PUBLISHED: 13:07 24 May 2007 | UPDATED: 14:33 20 February 2013
Prepare the ground now and you will be rewarded with drifts of wildflowers and grasses, a vision of jostling blooms and a feast for wildlife
Words and photography by Leigh Clapp
WILDFLOWER MEADOWS conjure up wonderful images of wafting summer breezes rippling through waves of colour. They are also one of the richest habitats for wildlife; the greater diversity of plants, the more kinds of animal and insect you are likely to attract.
Over the past hundred years, wildflower meadowland has declined due to more intense cropping and the spread of settlement. However, in areas left unmanaged, such as disused railway lines or old airfields, the wildflowers have re-established themselves.
You can bring this wonderful tapestry of grasses and flowers into your own garden even in small spaces. As well as meadows, both large and mini-sized, you could create wildflower areas in garden beds or even containers.
Meadows should be placed where they will receive direct sunlight for most of the day. They work well against backdrops of shrubs or hedges and at the end of the garden. Mown paths through tall summer meadows give definition and a sense of intent. Be inspired by the Surrey gardens I have visited (see pictures) and transform an area of your own.
If you would like to try, March is a great time to locate the site, select appropriate seeds and prepare the area, ready to plant at the end of the month or in April for a summer meadow.
To create a meadow takes more than just letting a rough section of grass grow wild. You need to tailor the planting to your conditions. Seed mixes are available for different soil types, both poor or fertile, to create spring or summer meadows.
Ideally, you should choose species native to your locality or of British origin grown by wildflower seed companies on their own land, not taken from the countryside.
The first step is to assess your site's fertility. Wildflowers grow best on poor, dry soil as fertile soils allow grasses to overtake the less vigorous flowers. Perennial weeds, such as dock, dandelions and thistles, indicate fertile soils and these will need to be removed before sowing.
Next, dig or rotovate the soil, turning over the richer topsoil and burying it beneath poorer subsoil. Firm down the soil and rake it level. Leave the area for a few weeks and remove any germinating weeds.
When you come to sow the seed, mix it with silver sand to make it easier to broadcast evenly in drifts, at a rate of around 3.75 grams per square metre. Rake it lightly, water well and firm down.
Traditional meadow mixes of 80% grasses and 20% flowers bloom in their second year. The first year is for management to allow the seedlings to establish. Mow the area at least three times in the first year to a height of about 5cm removing all cuttings so they cannot increase the soil's fertility. This prevents seedlings being overshadowed by grasses and weeds.
In the second year, leave the meadow uncut until after flowering, around late September and remember to remove all clippings. Once established, meadows are quite low in maintenance and will improve over time with many plants self-seeding to reinforce the naturalistic effect.
Meadows can make a glorious addition to the garden, whether purely wildflowers or enhanced with additional species. They make a harmonious medley, attractive to us and also to a host of wildlife.