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Pocket Meadow

Pocket Meadow Flowers

POCKET MEADOW

It is rare these days to see a good example of a wildflower meadow buzzing with insects in the countryside today. Instead we see patchworks of intensively farmed crops from horizon to horizon with little space for native plants and hedgerows. In cities and along roadsides, armies of grass-cutters maintain large expanses of closely mown parks and verges. Of course there is a place for mown grass for sport and recreation, but what harm could there be in leaving large areas of parkland, strips of farmer’s fields and roadside verges to grow each year and they would only need one cut in the Autumn!

The message above has started to be recognised by landowners throughout Britain. Environmental groups are working with Councils and Farmers to advise on the improvement of habitats for insects and other wildlife.

Although you may ask the question “How can I make a difference?” it is a fact that all the mown lawns in UK gardens add up to millions of hectares of land, and if even a small percentage of these are set aside to meadow, then it will be a big deal for wildlife. These pockets of habitat help establish “Wildlife Corridors”, encouraging animals and plants to make their way across the country.

It is easy for you to get involved too. Below is another of our Nature Station Wildlife Garden Guides to creating your own “Pocket Meadow”.

Planning You can start with either an area of lawn or a bare patch of earth that you would like to establish as a meadow – only a few metres square is sufficient. Ideally the patch should be on poor quality soil to give the flowers a chance to survive under the fast growing grass species, but this can be remedied – see “soil preparation” below. For existing lawns you will need a wildflower seed mix, and for bare earth you need a meadow mix (with native grasses), but make sure it is from a native British source (preferably local). It’s a good idea to match the flowers species to your soil type to ensure best success.

Nature Station offer a selection of British Wildflower Seed Mixes to get you started.

Classic native wildflower species include:

  • Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
  • Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
  • Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
  • Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
  • Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum)
  • Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
  • Cowslip (Primula veris)
  • Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Preparation from an existing lawn If it looks like there are already some good meadow flowers in your lawn waiting to burst into life, you may want to just stop cutting and see what happens. You can then add to the varieties once you know what you have already got. When plants have to compete with established grasses, it is always better to give the wild flowers a head start by growing them separately. Start by sowing your wildflower seed mix in standard seed trays, then prick out into pots or cells when they have grown sufficiently. To speed up the process, you can buy wildflowers as plug plants, but these will be more expensive. Meanwhile, raise the cutters on your lawnmower progressively when cutting the lawn and remember to take away the cuttings. Take out divots and plant the plug plants in small groups around the allocated grass.

Preparation from bare earth Start in Autumn or Spring. Key to a successful meadow is low fertility. If the soil is too fertile, the broad-leaved grasses will grow too fast and will not give your flowers a chance to establish themselves. Ensure you do not improve the soil before sowing, and if possible, turn the soil to a spade depth to bring less fertile soil to the surface. At the same time, remove any large perennial weeds. Trample and firm the surface, then rake to create a fine tilth seedbed. A small area of meadow can be sown by hand. Mix the wildflower meadow seed with silver sand to make the distribution easier then scatter the mix to cover the site evenly. Rake the surface gently and keep watered.

Maintenance In the first year cut the grass to about 5cm when it reaches over 15cm. This should be around 2 to 4 cuts. This gives the wildflower species better chance of getting established. Remove the grass cuttings. In subsequent years, you will only need to cut the grass once in late summer / autumn when the flowers have seeded. Make sure you leave the cut hay on the patch for a few days to scatter the remaining seed and allow insects to escape, and then remove to keep fertility low. Hand-weed the larger perennial weeds such as thistles and nettles. There is a place for some of these in the wildlife garden, but they will swamp the smaller species.

Who Benefits? The wildflower meadow is predominantly to encourage insects to your garden. Many species of butterfly are attracted to the nectar of the flowers. The native grasses are the foodplants of caterpillars such as Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood. You may also want to provide areas for other butterfly foodplants such as nettles (Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock), to cater for the full life cycle. Aside from butterflies, you will be encouraging bees, flies, moths and beetles. Many of these are beneficial to the garden. Small mammals such as field voles will live in this habitat. Birdlife including thrushes, finches, flycatchers and skylarks also love this environment as a source of food, shelter and for nesting.

Tips Click here to see our range of insect homes to further enhance your buzzing pocket meadow habitat.

Here is a photo of an established pocket meadow provided by our friend Dr Geoff Oxford:

Pocket Meadow

The photo shows how beautifully a wildflower meadow can be integrated into a tidy garden environment.