From forgotten corner to flower-filled meadow

22nd April 2022

On 13 April, members of the team and Chelsea Pensioners congregated in Ranelagh Gardens to sow the seeds that will turn a forgotten corner into a field of wild flowers. 

Although the site alongside the Chelsea Bridge Road is tucked away at the edge of the gardens, it’s actually highly visible to pedestrians and drivers. The new meadow will give passers-by a wonderful first sight of the Royal Hospital, as well as uplifting the Chelsea Pensioners and visitors who spend time in Ranelagh Gardens. 

The project is part of our commitment to biodiversity here at the Royal Hospital. 

“We’ve used our recycled green waste to create a base and harvested some of the wildflower seeds ourselves. The seeds include the red Flanders poppy and a mix of others. All we need now is a little bit of rain. The meadow will attract butterflies, bees and invertebrates which attract birds in turn, so the meadow will be good for wildlife”, says grounds manager Ric Glen. 

Ric explains that this area of our grounds used to be marshy and was originally the site for an osier bed, where willows were grown for weaving baskets. Now the climate is much drier, making it more suited for a meadow. 

Bringing back Britain’s meadows

Shockingly, 97% of Britain’s meadows were lost between the 1930s and the 1980s, changing the landscape that many of the Pensioners knew in their youth. Trevor, who not only helped to sow the seeds but regularly helps the grounds team, grew up in Folkestone: “Where the Channel Tunnel starts now there used to be meadows”, he remembers. 

The other Pensioners also reminisced about the countryside of their youth:

“I used to walk across the meadows with my dog” says John, “There were primroses and bluebell woods”. Brian recalls the many chestnuts and cobnuts on the trees and hop-picking in Kent, while Colin remembers how schoolboys called hawthorn berries ‘itchy-coos’ and put them down each other’s necks!"

These days John and Brian walk every day in Ranelagh Gardens:

 “We love the serenity, watching the trees coming alive, and the squirrels – we feed them and they’ll come and stand on your shoes. It’s a haven here, peaceful and quiet”, Brian says.

Now the Pensioners and the grounds team are looking forward to the results of their seed-sowing. Ric says that although the meadow will be low maintenance, it will bring a host of benefits:

“People can think of many wild flowers as weeds, but they’re very, very beautiful, as well as beneficial to wildlife. Also, the ephemeral nature of the display makes it special. We’ll do an annual seed sowing down here from now on. The management of the area will be the same. Once or twice a year we’ll send guys down with strimmers, but instead of 100% weeds, there will also be some biodiverse meadow-flowers. The area won’t just appeal to the butterflies and bees, it will be really appealing to the human eye.”

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View the archive

Brompton Cemetery Seed Sowing
Sowing wildflowers in memory of past Chelsea Pensioners

On 6 May, Chelsea Pensioners and members of the Royal Hospital’s grounds team joined representatives from the Royal Parks, the Royal Parks Guild and the Friends of Brompton Cemetery to sow a patch of wildflower seeds in Brompton Cemetery as part of the Battlefields and Butterflies initiative.

Chelsea Pensioner Centenarians
100 years old and still going strong

Recent research backs up the anecdote that Chelsea Pensioners not only live considerably longer than their peers outside (by over five years, on average), but that their lifetimes once they come to the Royal Hospital are extending, year on year. This strongly suggests that the care and community here contribute to greater longevity – as well as improving quality of life. 


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