Once famous for its meadows, the UK has lost some 97 per cent of them over the past century. At their prime, there is nothing prettier than a meadow but, out of season, they don’t necessarily tick the box for conventional garden beauty.
They are going to be at their best in late spring and early summer, before heading into a hazy, slightly scruffy decline as the season progresses. The lifecycle of a meadow is more beautiful if you know what is happening.
Even in the middle of London meadows have the potential to support an immense amount of biodiversity, from the first green shoots in spring that provide food to molluscs and insects, to the decaying stems and seed heads in autumn, food for small mammals and home for overwintering invertebrates.
Whilst you might not be able to plant acres of wildflowers, even a tiny strip adds to the quiltwork of green space for wildlife across the city.
Native or non native?
This is a divisive question. Like people, plants are always moving. Sometimes very slowly, sometimes aided by our movements.
London’s flora is positively cosmopolitan, so using a meadow mix with species from other countries — which extends the flowering period for pollinating insects and our enjoyment — is probably justifiable.
You may want to give it a bit more thought if you are out in the countryside, but the reality of our changing climate is that our flora is likely to change. We can’t separate ourselves from nature, and the collecting and moving of seeds is an incredibly natural thing for us to do.
Can you have a meadow in a pot?
You’ll have to curate it a little more than a meadow in the ground, and of course it will need watering. But, yes. I’d start with plants rather than seeds.
Naturescape.co.uk has a great range of small to medium-sized wildflowers suited to a range of conditions and is a great place to start.
Should you start with grass?
If you already have a patch of lawn or grass that you are converting into a meadow, things can be a little harder as grass is quite dominant and can quickly crowd out other less vigorous species.
This shouldn’t put you off though as there are a few things you can do, such as planting yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor). You can also try adding full sized meadow plants to the lawn instead of seeds, giving them a head start.
When and where to start?
Now is the best time to get started. In the natural life cycle it is this time of year when the seeds are ripening and falling to the ground. The soil is still warm and will remain moist through winter.
However, if you are on a heavy clay soil or you know your garden is wet in winter, then you may want to wait until spring.
For seed mixes take a look at pictorialmeadows.co.uk where you can search for mixes based on your soil type and environmental conditions. Naturescape.co.uk offers individual wildflower species, seed mixes and potted plants.