Made a Wildflower Meadow’ by Yvette Verner tells the story of a small patch of land transformed into a bountiful haven for nature, encouraging wildlife and helping to sustain a fragile ecosystem. Published in 2019
In our first extract, Yvette, along with her husband Mike, describes the search and discovery of the perfect half-acre of land that would become their wildflower meadow. For a glimpse of how the meadow turned out, please see here.
Under a clear blue sky, a line of mature trees marks the far boundary of a small meadow. Thick hedges enclose the three remaining sides, and tall grasses ripple in the light summer breeze. Gleaming buttercups and daisies seem to float on this central green lagoon, while smaller flowers in shades of red, cream and mauve are glimpsed swimming in the depths beneath.
A cuckoo calls as I lean on the five-bar gate… and fall over. My vision of a flowery meadow disintegrates along with the woodwork, for as yet they do not exist other than in my imagination. Instead, I gaze at the not unpleasing — but nonetheless daunting — reality of an undulating grassy field, with just the far line of sturdy oaks and field maples to give substance to my dream. Practical but unpoetic barbed wire fences straddle the northern and southern edges, while the nearest (western) side remains open to the larger field which adjoins it. Dreams are great in theory, but inevitably require a good deal of hard work to become reality. “So how,” I asked myself, “had it all begun?”…
“This may be a silly idea,” Mike said, as we pondered whether or not we could gather together enough money to re-tile the roof of our tiny cottage, “but why don’t we buy a small piece of land for a nature reserve instead?”
Such a leap of lateral thinking attracted me immediately. Never mind the practicalities, like where would we find any land, or how could we afford it, or even what we should do about the roof!
Enticing vistas of sunlit wooded glades and sweeping hillsides beckoned. “Good idea — why not?”
Over the next year we advertised in local newspapers and left our requirements with bewildered estate agents, who were more used to dealing with requests for entire farms than for an odd piece of land. We tried to be realistic: any scrubby corner of unwanted ground would do, but we soon discovered that nobody parts with land easily.
It was just after Christmas 1991 that an unexpected opportunity arose. The landowners at the top of our lane were moving, so I wrote to ask if they would consider selling us a small piece of land for a wildlife sanctuary. Luckily, the eccentricity of this request appealed to them, and some time later I met Mrs. Heatherley out walking her dogs. “There is a piece of land you might be interested in,” she smiled. “Would you like to see it?”
Ten minutes later we were standing in the centre of an L-shaped field, which enfolded two sides of the local village primary school. January sunshine filtered weakly down from an overcast sky. The trees were mere skeletons and pale grass squelched underfoot, but it was land, real land, and a part of it was on offer to us. With no doubt unseemly haste I said “We’d love it”, and the legal wheels began to turn. As spring merged into summer, the land was still tantalizingly just out of reach; but one Saturday morning in July, thanks to the kindness and empathy of the original landowners, we were able to stand and gaze at our very own ground— albeit only half an acre!
How you picture half an acre depends on your point of view. Farmers could no doubt blink and miss it whilst counting their cows in for milking, or separating their sheep from their goats. Plenty of people have half-acre gardens, neatly laid to lawn and flower beds. On the other hand, our cottage garden is three yards square, so to be suddenly confronted with an area some 40 yards by 50 yards was a heady experience. The question of what to do with it had been occupying my mind since that first tempting New Year glimpse. The ‘scrubby corner’ which had initially seemed the most likely outcome of our search, would probably have been relatively easy to main tain. However, to be presented with a corner of what had once been a hay meadow, even though not an ancient one, was a different proposition entirely.