Posted by: sweetpea | July 5, 2007

RHS Workshop – Wildflower Meadows

I thought I’d share with you what I learnt from the Meadows workshop I attended at Harlow Carr last week (or at least as much as I can remember!). 

When I think of a wildflower meadow what comes to mind is vibrant red poppies nodding their heads amongst the grass, mixed with some cornflowers, corncockle, corn marigold and maybe the odd other flower too.  The image I have is wonderful, like a bejewelled bedspread, and always makes me smile.  But I learnt on the course that this isn’t a wildflower meadow but a corn meadow, and is in fact hard work to maintain in ones own garden as to maintain an annual display you need to cultivate the soil each year.  I believe this is because the flowers are annuals and I think generally speaking (but don’t quote me on it) the seeds require disturbance in order to germinate, think this is because they need light and the disturbance brings the seed to the soil surface.

So the first thing I learnt on the workshop was what exactly is a wildflower meadow?  Well it is essentially a mix of grasses and mostly perennial wild flowers, I think 70:30 in proportion but I may have that the wrong way around and of course in nature it will vary considerably depending on the local conditions.  The grasses are typically what are called fine grasses (I think) but I’m afraid I can’t recall exact species, but they have some interesting names.  Then there are the flowers which vary widely depending on the local conditions.  At the Harlow Carr meadow we saw: Common spotted orchid, types of vetch, meadow cransebill (or is it geranium!), knapweed, and others who’s names escape me right now! 

One of the wildflowers I do remember the name of is Yellow Rattle, and that is because in a wildflower meadow it is probably the most important one in terms of ensuring success, and preventing the grasses from taking over.  Yellow rattle is semi-parasitic on grasses, so by including it in your meadow it helps reduce the vigour of the grasses present and enables the wildflowers to flourish more. 

So Yellow rattle is the first thing you have to remember when creating a wildflower meadow.  The second thing you need to remember is that a wildflower meadow requires a nutrient poor soil to be a success.  This is because nutrients favour grasses, the more nutrients that are available the more the grass will grow and outcompete the wildflowers.  By creating a low nutrient site you are creating conditions that are more in favour of the wildflowers.  There are various methods of reducing the nutrient content of your soil, the most effective is to simply remove the topsoil and either use the existing subsoil as the base, orbring in more subsoil if you need to level the area.  Other methods that can be used (but generally take longer), are to just treat the area of lawn badly i.e. don’t water or feed, and leave it to see what happens; stop cutting the lawn and see what happens; or of course there is always cheating!

The third thing to remember when creating a wildflower meadow is that you should treat it mean, or in other words don’t feed or water it as this will simply favour the grasses again.

Finally, you need to remember to remove all the grass cuttings whenever you mow it to prevent the nutrients from going back into the soil, and again encouraging the grasses.

So all I need now is a patch of grass to experiment on 🙂

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