There is something very romantic about a traditional English wildflower meadow with a soft, dreamy tapestry of mixed flowers and grasses, back lit in the glorious summer sun, full of insects and the smell of sweet vernal grass.
Summer is a prodigal of joy. The grassJohn Clare
Swarms with delighted insects as I pass,
And crowds of grasshoppers at every stride
Jump out all ways with happiness their guide;……..
…..each thing, however small,
Sharing joy’s bounty that belongs to all.
And here I gather, by the world forgot,
Harvests of comfort from their happy mood,
Feeling God’s blessing dwells in every spot
And nothing lives but owes him gratitude.
With 97% of our wildflower meadows lost since the second world war, hay-time in the traditional English countryside, as preserved for us in John Constable’s Hay Wain painting, is something most of us can only dream about.
We imagine a field full of meadow flowers with grasses rustling in the breeze and a hum of busy insects everywhere, with field mice and voles busy in the undergrowth. Perhaps also a partridge nest and other ground nesting birds, swallows swooping over the field after the insects and a barn owl flying overhead in the evening.
All part of the slow annual cycle of a traditional English summer meadow that used to be. We can only dream with John Clare!
But, along with many others, I want to try to make that dream a reality even on a small scale.
A No-Mow Meadow
Here at home, last year’s new pond has settled in well despite the spring and summer drought. After the spring yellow marsh marigold the water lily has produced a succession of pink flowers, joined by brooklime, water mint, ragged robin, blue ‘pickerel weed’, irises and purple loosestrife. At the water’s edge marginal plants and grasses have helped the pond merge into the landscape.
This year’s project is to continue working on a mini wildlife meadow. For the last two summers we have practiced a ‘No- Mow‘ approach to see what plants are already there in the back lawn. So far it is full of ox-eye daisies, yellow hawkbit, bird’s foot trefoil, self-heal, yarrow, and some knapweed…But we are after much more!
Welcome to the Meadow Maker
A floral ‘meadow’ of annuals is quick to grow, but it has to be re-sown each year. Trying to establish a traditional style perennial wildflower meadow is not easy with fields and garden lawns covered in vigorous grasses, like perennial rye-grass, couch grass and cock’s-foot. Instead of stripping off the turf before sowing, this time we are trying sowing yellow rattle (‘hay rattle’) – ‘the meadow maker‘, into the grass. As a semi- parasite it feeds on grass roots and weakens them.
Sowing Yellow Rattle
Like others I have tried sowing this before with no real success. A few bought yellow rattle plug plants also failed to establish. But this time I am using fresh seed harvested in late July-August. Yellow rattle seed is only viable when fresh and needs to be sown in early autumn. It needs its grass host plants to grow, as it won’t survive on bare earth. (See below)
Adding Plug Plants
To add to this Yellow Rattle seed, I have sown meadow seed mix into plugs for planting out in this meadow.
The rough grass on this public verge in front of our front garden always looks very untidy and is crying out for a wildflower or ‘prairie’ style meadow. I have already planted daffodils and tulips around this tree and plan some more ‘guerilla gardening’ here.
Meadow Seed Mixes
The meadow seed mix I’m using is locally produced specially for the Weald area of Sussex and Kent. As an experiment I hope to sow some of this into a close-cut and scarified patch in this front grass verge, exposing more bare earth this time. This seed comes from specially selected local sites like this half-acre Sussex wildflower meadow beautifully re-created over several decades…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS39p1Dvq5Y&t=38s
Top featured photo Traditional English Meadow at Melverly Farm photo by Bill Pearson – geograph