Posted: Friday 15 November 2013
by Kate Bradbury
If you want to create a traditional wildflower meadow in your garden then now is as good a time as any to start.
A creature of habit, I have a very fixed running route. I run through the park to the canal, then along the towpath and back again. The route takes me past the large weeping willow tree where I occasionally see bats at dusk, to the pond where I look for diving beetles and tadpoles. I always pause halfway at the mini-meadow where, in summer, I watch bumblebees, butterflies and day-flying moths.
Now there are no bats, tadpoles or diving beetles, bumblebees, moths or butterflies. Nor is there a mini-meadow. Council workers cut it down a few weeks ago, but the grass was left to rot back into the soil. So, rather than pause halfway to look for wildlife, I spend five minutes removing grass clippings, much to the bemusement of fellow runners.
A traditional wildflower meadow (or ‘hay’ meadow) – one with native grasses and wildflowers – should be cut twice a year (usually once in late-winter to spring and again in late-summer to autumn). The grass clippings should be removed to ensure the nutrient levels of the soil remain as low as possible.
Wildflowers such as vetches, knapweeds, wild carrot and field scabious thrive in nutrient-poor soils. If nitrogen levels become too high then the grasses out-compete the wildflowers and the flowers quickly disappear. This summer there weren’t as many flowers as there had been in previous years – now I know why.
I see my twice-weekly grass-clippings removal as an investment in the future. If the clippings remain on the meadow and rot into the soil, then the increased nutrient levels will lead to fewer wildflowers, and therefore less wildlife for me to enjoy during my run. It’s currently the only local spot where I can find skippers, common blue butterflies and burnet moths. I want to keep seeing them in years to come.
If you want to create a traditional wildflower meadow in your garden then now is as good a time as any to start. The easiest way is to just start treating your lawn like a meadow (this option works better on less manicured lawns). If you live in the south you might get away with giving it a final mow now, otherwise mow it as soon as the grass starts to grow in spring, then leave it all summer.
If you haven’t used weedkiller and/or lawn feed for a while, it’s likely that wildflowers will already be present in the turf – regular mowing will have just prevented them from growing. Remove any invasive plants such as nettles and docks, and add seeds of cornfield annuals in spring for a burst of colour. Plugs of perennial plants can be added in late-summer, as can fresh seeds of yellow rattle, a semi-parasitic plant that restricts grass growth.
Gradually, you should see wildflowers flourish and your lawn transform into a meadow. Just don’t forget to keep removing those grass clippings.
15/11/2013 at 17:12
Just recently visited Brighton and saw the meadow in Preston Park, superb and very inspirational!
16/11/2013 at 14:09
Are you planning an annual meadow or a perennial one as there needs are very different. I have both but the annual one is better on my heavy clay soil.
07/01/2014 at 21:27
How can you replace an existing lawn with a wildflower meadow? How does it work with normal flower beds without the whole garden looking a complete mess? How do you mark the different areas of the garden?
16/01/2014 at 22:36
I'm planning on creating a wildflower meadow in my front garden, the fact that it's low maintenance, and much more attractive than a patch of plain grass has convinced me.
Is it worth buying a seed pack for an impact this year or can this happen if left to its own devices?
16/01/2014 at 23:13
If your lawn has been cared for then leaving it to it's own devices probably won't give you the wildflowers that you desire as rye and similar grasses used in lawns are too 'thuggish' for wildflowers. Adding seed will help if you rake the lawn aggressively and create some 'bold' patches to sow onto however you may not get results as quick as you had hoped from my experience.
I have tried it several ways but found the best was to strip the turf and sow fresh, this has certainly proved the most reliable as far as perennial wild flowers go for me, however I did sow some annuals the first year whilst the perennials grew as they will generally flower best from their second season on.
The other thing I did was researched what type of wildflowers were native to my part of North Somerset and where possible sowed these species.
Another tip from me is to also grow some perennial wildflower plugs from seed and plant these in any gaps for the first year or so and they will soon mix in! If you end up not needing them all plant them in large pots for a mini meadow or what I do is plant them in between herbaceous perennials in my pollinating border and they add a nice twist.
Plant annuals in the first year so Perennials have a season to get going...
Hope that helps