Wildflower meadows have an appeal all of their own and if you’re a bit of a wildlife fan, there’s not much to beat a few hours spent watching the steady stream of bees and other pollinating insects busying themselves amongst the blooms on a warm summer’s afternoon. Unfortunately, changes to agriculture and the ongoing drainage and development of traditional sites have made this simple pleasure increasingly hard to enjoy as meadows across the country have declined both in number and area.
With a bit of effort, however, you can create a mini version for yourself and provide a rich habitat for a range of native British species of flora and fauna outside your own back door.
Picking The Right Site
Wildflowers turn a lot of what you think of as traditional gardening wisdom on its head – and nowhere is more apparent than when it comes to soil fertility. Forget all about those slow release fertilisers and foliar feeds; wildflowers do best when the soil is poor, so if there’s a spot in your garden where you always struggle to grow anything and even grass looks a bit sparse, then it might just be ideal.
Don’t worry, though, if you’re lucky enough to have one of those gardens with naturally rich, fertile soils; if you want a wildflower meadow, you can still have one, though the number of species that are likely to grow will be a little limited, at least at first. A couple of years of careful management, however, and you should be able to produce a show of flowers that your local bees will be very happy to visit.
Arguably preparation is the single most important factor for success, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Ideally, any existing vegetation on the site should be killed off first, to avoid established and typically more vigorous plants competing with your new sowing. A dose of weed-killer or a thorough going over with a rotivator will do the trick, but if neither is possible – or you just don’t fancy doing it that way – simply cutting down the existing plants and then raking the area to expose as much soil as you can also seems to work quite well. If you do opt for this approach, however, you’ll have to be very vigilant to stop your growing wildflowers being choked until they really get going.
There are two suitable sowing times for most kinds of meadow flowers – late spring to early summer and late summer to early autumn – so remember to plan your preparation work accordingly.
Choosing Your Seed
The natural mix of wildflowers found growing in different areas is surprisingly varied, and depends on soil type, wetness and the amount of shade present. If you’re going to be successful replicating a wildflower meadow on the small scale, knowing your growing conditions becomes very important. The good news is that once you’ve worked out what kind of soil you have – loamy, sandy, chalk or clay – and how wet or shady the site you’ve chosen is, the rest is easy. There are plenty of excellent seed suppliers who have developed particular mixes – often with specific parts of the UK in mind – and their advice is invaluable, so don’t be afraid to ask. An enormous amount of research and hard work has gone into the whole wildflower growing scene over the last twenty years; you may pay a few pounds more for seed from a reputable specialist, but you’ll get the benefit of all that experience to help ensure your success. It’s a very wise investment to make!
The Fun Part Begins!
Up to now it’s all been about preparation and that usually means hard work; with that behind you, the fun really starts with sowing – and it’s something that even very little members of the family can enjoy. In a back garden, probably the easiest and most straightforward way to sow wildflower seeds is by hand in the time-honoured method of broadcasting. To make the seed itself easier to handle, particularly if little hands are involved in the job, it’s often a good idea to mix it with sand or sawdust. Your seed merchant will advise you on the appropriate sowing rate and quantities, but as a general rule you’ll only be using a few grams per square metre; without a bulking agent, it’s all too easy to end up with concentrations of seed in some areas and bare patches in others.
The golden rule is take your time – easier said than done, of course, with eager youngsters!
Once you’ve done that, gently sprinkle a fine layer of soil or sand over the area to improve the seeds chances of staying put, and then it’s just a case of waiting to see how well they germinate. With luck, you’ll be enjoying your own mini wildflower meadow – and all the birds, bugs and beasts it’s bound to attract – in no time at all.