Tips for Planting a Meadow
From: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover
Planning Your Meadow Garden
No garden is too small for a beautiful wildflower meadow, so don't be put off if you do not have acres of space. Meadows can be used to great effect sown in pots or flowerbeds and look especially striking mown into distinct shapes on a lawn. Consider the following tips for planning your meadow garden.
When creating a wildflower meadow, you should consider how it will affect the rest of the garden and how it can be used to enhance other areas. Patches of wildflowers can be focal points in their own right, but they can also be used as backdrops or foils to lead the eye to other features, such as seating or the white trunk of a silver birch tree.
Shapes, Paths and Edging
Patches of meadow planting are eye-catching, especially when used to punctuate formal settings; they look particularly striking when cut into shapes or given neat edges, in contrast to their naturally informal look. In a larger garden a mown path through a wildflower meadow creates a lovely feature, enticing people to walk among the flowers.
There are many wild creatures that will benefit from the longer grass and wide range of plants that a wildflower meadow provides. Bees and butterflies will be attracted to the nectar-rich plants, while animals from hedgehogs to harvest mice and swallows will be able to find a home among the diverse plants.
Assessing Your Site
The ideal site for a meadow is an area of grass, free from vigorous weeds, that can be left to grow long and which has an existing population of native wildflowers that will flower and set seed year after year. Sadly, most home gardens haven't inherited a perfect wildflower meadow and will at the very least have to be introduced to new plants.
As a rule of thumb wildflower meadows prefer poor, impoverished soil. This is mainly because it prevents coarser grasses such as Yorkshire fog and rye grass from competing with and swamping the flowers. If the proposed patch of ground has nettles growing on it, then this is a good indication that the ground is nutrient-rich and the fertility needs reducing; similarly if the ground has been enriched over the years with the use of fertilizer and organic matter such as garden compost. One possible option is to remove 4 to 6 inches of topsoil to expose the poorer subsoil underneath. However this is only really practical over a small area of the garden. Another option is to sow yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) into the existing meadow in early fall. This semi-parasitic plant attaches to the roots of competing grasses, reducing their vigor.
Excess moisture can also improve the soil's fertility. If your site is damp, drainage can be improved in small areas by digging sharp sand into the soil. However in large spaces it may be more practical to choose moisture-loving species such as snake's head fritillaries, which will thrive in damp meadow situations.
It is essential that persistent perennial weeds such as nettles and thistles are removed at the time of sowing or planting, or otherwise they may prove difficult to deal with later on.
Pick a Sunny Site
Most wildflowers will thrive on a sunny site such as this south-facing slope. Wildflowers make great groundcover on banks that are tricky to mow.
Text copyright 2012 Royal Horticultural Society