Wildflower meadows may be decreasing in the countryside, but they’re on the rise in urban gardens, giving a fashionably relaxed, naturalistic feel. They also attract a host of wildlife and increase biodiversity. If you’d like one, now is a good time to start the process.
The great thing is you don’t need a huge garden to enjoy the pleasure of a mini meadow – just a strip across your lawn with an inviting path meandering through it, or an area of any shape, oval, triangular, will create an attractive contrast to a neat lawn.
A friend of mine has given over the end of her lawn to meadow with wildflowers such as ox-eye daisies, white and red campion, field scabious, yarrow and meadow buttercups popping up amongst swaying grasses. She loves the birds, butterflies and bees it attracts and the fact that, as opposed to traditional borders, it’s an ever-changing tapestry of colour from spring to autumn. It even changes from year to year so you never quite know what to expect.
For annual meadows, which have to be sown once a year, sow a wildflower mix of colourful seeds such as poppies, cornflowers and nigella, on prepared ground in autumn or spring. These are of course beautiful and wonderful for wildlife, but less sustainable than perennial meadows as they have to be ripped out every year and started afresh.
For an instant perennial wildflower meadow, laying turf is the quickest option. This contains attractive grasses as well as wildflowers, mostly perennials as well as some annuals. An important ingredient of most meadows is the annual yellow rattle, which feeds off and kills tough grasses leaving gaps for wildflowers to seed. Wildflower Turf (wildflowerturf.co.uk) has some lovely meadow turfs including one designed for shady areas. Autumn or spring is a good time for laying turf by removing existing lawn, digging over the soil, and remembering to water as it gets established. Meadows do better in poor soils where weeds can’t take over, so ground that hasn’t been fertilised is best.
Another option is to let the grass grow and mow around the shape you want to define and organise it. Wildflowers such as vetch or knapweed often self-seed, but you can introduce drifts of other meadow flowers as plug plants. The all-important yellow rattle needs to be seeded, by creating bare patches in the grass and sowing into them (it should be sown in autumn because it needs winter chilling for germination).
Maintenance is relatively easy – certainly in comparison to a lawn. It involves cutting it right down to the ground after your flowers have set seed in September with a strimmer and then a mow over one to two inches from the ground. Then collect up all your hay to avoid adding nitrogen that will feed the coarse grasses – and never fertilise. In the early years, it’s worth giving it another cut in June, eight to ten inches off the ground to give other species space to come through, it will then have a second flush. Your meadow will look dormant over the winter and come back, full of delightful surprises, in spring.