Our wildflower meadows were originally sown in 2010, as part of Betty’s Wood. We used the best wildflowers and grass mix that we could afford at the time, but there have inevitably been compromises and setbacks along the way. First of all, we had a drought in 2011, which meant that not only did the meadows not grow well, but we didn’t have much time to attend to them, as we had to spend all our time watering the 6000 little trees planted at the same time. In 2012, everything grew quite well, but we were unable to find anybody who could cut and bale the hay for us. We were only able to cut properly and bale the hay in 2013.
This year, unusually warm spring conditions combined with lots of water in the soil led to a massive growth of grass – so tall that it was actually taller than me (OK, I’m not very tall, but even so…over 160cm tall). The wildflowers were struggling.
Some plants have done well – clover, birdsfoot trefoil and knapweed. Some patches of yellow rattle are keeping the grass in check. The meadows have been successful in attracting a good variety of butterflies and moths to our site. But overall, we felt that the meadows needed improvement.
This year we decided to top-seed the meadows. We got as much advice as we could before starting. We cut the re-growth from haymaking to about 6 inches /15cm. This would allow the harrow to get into the ground and create some bare patches.
We then harrowed with a chain harrow. The aim of this is to chew up the grass, create some bare areas into which wildflower seeds can be sown, and to give them a chance before the grass comes back next spring.
We top-seeded with a wildflower mix that we had specially recommended by Butterfly Conservation and designed for our soil. This includes wildflowers that should bloom from March (cowslip) to September (daisies, yarrow and knapweed), giving a long season for pollinators. Our meadows are fairly small (between 2/3 and 1 1/2 acres), so we used a hand spreader – obviously if they were larger, we’d need a mechanical spreader.
We then harrowed again, to ensure no seed was left on top of the leaves. Finally we rolled the seed in with a Cambridge roll. This will push the seed into the soil and stop it from blowing away.
You’d normally do this maintenance earlier in the year – usually in September. However with the very dry weather, the clay soil was like concrete. Conditions are just about right now – warm, but also damp enough to prevent the harrow jumping off the surface and allow it to do its job. The soil is also still warm enough for the seeds to germinate and start to grow before winter, thus giving the wildflowers a good start on the grass in the spring. At least that is the hope!
We also have a video, demonstrating the process.