Meadow Treasures: Why King Charles loves ‘superb’ Sussex
11:39 am 6 October 2022
10:47 am October 7, 2022
Sussex Life photographer Jim Holden has traveled thousands of miles in 18 months, capturing the meadows of the county and the country for a new book that has captivated King Charles.
While the many grassland photographers and Sussex Life stalwart Jim Holden visited over 18 months was hay, there was little proverbial sunshine associated with its making.
In fact, he endured fierce winds, blankets of snow, and days of drizzle and freezing rain while photographing the plants, people, and places that shape the classic prairies for a new book.
From ‘smiling’ Hebridian sheep to ‘coarse’ Riggit Galloway cattle (well, he’s sticking his tongue out) and grassland artists, craftsmen and experts, Jim has traveled thousands of miles each season to capture the images.
They have now been published in Meadow, an insightful guide to the iconic grasslands of the British Isles by Iain Parkinson, landscape and horticulture manager at Wakehurst, the wild botanic garden in Sussex which is part of Kew Gardens.
With a foreword by King Charles, Meadow explores surviving hay meadows, which are the natural equivalent of our churches, and castles giving a glimpse into the past, long before the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
“These biodiversity hotspots are an integral part of our cultural heritage,” King Charles wrote. “More than 30 first-person stories cover everything from restoring wildflowers and grasslands, to basket weaving and weaving, to pollinators and birds, to water and soil, to laying hedges, to grazing and archaeology.”
“It’s here that Jim Holden’s stunning photography brings these compelling stories to life.”
“It was an incredible adventure,” said Jim, 53, who lives in East Hoathly. “Many of the meadows I visited were within a day’s drive of my home in Sussex, and my little campervan certainly covered miles in my pursuit of these enigmatic meadows.
“When I came to each prairie with a camera in hand, it was all too easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of colors, shapes, patterns, sounds and movements. The grasslands provide an amazing level of sensory input from all sides.
“At the start of the project I was seen bouncing around in a meadow trying not to miss anything, but over time I found a much better approach: finding a likely place to stop, sit and wait. The prairie would find me soon, and all would be revealed. It was magical.
“I learned a lot about the meadows and their fascinating particularities. One long afternoon in West Sussex, for example, a futile search for the beard of the meadow goat, Tragopogon pratensis, left me scratching my head until the obvious meaning – in hindsight – of its common name, ‘Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’, finally came to mind. A lesson in humility learned, and I made sure to return early the next morning to capture my subject with a ladybug.
“It is so important to raise awareness of the growing pressures grasslands are under and the impact they have on the flora and fauna they support. Visiting so many classic and special hay meadows was an unforgettable experience and made me realize that meadows are as much about people as they are about plants.
Ruby Taylor in her Lewes studio, twisting and binding long, strong plant fibers. The dried grass cut from the meadow gives flexible fibres; baskets made from it are tactile and fragrant.
Willow artist Tom Hare challenges our perception of scale in landscape with his sculpture of a goat’s beard, Tragopogon pratensis. Its other name, “the shepherd’s clock”, refers to its remarkable seed head.
A haven of beauty and biodiversity, the gardens and wider landscape of Great Dixter provide spaces for quiet contemplation whatever the season.
Roadside in battle
Keith Datchler OBE at one of his favorite Sussex roadsides. These habitats are under considerable pressure due to road safety priorities and budget constraints, despite being some of the richest wildflower habitats in the UK. In East Sussex, a small yellow flower sign identifies certain shoulders as designated special conservation areas.
Hebridean sheep have earned a reputation as one of the best breeds for managing delicate ecosystems such as traditional hay meadows.
lick the cow
Riggit Galloway cattle thrive in all conditions on unimproved pasture, making them ideal conservation pastures. Grazing helps maintain an open lawn structure where seeds can settle, germinate and thrive.
The crested dogtail grass, Cynosurus cristatus, is the food plant for the larvae of several species of butterflies.
ladybug on bud
A ladybug on a closed goats beard bud.
Meadow by Iain Parkinson with photographs by Jim Holden, £25, Kew Publishing, available direct from https://shop.kew.org/meadowAmazon and bookstores.