Creating a Meadow Garden

Understanding the different types of meadows will help you choose the best plants for your soil and space.
Wildflowers with Prairie Style

Wildflowers with Prairie Style

A wildflower corner is an ideal way to transform a neglected area of the garden. Most wildflowers will thrive in poor soil as long as they have sun and moisture.

Photo by: DK - Learn to Garden © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Learn to Garden , 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A wildflower corner is an ideal way to transform a neglected area of the garden. Most wildflowers will thrive in poor soil as long as they have sun and moisture.

In any meadow, getting the balance of plants right can be quite difficult, especially in a traditional meadow of native species of grasses and flowers. You do not have to use native plants, though. The term “meadow gardening” includes a variety of naturalistic planting styles and you may find that it is easier to create a meadow with a range of annual species or a mixture of more exotic perennial cultivars and grasses. As well as being beautiful, an established meadow is also a wildlife haven, providing not only shelter, but nectar and seeds to sustain a varied colony of local fauna. Even a small meadow encourages biodiversity by providing a “green corridor” that enables the wildlife to travel across the landscape. A traditional wildflower meadow such as this one consists largely of wild species, which have smaller, more delicate flowers than the cultivated varieties that you usually find within typical garden borders.

Creating a Meadow 

Planning is crucial, as the plant community will need to develop with little interference on your part. Assess the soil type and growing conditions of the site, then choose plants appropriate for the plot. If you don’t, not all the plants in the meadow will thrive equally, causing weaker species to disappear and thugs to take over. Contrary to popular belief, meadows can occur both in free-draining soil and on damp ground. Meadow-seed specialists offer a range of mixes to suit different soil types and conditions.

  • Traditional wildflower meadows depend on low soil fertility. If the soil is fertile, the wildflowers will not be able to compete with vigorous grasses. After a few years, few flowering plants will remain. Therefore choose an area that hasn’t been cultivated recently. You can either sow a meadow in a bare piece of ground, or you could plant wildflowers in an established grass patch. 
  • Annual meadows spring up when land is left after the soil is disturbed; seeds in the soil quickly germinate. First come annuals like poppies and cornflowers, before perennial grasses and flowers take over in following years. To prevent perennials from establishing, dig over a meadow each year, leaving the annuals space to spring up anew. To sow the annual meadow, either use a prepared mix, or buy your own choice of annual seeds and mix them for a natural, random effect. Sow in spring, or in fall if your mix consists of hardy annuals. Turn the ground in fall, and the display will be reproduced the next year. 
  • Exotic meadows can be created by purposely supplementing the subtle delicacy and prettiness of native wildflowers. To produce a bolder display, include nonnative perennials and their cultivars, which generally have larger, brightly colored blooms. You could also add bulbs such as crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and snowdrops. 

Preparing to Sow 

You can slightly reduce fertility in a lawn in the year or two before sowing a meadow by mowing repeatedly and removing the cuttings, which prevents nutrients from returning to the soil. Stripping off the topsoil (the most fertile layer) also helps, but it is hard work and you’ll need to find a new home for it. If you have deep, rich topsoil, it may not even be possible to remove it all. Try to prepare the soil a few weeks before sowing. This allows any annual weed seeds in the soil to germinate, so that you can hoe off the seedlings before sowing.

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