Creating a garden pollinator meadow does not need to be difficult but there are certain steps that you can take to ensure success. In these five short videos, we'll talk you through the different processes and show you how easy it can be to achieve stunning results.
STEP 1. Planning a flower meadow
STEP 2. Preparing a flower meadow
STEP 3. Sowing a flower meadow
STEP 4. Cutting a flower meadow at the end of the season
STEP 5. Meadow Refresh... a couple of years down the line
RHS Rosemoor Flower Meadow
How to create a garden pollinator meadow
A meadow in a flower bed
A garden pollinator meadow is essentially a meadow in a flower bed and will contain a community of flowering plants that include both native and garden species that are beneficial to insects and other wildlife. They can be an excellent choice for most gardens, community projects, schools, hospitals and to enrich biodiversity even in urban areas.
When to sow
Most seed mixes can be sown in springtime (April-May are often the best months depending on your region).Some seed mixes are suited to sowing in the autumn (September-October). Check the sowing time on your seed packet for guidance. Late frosts can be a major threat to your seedlings, so hold off from sowing until the danger of frost has passed.
• Loosen the soil and create a weed-free bed with a fine texture
We strongly advise against the use of any herbicides as they tend to damage the soil and upset the ecological balance.
• Empty seeds into a bowl and mix very thoroughly
• Broadcast the seeds evenly over the bare soil.
• Tread or roll the seeds firmly down.
• Water the seeds regularly until plants are established.
Care of your emerging meadow
Your seeds are at their most vulnerable while they are geminating and getting established and this is the best time to give some care and attention, making sure that they are regularly watered and protected from frost. This is also a good time to spot and remove any obvious weeds (such as nettles and thistles) that have drifted in. .
Once your meadow is established it will need minimal care. Meadow flowers are remarkably drought resistant but not indestructable. Plants will usually show signs that they are thirsty or struggling and watering may be advisable during prolonged periods without rain.
At the end of the summer
Your meadow should produce flowers for a good three months. During that time you can leave it to its own devices or you can remove any dead heads etc. At the end of the season, cut everything back to between 10 and 20cm. If your meadow contains annual and perennial flowers then it is important that this is done by mid September, in order to allow light onto any emerging perennials through the autumn. Remove any clippings from your meadow and compost them elsewhere so that they don’t clog up the ground and smother new growth. Autumn is a good time to to remove any unwanted weeds (including grasses) that find their way into your meadow.
The following year
If you have sown a perennial mix in the autumn then seedlings will emerge the following spring or early summer. The usual care (watering and protecting from late frosts) will be needed while the plants are getting established.
Native wildflower meadows
Wildflower meadows were once common throughout the British Isles. They evolved over millenia through traditional grazing practices and a close association with the natural cycles of the land. Between 1930 and 1970 farming practices intensified and to date we have lost over 95% of our traditional hay meadows and the rich ecology that they supported. With a growing awareness of biodiversity loss, some efforts are being made to reverse the losses and restore native wildlife meadows alongside traditional farming practices including low intensity grazing and annual hay cutting.
The right approach for each location
Native wildflowers are the obvious choice for more wild places such as woodlands and for many rural and agricultural locations as well. It’s important to cultivate an awareness of what is growing there already and to work with nature rather than simply imposing our own design ideas.
Sowing into bare soil
If you are sowing into an area of bare soil then we would recommend sowing a mix of perennial meadow flowers and meadow grasses (and possibly cornfield annuals for a splash of colour in your first year). The higher the ratio of flower seed to grass seed, the more spectacular the results will be. Grass seed is of course cheaper than flower seed so you may want to adjust percentages according to your budget and the size of the project. Some meadow seed mixes contain as much as 80% grasses to 20% flowers but the grass will quickly dominate at this ratio. You can sow at a ratio of 50;50 or even as high as 20:80 (80% flower). Not all grasses are equal . Don’t be tempted to use off-the-shelf amenity grass mixes that contain a large proportion of rye grass and other very vigourous varieties that are designed for frequent mowing or heavy grazing.
Sowing into existing grassland
When sowing meadow flowers into existing grassland there are some key considerations that will help support your success. Firstly, preparation. You will need to scarify the grass to open up the sward and make room for your flower seeds to have contact with the soil. Secondly, the mowing (or hay cutting) regime is important. Usually one or two cuts per year at specific times and removal of all the cut grass. And thirdly, a little helper in the form of an unassuming annual flower: yellow rattle.
Yellow rattle is not a miracle worker but it is a key species in your native wildflower meadow and it can make a world of difference. It forms a semi parasitic relationship with the grass, deriving some of its nutients from photosynthesis and the rest from the roots of nearby grasses, thus stealing some of their vigour and making space for the other members of the meadow. Sow in the autumn (end August/September/October) with freshly harvested seed at a rate of approximately 1 g seed per 5 sqm. Yellow rattle will grow from March to August when it will set seed and the cycle will begin again.