A meadow is predominantly native grassland, interspersed with wildflowers.
There are essentially six ways to make one (unless you inherit one!):
Sow wildflowers into existing grassland (paddock, field, lawn you wish to convert into meadow),
Prepare a bare earth plot with all perennial weeds and grasses removed. Then sow a wildflower/native grass mix,
Plant wildflower mini-plugs from a nursery / online, into existing grassland,
Plant wildflower mini-plugs from a nursery / online, into a prepared bare-earth plot, alongside sowing of native grasses,
Plant our 14cm/6inch Meadowmakers wildflower super-plugs into existing grassland,
Plant our 14cm/6inch Meadowmakers wildflower super-plugs into a prepared, bare-earth plot, alongside sowing of native grasses.
There is a reason we recommend the last 2 options, and it isn't just sales! The reason we sell super-plugs to our customers, is precisely because over 20+ years we have established (through trial and error) that it works best.
Sowing into existing grassland is a real art, and requires a site of low fertility and vigorous harrowing/raking to open up bare soil and cut the swathe. Even then, fewer than 1 in 50 of your wildflower seeds might germinate effectively. You wouldn't expect any other plant for your garden, to establish effectively just from throwing down a few seeds. That's why we buy plants, for the vast majority of our residential planting.
Sowing to bare earth works better. However, getting to the point of a properly prepared bare-earth state requires skill and time. All perennial weeds and grasses must be eliminated, for your meadow to work. Don't cut corners - you'll end up with an 'abandoned building site' look!
Even then, a sown wildflower meadow won't reach maturity until years 3 and 4. It's is 2 years slower than planting, for the majority of wildflower varieties.
Mini-plugs - the size of your little finger including root - are too small to plant into their final position, in most cases. Mini-plants are damaged by birds (Blackbirds in particular, have a habit of pulling them up to get at the moist soil around their roots). They are also damaged by invertebrates and mice. One minute they are there, the next, they are gone.
Our super-plugs are the same size and maturity as the pot-grown nursery bedding and border perennials, you'll buy at a Garden Centre/online nursery. But these normally cost £4-£6.
Ours are half that price because they come bare-root - no fancy pot or compost costs.
HOW TO PLANT
We explain how to plant with a trowel in the first blog on this site (making a wildflower lawn).
It takes work to maintain a wildflower meadow at its best.
Meadows proliferated due to early farming methods, in particular the collecting of the 'hay-cut' at the end of summer.
This single cut, was / is enough to stop the meadow being overwhelmed by grasses and a few dominant taller species. The wildflower not only take the cut, they benefit hugely from the extra light and warmth let in by the cutting process.
Here is the recommended cutting regime, depending on the nature of your site:
INFERTILE (grasses grow relatively thinly, and never above knee height)
Single cut required, in Sep/Oct
STANDARD (vegetation grows fairly densely, clays, light brown soils)
Spring cut required in Mar/Apr, followed by Autumn cut (Sep)
LUSH (vegetation grows tall and dense, dark deep loamy soils, ryegrass present)
Cut in Mar. Cut in Apr. Cut in Aug. Cut in Oct. Or it won't work - the grasses
and stronger varieties will dominate the light.
Every wildflower variety we sell, can work in a meadow. That's why we are meadow-makers!
However, some need certain types of conditions. Some can cope with absolutely anything. Most are in between.
We recommend a 3-layer approach to choosing, for the best look.
First - choose a variety to be the backbone of your meadow. We think that planting up to 50% of your total meadow with just one feature wildflower, looks magnificent.
Ox-eye Daisy is probably the best wildflower for this job. It is delightful in grassland, and the white and yellow flowers perfectly augment any other colours present in the meadow. They will spread, and attract Butterflies, Bees and other insects to your meadow.
Equally, you could choose to be bold, and go for Cornflower (an electric-blue backbone for your meadow), or Poppy (vivid red), or even Corn Marigold (almost luminous-gold flowers).
Second - choose three of your favourite varieties, to make up 33% (one-third) of your total wildflower order. You could choose to focus on varieties with particular wildlife qualities, or to ensure a preferred colour-range.
Third - select some varieties to plant in little pockets on a smaller scale. You can take a risk this way - they will either establish and spread, or die back if conditions aren't right. It won't affect the essence of your meadow if one or two fail at the expense of others, as we are talking smaller percentages in the third layer of planting.
Using this 3-layer approach, you will end up with a bold spread of backbone colour, with mixed swathes of 3 other colours (varieties). Then, every now and again, pockets of something different to increase the diversity, and improve the look.
We don't recommend the following:
Random mixing of wildflowers (looks unnatural),
Going against your conditions (this is common sense - don't plant wetland wildflowers, in dry thin soils etc),
Making more than 50% of your meadow with annual wildflowers. These will re-seed each year if you strictly follow the aftercare recommendations on this blog. However, populations of annual wildflowers often die-out, in grassland-meadow conditions, within 2-3 years, and extra plugs will need to be planted each season (which is fine, but comes at a cost).