“There are simply not enough wildflowers in the wider countryside – the UK has lost over 97 per cent of its meadow habitat since the 1940s,” says Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist. “Re-creating even just a fragment of this in our gardens enables us to both help important pollinators and revive our human connection with meadows – the idea of enjoying their scent on a warm summer’s evening, and encountering skylarks and butterflies.”
Creating a mini meadow from seed is easy – in time you’ll be enjoying a diversity of wildflowers and insects on your patch. “If you manage your meadow correctly, it should improve every year,” says Trevor. “Part of the magic is seeing new things appear, and watching the sward change over the years.” Here’s how it’s done.
Select a site
Your prospective mini meadow site should receive between four and five hours of sunlight per day, and be sheltered from wind and rain to encourage pollinators to linger. Ideally you should leave the patch alone for a year to see what’s already there – likely species will be clover and ox-eye daisy (above) – and to determine the soil quality. “If the grass grows over knee-height, you have very fertile soil,” says Trevor. “If it remains between the ankle and knee, it’s probably fairly poor.”
Dig the soil
Wildflowers prefer poor soil, so if your soil is very fertile you’ll need to remove the top 5–6cm, where the nutrients will be concentrated. There is no need to take out the stones. Now you are ready to sow. Good species to start with include ox-eye daisy, mallow, yarrow, toadflax, ragged robin, clover, bird’s-foot trefoil, meadow and wood cranesbill, betony and cowslip. Always use native species from British sources. Get advice at www.floralocale.org or ask your local Wildlife Trust.
Sow your seeds
Scatter your seeds (3g per square metre) and lightly rake them in to avoid losing any to hungry birds. You shouldn’t need to water unless you are in an especially hot, dry spell – remember that the seedling roots will penetrate deeper in search of water, and therefore become better established. Then watch and wait. If you sow in spring, a few species may bloom in the first year, such as ox-eye daisy, buttercups, clovers and self-heal (above), but most will flower the next.
Mow it down
When it comes to mowing, timing is key. “Don’t get the lawnmower out until the end of July at the very earliest. And the further north you live, the later you should wait,” advises Trevor. “Then mow your meadow hard a couple more times until Christmas, before leaving it alone again until the following July.” You can leave the clippings for a day or two to let the seeds drop out, but no longer – if left to rot, they will increase the soil fertility and lessen your chances of success.
4 pollinators to spot in your mini meadow
Common blue butterfly The most widespread of our blue butterflies and a good indicator of insect-rich, flowery grassland. Common bird’s-foot trefoil is the main caterpillar foodplant.
Elegant/black-tailed hoverfly Hoverflies are attracted to flowers, like the bees and wasps that they mimic, but lack a sting. The elegant hoverfly is an early spring species.
Red-tailed bumblebee A common species that feeds on flowers through spring and summer. It is found in gardens, woodland edges, hedgerows, parkland and farmland.
Large yellow underwing Common across Britain and usually on the wing from June to November. Caterpillars feed on a variety of wildflower species.