They have always been the romantic idyll of summer, evoking visions of blanket picnic lunches in the sun or maybe under the shade of a mature tree, beautifully marked butterflies erratically making there way to a destination, the sun casting a glow on all the flower colors dotted throughout with grasses swaying gently in a warm summer zephyr, causing that soothing rustling sound that makes you feel like time is standing still. Meadows are always a breathtaking sight, whether created by man or in a field taken back by nature’s own hand, we have no say in how things play out in this theater.
Meadows are the free-spirited child of the gardening world and we admire them because we can try to guide and coax them but they do what they want, as they please. We can add ingredients to the meadow but how the recipe turns out is always a surprise. What flowers will end up where? And next to whom? We relinquish control and give in to those seasonal vignettes of chaos, a true pleasurable experience, which in the end is always an admirable result.
Meadows are always at their best in poor soil, with plants reaching maximum potential sans nutrients and fertilizer. It is what is, and I like the mystery in that, nature knows best. Through the season they move through different phases visually and there is one plant that has a part in this equation. This plant is a true workhorse in this environment and is known by the name Hay Rattle, Yellow Rattle, or it’s Latin name Rhinanthus minor. I first saw this plant in the Great Dixter meadows years ago and have been a fan ever since, it is because of this plant that doors open for the possibility of a more diverse mix of plants in the meadow.
This annual, which flowers from May to August, is native to Europe and Western Asia and is commonly found throughout fields, grasslands and roadsides. With its innocent looking yellow blooms and serrated leaves, this plant does is it’s work on the sly, by parasitizing surrounding grasses growing around it in the meadow.
Underneath the soil, the roots of Hay Rattle steal the nutrients from the roots of grasses, slowing down their vigorous growth enough that other plants have the chance to establish themselves and grow without getting pushed out . Grasses can grow at such a quick rate, easily out-competing other plants trying to grow in the meadow, easily taking over, with the end result being a less diverse plant mix. Rhinanthus minor changes that, holding the door open for all the other blooms you might see flowering alongside it, and is by far, the most superior plant in the meadow. How can a plant that does such good not be anything but loved?