Centuries-old tradition revived as Trinity College’s wildflower meadow scythed
Three gardeners and a fellow scythed a wildflower meadow for the first time in living memory at Trinity College.
Reviving a centuries-old tradition believed to have been practised at Trinity before lawnmowers, the scything was carried out amid the sound of ‘Four women went to mow’ among a medley of songs inspired by English country gardens from the college choir. Traditional fiddler Erin Brown and tin whistler Barry Watson also accompanied them.
The ‘mowing’ took place at the University of Cambridge’s largest college on the day before the autumn equinox in the Northern hemisphere and before Michaelmas Term, named after the September 29 Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, which marks the start of the academic year.
Trinity gardeners Joharna Richards and Jo Miles, Trinity fellow Prof Marian Holness, and the head gardener at Clare College, Kate Hargreaves, are all trained scythers and mowed the Meadow Circle accompanied by fiddler Erin Brown and Barry Watson on the tin whistle.
Joharna said: “I love scything – it’s a real skill to do it well but once you have the knack it is very restorative, not just for the scyther but of course for the meadow you are mowing too. Scything is carbon-neutral, quiet and you can see the seed heads drop down into the ground, so you know it’s contributing to the health and diversity of the meadow next year.”
Members of the college community were invited to watch and enjoy fig and mulberry ice cream made by Trinity’s chefs.
At the event, Trinity head gardener Karen Wells revealed how the college’s gardens team had used iRecord, managed by the Biological Records Centre, to chart the variety and prevalence of species across the 36 acres of gardens.
”We know that Trinity’s gardens – which include wildflower and flood meadows, wooded areas with mature trees, and our herbaceous borders – are a haven for all sorts of wildlife and wild plants,” said Ms Wells.
The gardeners occasionally see the likes of sparrowhawks, firecrests and kingfishers. Birds are attracted by the many food sources in the garden including insects, which benefit from the ornamental and wild flowers, while the gardens’ varied plant life – including fungi, lichen, grasses and flowers – provide shelter for insects. Meanwhile, the shrubs and wooded areas offer habitat for foxes and the occasional deer.
“From now on, when a gardener spots a bug, butterfly, bird or something bigger, they can log it on iRecord. We want to learn and, by documenting what we see, where and in what concentrations, we can understand and encourage biodiversity at Trinity to thrive,” said Ms Wells.
Fourteen types of wildflowers were planted in 2019 by the gardeners around the huge pink chestnut tree in New Court.
“I can’t tell you how many different plants grow here now, but soon will be able to, with iRecord,” noted Ms Wells.