Botanist Dr Trevor Dines on the stunning ancient meadows at Joan’s Hill Farm in Herefordshire. Picture by Hugo Rittson Thomas
Most surviving ancient meadows are rare and tiny fragments of colour, small fields dotted here and there in the landscape. But Joan’s Hill Farm is different. It’s a landscape of colour, with field after rolling field filled with flowers. Surrounded by a thick barrier of dense woodland, it’s a secret, special place that recalls the spirit of former agricultural times.
The sheer quantity of common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) in some places is breathtaking. Their lilac flowers are so thick on the ground that at times it’s impossible to put a foot down and you find yourself momentarily rooted to the spot.
Common bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata), tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and buttercups (Ranunculus sp.) provide a vibrant yellow counterpoint. Softened by clouds of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), the whole effect is mesmerising.
Rarer treasures nestle in the sward too. Dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria), with spikes of gorse-like flowers, has been used since Saxon times to colour wool yellow or, when mixed with woad (Isatis tinctoria), a rich green colour.
Greater butterfly orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) inexplicably appeared in one field recently and are gently spreading, raising their white angel-like flowers to the sky. And in autumn meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale) burst from the ground, their vibrant pink flowers appearing without leaves and thus earning themselves the moniker of “naked ladies”.
Once the hay is harvested in late summer, cattle graze the grass before winter arrives. They’re allowed to roam as they like from field to field and it seems they take the flowers with them; many meadow plants are popping up in places they’ve not been seen before and every year the display gets better and better.
From Wildflowers For The Queen by Hugo Rittson Thomas
Famed for his portraits of Her Majesty The Queen and the Dalai Lama, Hugo Rittson-Thomas celebrates a very different cultural icon in his new book: the wildflower meadow. In partnership with conservation charity Plantlife, and with a foreword by its patron HRH The Prince of Wales, Wildflowers For The Queen celebrates the unsung beauty and diversity of wildflower meadows. Profits from book sales go to Plantlife, a British conservation charity working to save threatened wildflowers, plants and fungi.
Available from Hugo’s website for £40 (RRP £50). Idler readers get 10% off using the code IDLER10 (available until 31 July 2021).