Today we’re introducing Kate Woodhead
a long-time passionate plantsperson and also occasionally part of our planting team! We’re inviting Kate to share some of her gardening knowledge and insight with us, and her first blog is about growing wildflower meadows.
Glorious wildflower meadows
Wildflower borders are simply breathtaking in their variety, glorious colour and a paradise for pollinators. They have become very popular recently and many people seek to replace their lawns with wildflower meadows, but one should not be fooled into thinking that they are easy to create and maintain. One of the key understandings from the outset is that the flowers that you should plant are the ones that suit your soil profile rather than the ones you like!
We have become accustomed to seeing them on roundabouts and council roadside areas, but they are also planted on a much grander scale by parks and estates to enhance their environments. If you are taken with the idea, the best advice is to find a small bed or area that you can devote time and energy to developing rather than beginning with replacing the lawn, which has its’ own issues. There are two main types of meadow which we will visit, highlighting the glorious aspects of each.
Annual wildflower meadows
Annual meadows are usually comprised of cornfield annuals and are happiest in richer soil, so are a good choice when converting an existing border, which ideally is situated in an open and sunny position. You need to start with bare earth which has been prepared to a fine tilth, getting going in a warm March or better still, April or May. The preparation of the border is an important part of the success of the meadow. It should ideally be very clean and weed free – and you will need to remove any perennial weeds from the area and any grass. The soil needs to be dug over and probably weeded or hoed several times before sowing the seed or the bed covered with black plastic or a weed suppressing membrane for at least three months before sowing. The area needs to settle before seed sowing and time allowed for any weed seeds to germinate before sowing your meadow seed.
Seed is best obtained as a mix from a Garden Centre or online depending on the size of the area you want to grow. The mixtures available as annual meadow seed often contain wild poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold and corn cockles. Companies that specialise in meadow growing offer advice on how to calculate the amount of seed that you need for your area. Sharp sand is mixed with the seed to sow it, and it is best sown in two directions to get equal coverage. Lightly firm the seed after sowing but do not cover it. Germination is usually very quick, over 7-10 days depending on the warmth and moisture in the soil. You should expect to do some weeding during the early weeks of growth. Most plants will flower within three months of sowing.
When you have enjoyed the fruits of your labours, leave the plants to self seed. Clear away the next spring and rake over the ground to remove any weeds and encourage the seed to germinate. It is advised that the area should be re-sown with a further seed mix for the first few years until you have built the natural wildflower seed bank in the soil.
The preparation of the area for your perennial meadow needs much the same attention to detail as above. The fertility of your soil will decrease after a couple of years, but can stay as it is when you start to sow and establish your perennial meadow. Unlike the annual meadow though, you can sow it at any time of the year but expect the major germination to be in spring after the soil begins to warm. In late spring it is useful to consider watering to help some of the slower seeds to geminate. You will also need to be vigilant with the weeding as many will compete with the plants you really want! When you have a mix of seeds, you will always get different germination rates, so weeding will need to be carefully managed. The types of plants you will grow in your perennial meadow will vary with the seed mix you choose but an example includes Black-eyed Susan ( Rudbekia hirta), Yellow Ox-eye ( Buphthalmum salicifolium) and even Sea Holly( Eryngium planum).
By the end of the first season you will have done most of the important work to ensure a good show next year, although you may need to continue to provide some observant weeding and possibly watering. It is advised not to mix annual seed with perennial as the annual seed is faster growing and more competitive than perennial and may swamp the plants you want to encourage.
Converting a lawn
It can take several years to convert a lawn to a meadow due to the vigorous nature of grass. Many wildflower suppliers offer the option of plug plants that are ideal to plant into an established lawn. However, probably the easiest way to convert the lawn is to remove your existing grass and purchase turf which is pre-loaded with wildflowers. The specialist companies that provide it select appropriate plants for the competition with grass and they are usually very successful. Further information can be obtained from Pictorial Meadows – Meadows from Seed and Turf and Wildflower Seed, Plugs & Bulbs for Meadows – Meadow Mania
It can be seen that it is a lot of work to create a wildflower meadow although it must be said that the hard work is rewarded many-fold, if you do make the effort. The flowers can be stunning for several months and the bees and butterflies will reward you with their attention.
If you would like to visit and glory in someone else’s hard work, I took these pictures recently at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens | National Trust just outside York.
To find a natural wildflower meadow near you, have a look at the Wildlife Trusts website https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/where_to_see_wildflower_meadow
Llandough wildflowers by Mike Erskine on Unsplash
We’ve written previously about growing wildflowers; if you’re unsure about how to identify your own soil so that you can select those flowers that are going to grow well, take a look at https://northleedsgardendesign.co.uk/meadow-planting-in-your-garden/
And if you would like us to help you create your own wildflower patch, do get in touch