As well as representing a quintessential part of the character and beauty of the British countryside, meadows offer tremendously important habitats for a great variety of insects and small rodents along with birds such as flycatchers, larks, thrushes, finches and birds of prey.
Whatever size your garden, there’s an opportunity for a small wildflower patch. You can set aside an area of lawn or part of a border or even a large container on the patio.
In your garden
- Wildflower meadows establish best on unproductive soil so try and pick a poor patch of ground which hasn’t been cultivated recently.
- Wildflower seed merchants supply mixtures suitable for various soil types and situations, so it’s worth checking what sort of soil you have and its pH before you make your selection.
- Where soil fertility is too high to allow perennial wildflowers to flourish, consider sowing a cornfield annual mix that includes plants such as cornflower, corn poppy, corn marigold and corncockle. Some barley and wheat seed will add an authentic touch.
- There are two approaches to this. One is to just set aside some lawn and wait to see what arrives. The less pristine the lawn the more promising. Just raise the cutters on your mower to make some paths (it’ll look more cared for) and leave the rest of the mowing until July or August.
- The other is to start from scratch on bare ground. To achieve this, control weeds by digging or rotovating, burying any vegetation to a depth of 15-20cm (6-8in). This also brings less fertile soil to the surface. Firm and rake the surface to make a seedbed. Don’t be tempted to add manure or fertiliser as this will encourage excessive vigour in the grasses which then swamp the wildflowers. This is the most important principle in establishing a wildflower meadow.
- Sow in autumn to give the seed time to settle in over winter, unless on heavy clay in which case wait till spring.
- Even large areas can be sown by hand quite easily. Ensure that the seed is scattered evenly by sowing half lengthways and the remaining half widthways across the plot. Mixing the seed with silver sand makes the process easier. Rake in lightly and water thoroughly
- During the first year the mowing regime is critical for success. Cut to 5-7cm (2-2 1/2in) whenever the height reaches 10-20cm (4-8in). The number of mows required can range from one to four. Control thuggish weeds like thistles, nettles and docks by hand-weeding or spot-treating with a systemic herbicide containing glyphosate.
- Thereafter a couple of cuts a year should suffice. Once in late July/early August and then again in early autumn.
- After mowing, always leave the clippings for a couple of days to drop any seed and then rake up and remove to reduce soil fertility.
- Be vigilant when mowing - small mammals, amphibians and reptiles may be hiding in the grass. Some birds nest in larger meadows so as a precaution don’t mow until after the beginning of August.
- Wildflowers are available in plug form and in ready-planted turf rolls which can make establishing the plants even easier.