6 July 2010

One man went to mow

There is nothing more nostalgic than a traditional meadow full of grasses and colourful wild flowers, however years of intensive farming have significantly reduced the number of wildflower meadows in Great Britain. Over the past few years I have encouraged my clients to allow a bit of meadow into their own gardens, or at least grow some wild flowers to attract beneficial insects.

A meadow can turn a neglected part of the garden into something incredibly special and worthwhile.

It is generally agreed that the very best soil for meadow flowers is poor and low in fertility to keep any competing grasses down. If you have areas in your garden that seem to be fairly uninhabitable it might be worth trying some wild flowers there. A good idea can be to leave parts of your lawn un-mown to let the grass get to it’s natural height and this way encourage any wild flowers to grow amongst it. It is not advised to sow wild flower seeds onto an established lawn as they probably won’t find the room to grow amongst the close growing existing grass.

A good way to slow down the growth of grass is to sow the area with a semi parasitic wild flower called Rhianthus minor or yellow rattle, this will help the grasses you want to grow and gradually remove those you don’t.

There are two ways to go about achieving a meadow, whether it be large or small and in your back garden. The first is to add in plug plants, which can be easily bought online from various suppliers. I tend to use www.meadowmania.co.uk. It is important to first establish your soil type as wildflowers are fussy and will not simply grow anywhere. It is possible to buy flowers to suit any soil type or situation. Plant these in close groups (about a trowel’s length apart) for a perennial meadow. It is possible to grow these in modules from seed which is a much cheaper alternative.

The second way to get your meadow is to prepare the soil by removing as many of the pernicious weeds as you can during the summer months, particularly dock and nettles and scrape the surface as much as possible to remove the grass and topsoil if you feel the ground is particularly fertile and dig in sand or grit. You may need to rotavate the area and leave for the weed to grow and then remove the weeds and rotavate again.

Go over the soil raking and raking until you get a fine tilth, add more sand if the soil left seems heavy to help the seed to germinate. Work out how much seed you need per metre and mix with some sand to scatter it evenly. Seeding is best done in the autumn although it is possible to seed up to May and even through the summer if you are able to keep watering the area.

For a larger area it is worth including around eighty per cent of wild grasses, these can also be easily found on specialist meadow seed suppliers. A wild flower meadow seed mix could include, Cowslips, Lady’s Bedstraw, meadow Buttercup, Ox-Eye Daisy, Red Campion, Self Heal, Ribwort Plantain, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Musk Mallow, White Campion, Wild Carrot, Yellow Rattle and Yarrow. This range of flowers would extend the season for flowering from spring through to late summer.

The poppies and Ox-Eye daisies will be the dominant plants in the first year and after that the others will have had time to establish and will be more visible.

It’s a good idea to look around and see what else grows naturally in the hedgerows, fields and other gardens around and encourage these to grow in your meadow therefore preserving the local ecology.

The beauty of the meadow lies in its wildness and diversity but this takes work and careful management to keep it going year after year. It does need to be cut regularly during its first year to keep any annual weeds down but after this mow it twice a year and allow the cuttings to lie and set their seed for the following year. Use your imagination to mow paths or shapes into the grass or an edge around the borders in your garden to make maintenance easier.

It will take time for the meadow to establish but all this hard work and effort is absolutely well worth it.