When we moved house just over three years ago the garden was empty, almost literally. The previous owners didn’t like gardening and the back garden was mostly lawn.
Within days we had started to create a garden – this was a much higher priority than making changes to the house. By the end of the first summer we had several flowerbeds, a gravel garden, a greenhouse and a pond. The next step was to make the lawn a bit more exciting, by creating a small wildflower meadow, just nine feet (nearly three metres) long and six feet (nearly two metres) wide. We chose a sunny spot towards the end of the garden.
I started work in August 2013 by removing the turf. Removing turf reduces the fertlity of the soil and this helps to prevent the grass from becoming too lush once your meadow establishes itself. If you take the turf up and lightly disturb the soil and then leave it for several weeks, you should be able to remove the resulting crop of weeds by hand and then sow your wildflower seeds. But the summer of 2013 was very dry and I found that nothing germinated until I sowed my wildflower seeds on 8th September and watered them in.
I sowed a wildflower seed mix for sandy soils from Emorsgate Seeds. It is a good idea to know what soil type you have, as different mixes are available for different soils but if you’re not sure, you can choose a general purpose wildflower mix.
A wildflower mix for a meadow includes grasses such as Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), Crested Dogstail (Cynosurus cristatus) and Smaller Cat’s-tail (Phleum bertolonii). These are very beautfiful and add to the meadow’s interest to humans and wildlife alike.
As the meadow grew I also added container grown plants in ones and twos, such as Lesser and Greater Knapweeds (Centaurea nigra and C. scabiosa), Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca). I also moved some Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) from the allotment to one corner of the meadow.
This is now the meadow’s third summer and it has changed every year.
In the first summer poppies dominated. They weren’t in the seed mix but the soil’s seed bank. They were extremely pretty and actually benefitted the slower growing perennials in the seed mix by acting as a nurse crop, proving protection to the growing seedlings.
In the second summer the poppies mostly died out but the flowers from the seed mix more than made up for this loss, especially the airy red-green dock flowers of Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and a mass of Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), the latter proving very popular with various beetles. Common Red Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) actually preferred these heads to those of Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus), the star of the previous summer.
This year more plants from the seed mix have matured: Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is in flower and there are recognisable plants of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), which will flower later in the summer or next year. Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta) and Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) have established themselves from seed and the Oxeye Daisies have spread throughout the meadow.
Every time we walk around the garden we do at least a couple of circuits of the meadow, looking at the flowers and the insects they attract. Apart from a pond (which is even better), creating a small wild flower meadow (or a big one if you have room) is one of the best ways of attracting wildlife to a garden.
I expect the meadow to continue to develop over the years. Once established it requires very little maintenance, other than a cut at the end of summer with a pair of shears, removing the cuttings after a couple of days. Removing the cuttings keeps the soil fertility low, which is especially important on heavier soils, otherwise coarser grasses and vigorous weeds can become established. Last year I cut half the meadow but left the other half as shelter for hibernating invertebrates and frogs, and because the dead heads of the Wild Carrots were so lovely.
On our allotment (also on sandy soil) we established a much larger wildflower meadow over ten years ago. This supports insects such as the Six-spot Burnet moth and Long-winged Coneheads. It also has a self-supporting population of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), which is a hemiparasite on grasses and restricts their vigour. I tried to establish Yellow Rattle in the meadow in the garden in autumn 2014 but only a few plants grew last year. I will probably try again: if I do I will need to create some open spaces with bare soil within the meadow to encourage it to establish. I would need to sow the seed in autumn, as it needs a period of winter chill in order to germinate.