One of my favourite areas in the garden is our wildflower meadow. Dr. Dave Goulson, in his book A Sting in the Tail, describes wildflower meadows as ‘close to heaven’ and I would certainly agree with him. Our meadow is a work in progress. It is possible to clear an area of grass and sow a seed mix of ‘wildflower meadow’ but it’s hard to get a truly native mix. Many of the mixes available here in Ireland contain species that would be found in a British wildflower meadows though not necessarily an Irish one! In addition, where I have seen this done, the meadows look great the first year and then the grasses start to take over again.
We started our wildflower meadow in what is also our orchard. I’ve gathered wildflower seeds from the surrounding hedgerows and fields and scattered them in this area. I have also ‘move’ wildflowers that come up in my vegetable patch or lawn to the area I want them. I do this with ox-eyed daisy a lot. This year, the ox-eyed daisies didn’t put on such as good display as last year. I’ve a feeling it’s probably due to the wet weather.
However, the yellow catsear Hypochaeris radicata, have increased significantly just by collecting and scattering seeds.
One of the great successes has been the introduction of yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor. This plant is parasitic to grasses and so reduces their vigor allowing the flowers to get better established. It’s called yellow rattle or hay rattle because when the seeds dry they rattle in the wind. I originally scattered some seeds in one small area but I can find it all over the garden now. Last year, I purposely scattered seeds in our new poultry field and there are quite a few plants there this year.
There has always been plenty of white clover, but this year the red clover is also doing well.
We will cut the meadow when everything has set seed, usually in September. The last to flower will be the knapweeds and scabious. Last year, I only had a couple of plants of each but over time they will increase. One needs to be patient. Some of the seeds I will collect and scatter where I want the plants to grow. It’s important to remove the cut grass once the seeds have fallen, otherwise the decaying grass will increase the fertility and generally the flowers do better in relatively poor soil.
The beauty of a flower meadow is not just in the flowers but in all the insects that visit it. At the moment these are some of the commonest insects about. The solitary bee is a leaf cutter bee (Megachile vesicolor). The photo is from last year but I saw one today flying with a large cycle of leave in it’s jaws!