Top tips for planting a wildflower meadow – the time is now!

I have a guest blogger this week! The below was kindly written by Jan from Artemisia Gardens. She is the woman behind the big plans we have for the Homestead gardens, and together we will be organising lots of gardening workshops and knowledge sharing opportunities. Last week she hosted Wild About Meadows, where we learnt about planting a wildflower meadow and got our hands in the soil, followed by a warming lunch in the restaurant. Read on for a little bit about the day, and learn about what we planted and some top tips if you’d like to get planting yourself.

Over to Jan…

Wild About Meadows. 

When I was putting together the design ideas for the garden at The Homestead, Pete and Cecily knew that they wanted to include a small orchard. There was an ideal location for the orchard, which was sheltered by hedges and perfect for growing fruit. When I saw it, I knew that it would look amazing with a wild flower meadow growing beneath the trees, especially as it is one of the main views from the windows of the holiday cottage. 

I wanted to make the meadow as visually interesting as possible, with a long flowering period, so that it would not only be great for local wildlife, but also an uplifting sight for the human inhabitants of the garden.  I set to work deigning the layout of the orchard and meadow and decided that I would use a mix of native and non-native bulbs along with a variety of local wildflower species. 

Autumn is the best time to plan and plant a wildflower meadow, as this is when we need to plant bulbs and also it’s good to plant wildflowers while the soil is still warm, so they can establish before the winter.  Knowing that the creation of meadows is one of my most asked about topics as a designer and consultant, I asked Pete and Cecily if I could run a teaching workshop as we converted the lawn to a meadow. Of course, they agreed, so we organized a morning where we could all get together to learn about the best ways of introducing wildflowers into our gardens. 

The morning of the workshop dawned grey and mizzly, a typical autumnal day on the North York Moors; atmospheric, if a little damp!  Luckily, I had prepared a few planting holes in advance, so our workshop attendees wouldn’t have to do too much heavy work and I hoped that everyone would bring their raincoats.  I arrived with two big trays of wildflower plug plants, a large bag of mixed bulbs and two packets of mixed wildflower seeds.  We were met in the restaurant by Cecily, where we all were given a warm welcome and a hot drink.  I spoke about the different sorts of meadow planting, from the bright and breezy annual plantings, popular these days with Local Authorities, as an alternative to mown grass verges, to the more complicated prairie plantings, which use ornamental grasses and perennials to create a wild looking garden. 

As we ventured outside to learn the nuts and bolts of making a meadow, the rain stopped and the sun even tried to break through the cloud.  We started by putting in a range of flowering bulbs, which would provide colour from early March, right through until mid May, when the wildflowers would take over the main stage.  We planted the following bulbs: 

Chionodoxa luciliae – also known as Glory of the Snow, a small Gentian blue flower which appears in early spring. 

Fritillaria meleagris – a native wildflower of damp meadows, with chequered purple markings on bell shaped blooms. 

Pseudonarcissus lobularis – another native plants, the Wild Daffodil, well-known in the North York Moors, for its spectacular displays in Farndale and beyond. 

Narcissus poeticus – a later flowering daffodil with a glorious sweet fragrance. 

Tulipa sylvestris – a yellow species Tulip from Europe and central Asia, perfect for naturalizing into meadows. Useful as it is shade tolerant, we planted these under the canopy of the fruit trees. 

Tulipa turkestanica – another species of Tulip, with cream-coloured flowers and an egg yolk yellow centre, hailing from the mountainous regions of central Asia. Again these are happy to grow in a meadow situation and over time, should form a swathe of colour in late March. 

Camassia esculenta – a North American bulb, with startling blue spikes of flowers, appearing in mid to late May. This bulb was given the name Quamash by indigenous Americans and was used as a food plant by a number of tribes.   

After we had planted the bulbs, we turned the turf over, as we back filled the holes, to expose bare soil and used this as a tiny seed bed for sowing a wild flower mixture. Sowing wildflower seed into a lawn isn’t always the most effective way to establish wildflowers into grass land, as the grass can easily out compete the tiny seedlings.  By removing the grass, we ensure that the seed can germinate and the seedlings have a good chance to grow.   

We also raked the ground and scattered seed of Yellow Rattle, a native annual plant, which grows as a semi-parasite on the roots of grasses. The introduction of Yellow Rattle into the mix, should help to control the vigour of the existing grass sward, further enabling the wild flowers to become a more prominent feature.  Yellow Rattle is a useful plant, especially if your soils are nutrient rich, as the most successful meadows grow on poor soils.  While grasses are an intrinsic component of a successful meadow, they can occasionally be too dominant and swamp out the flowers which we are trying to encourage. 

Finally, we planted a range of wild flower plugs of different species from Landlife, who specialize in UK native plants. We used the same planting holes as the bulbs, but tucked the baby plants in at the edge, so that they wouldn’t be overcrowded by the leaves of the bulbs, thus saving us from even more digging.  I try to make gardening as simple as possible, with as little physical work as we can get away with. I’m a firm believer in a less is more approach when it comes to creating a garden. 

The wild flowers we planted as plugs were: 

Cowslips, Betony, Ox-eye Daisy, Field Scabious, Salad Burnett, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Ladies Bedstraw and Tufted Vetch. These will all do well in this meadow and more importantly provide both nectar and pollen for insects as well as being foodplants for a range of beautiful butterflies, such as Common Blue, Skippers and some Fritillary species. 

The wildflower mix we used included some of the following species: 

Wild Carrot, Knapweed, Common Sorrel, Yarrow, Meadowsweet, Red and White Campion, Self-heal, Black Medick and Meadow Buttercup. This mix also includes a few Cornfield Annuals such as Poppy and Cornflower, which will look great in the first year, but are unlikely to flower in subsequent years. 

In just over two hours, we had planted up an entire meadow under the young fruit trees. Great work team! We all felt extremely accomplished as we went back into the restaurant, where we were treated to a delicious two-course lunch, prepared for us by Pete and we continued to chat about gardens and nature.  I hope that everyone who attended left feeling inspired to do their bit for nature in their own gardens and that they felt they had learned the necessary skills to try it at home. We are very much looking forward to seeing the fruits of our labour next Spring when the meadow begins to flower. 




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