Create a mini meadow for wildlife – it’s easy once you know how
SOWING YOUR OWN wildflower meadow is an exciting project, but it pays to understand what you’re attempting to create before you start. There are essentially two different types of meadow: the classic wildflower meadow, and the annual cornfield, which is completely different.
The wildflower meadow is based on traditional grassy pastureland, a lawn gone wild. Once grazed by livestock and scythed in autumn to make hay, we’ve lost around 99% of this habitat since the 1930s, with only fragments remaining. The wildflowers that grow there are a mix of annuals and perennials that support butterflies, insects and farmland birds. Typically these meadow plants perform best on poor soil; in rich soil the grasses will outcompete them.
You can leave your existing lawn to grow long and see what wildflowers emerge, but for a wider range of wildflowers it’s best to start your meadow from scratch by removing the top 3-6 inches of topsoil, laying black plastic to smother any perennial weeds, then raking the remaining soil to a fine tilth. In autumn, sow a wildflower seed mixed with sand at a rate of about 5g seed per square meter. You may need to net it to keep the birds off, and will need to water it until the seedlings have established.
To manage your meadow in future years, don’t mow from April to September. Cut the meadow seedheads back in dry weather using strimmer, leave the stems in situ for a week so the seeds can return to the soil, then rake off the cuttings for composting. Mow a couple of times in autumn, and weed out nettles, dock and thistles, which will take over if left.
Annual cornfield flowers generally like more fertile conditions. Traditionally these are the opportunist hardy annuals that grow on the margins of ploughed fields (they rely on the soil being turned over every year). No management is required after sowing, but you may need to remove the odd perennial weed. They’re ideal for a quick blast of summer colour, sowing on a well-raked tilth in spring or autumn. They’ll support bees and butterflies.
Birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
Greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa
Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare)
Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Wild carrot (Daucus carrota)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
Betony (Betonica officinalis)
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Corncockle (Agrostemma githago)
Corn chamomile (Anthemis austriaca)
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Corn marigold (Glebionis segetum)
Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas)