Wildflower meadows would seem, on the face of it, to be simple. Chuck down a bit of seed and wait for the flowers to grow. However, our experience is that they are pretty difficult to establish. So we are very delighted to report that at last our wildflower meadow areas are doing well. We have a variety of different grasses, and many flower species coming up including vetches, clover, tares, yellow rattle, white and red campion, forget-me-not, mayweeds, ox-eye daisies, wild pansies, sorrel, hemp nettle and, of course, poppies.
Last year, we decided to try and establish wild flowers in several parts of our large clearing – particularly those areas that are not dominated by the large wet/damp area in the centre. We thought we had done really well by mowing it, then scarifying the surface, sowing seed and rolling it in.
Except that we grew a large crop of dock, and not much else. There were two main problems with this approach: first, the dock was in the soil, and was going to germinate more or less whatever we did, and second, we didn’t sow any grass with the flowers, figuring this would come back of its own accord. We don’t want to use weedkiller on our site, but were forced to choose between round-up used selectively to kill the dock, or ploughing, which we can’t do because of the trees.
At our second attempt, we rotavated the soil properly, scarified and scuffled it, and planted a wildflower and grass mix, together with added poppies. We also had another area where we had placed a land drain – this was back-filled with rather poor subsoil, without a lot of topsoil. This is just the sort of soil that wildflowers like – fertile soil is too kind to nettles and these dominate the meadow flowers. So we seeded this with the same mix.
What is now interesting is that the two areas of meadow, although seeded with the same mix, are growing different things: the more fertile area has a lot of hemp nettle and sorrel, and quite a good mix of grasses, the less fertile area has more poppies, rattle, vetch and clover. Both are very promising.
Another thing that we have noticed, as the meadow comes to life, is the huge number of insects that have been attracted to it – bugs, flies, cranefly, dragonflies, butterflies and moths are all visible in clouds on hot sunny days. In particular, common blue butterflies have been seen at the wood for the first time. This is exciting stuff, because it is the insects that will attract other animals to feed (including birds and bats), and so we are providing a much richer habitat than otherwise would have been present. It is also great that the two areas are developing differently – again, more habitats means more opportunities for more species.
There is still more to do: This spring we have prepared several other meadow areas, some on sections of the wood that we had to disrupt for drainage trenches, others on areas that were growing little other than grass. Seeded this spring, we have already seen these areas show germination of various grasses and flowers, and we hope that more will come as they develop over the years. We will also need to mow last autumn’s meadow later in the summer, and will need to commence twice-yearly mowing on all the meadows from next spring.
Wildflower meadows are not easy to establish. You cannot cut corners. You have to do it properly. You often have to do it more than once. But when they do get going, they are buzzing with life, and a truly beautiful and rich habitat to behold. They are definitely worth it.