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Wildflower meadow
Orchids in grassland
Orchids in grassland

“Wildflower meadow”. Can there be two more enticing words in the English language? They conjure up images of turning your lawn into a flowery paradise, buzzing with bees and other beneficial insects, and lazy days spent sunbathing in long grass.

Sadly, for many gardeners, this enthusiasm leads only to a patch of lank grass and weeds. However, a luxuriant display of meadow flowers is easy if you follow a few simple rules.

How to grow a wildflower meadow

Cornflowers
Cornflowers

When we say wildflower meadow we tend to mean one of two things. Either 1) a genuine meadow, which is a permanent community of grasses and wildflowers that is never dug up or ploughed; or 2) a recreation of what cornfields were like before farmers started using weedkillers.

Option 1, the classic meadow, is actually really easy if the conditions are right. You can basically stop cutting part of your lawn between February and early September and see what comes up. You will be amazed: all sorts of colourful flowers and elegant grasses are there just waiting for their chance to shine. In many parts of the country, wild orchids will invade your grass and pop up like weeds! However, this only works well if you haven’t used any chemicals (fertilisers or weedkillers) on your lawn, you’re on poor soil (gardens on chalky soil are best) and it’s in a sunny spot. You can add to the display by planting bulbs such as crocus and daffodils.

Option 2, the cornfield, is much easier and quicker for most gardeners. Sow poppies, cornflowers, corn marigolds etc into freshly dug and raked soil between now and the end of April. This works well on ordinary garden soil in a sunny spot, and, if you pick a good range of flowers, will give you months of colour for very little work. You could even add some cereal seeds for an authentic touch – bird food can work well, although alongside wheat it may contain hemp and sunflowers – both of which get rather large. The only snag with the cornfield method is that you have to dig, rake and sow again next spring.

I’d strongly recommend option one if your conditions allow. It really is incredible which wildflowers can be lurking beneath the mower’s blades. Bees, birds and butterflies will thank you too.

Useful links

More on wildflower meadows from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Plantlife – Grow your own meadow

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