Grow A Wildflower Meadow
Giving over some space in your garden to grow wild is a fantastic way to attract birds, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, insects, bees, butterflies and moths.
Although you could just leave a patch alone without any weeding or mowing, a more attractive way is to grow a wildflower meadow. Many of the UK’s grasslands have been lost which supported an abundance of wildlife so by creating a mini meadow in your garden will help some of these species by giving them food and shelter.
For the most authentic meadow you should grow a perennial wildflower meadow. Perennial wildflowers thrive on poor soils because grasses don’t compete as much with the flowers. You will need to prepare your garden to remove the fertility before you begin to plant.
The best time to sow a wildflower meadow is in autumn, although you can start at any time of the year, as it may take some time to prepare the ground.
Choose a suitable area for your meadow. You could use part of your lawn or an existing flower bed; make sure it gets plenty of sun.
To reduce the fertility, you can remove the top 15 cm of topsoil with a spade or turf cutter. You could also grow a crop of mustard plants or oil-seed rape in the first year which will remove some of the nutrients from your soil. If you don’t want to wait that long, then consider growing an annual wildflower meadow which needs richer soil.
Dig through the soil and remove any weeds. Then rake it to create a file tilth as you would a lawn. Cover the area with black plastic for at least 3 months so any weeds that remain in the soil germinate and die. For vigorous weeds such as dandelions, nettles and docks you may need to use chemical weedkillers.
Once the area is free from weeds, you are ready to start sowing. You can find a selection of annual and perennial wildflower seeds here. If possible, try and obtain seed of British origin and do not take seeds or plants from the countryside to populate your meadow. You need about 5 g of seed per square metre. Ensure you get even coverage by sowing widthways and lengthways. You may want to mix the seed with dry silver sand to make it easier to handle and see where you have sown.
You can choose to use a seed mix or a mixture of seeds but try and include some semi-parasitic plants such as yellow rattle, eyebright or lousewort, which can reduce the vigour of grasses.
There is no need to rake in the seed or cover it, although you may need to cover it with netting to stop birds from eating it until it has started to germinate. Keep the area well watered until established.
In the first year cut the meadow in mid-summer and remove any dead growth. In subsequent years vary when you cut so that plants don’t become dominant. You may also need to do some spot weeding to remove docks and nettles or other plants that have established themselves from seed dropped by birds.
Over the years your meadow will evolve and you should soon start to attract butterflies, bees and birds and if you’re lucky some grasshoppers.