How to create a wild flower meadow
National Meadows Day - Advice from the Head Gardener
As July 2 is National Meadows Day, this month’s advice is to help you make a meadow. Whether you have a few feet or a few acres, the principle is the same and wildlife will benefit. The pleasure of seeing the right plants in a natural environment, providing colour and movement from spring until late summer can be achieved just by fiddling about with the right patch of scruffy lawn.
If you have been to see the garden lately you will know the meadow is full of orchids and butterflies. In spite of the cold start and the damp June, the weather has been really good for wild flowers.
Soil conditions and aspect
You’ll need poor soil and lots of light; an open position is ideal, for sun all day and plenty of weather. Buy seed, not plants. But no grass seed; grass will find your meadow anyhow and it bullies wild flowers, so if you’re seeding a grassed area, include Yellow Rattle. It’s a pretty little parasitic plant that reduces the vigour of grass. Avoid annuals, (cornflowers, poppies etc.) because they need regularly disturbed soil. Depending on the size of your meadow, you might need a few packets or to buy seed mix by weight.
Prepare the ground by removing everything, or cutting grass as low as you can and raking great ugly patches into it. Seed wants to touch soil. Sow the seed as per instructions. It’s a good idea to add sand to the seed mix so you’ll see where you throw it and be able to spread it more evenly.
Maintenance for your meadow
Mow (or scythe or strim) just once in late summer and leave the hay in heaps to drop seed before clearing it. Don’t feed or fertilise, but keep the soil poor and the grass miserable. Meadows aren’t high maintenance; they just need the right maintenance. In future years you can augment your meadow with plug plants and bulbs. Plants will naturalise if happy. Our meadow now has too many orchids to count, they've been hybridising at a rate of knots. Visit soon before they go over and get down low to appreciate them close-up. It's glorious.
Nick Haworth, Head Gardener