Posts Tagged ‘gardening for wildlife’

How to create a wildflower meadow

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Creating a meadow from rough grass or lawn

Key facts to understand

  • It is important to ‘cut & collect’ to mimic animals grazing (use to make compost)
  • Don’t hesitate to cut the meadow where there are still some flowers, if you wait until there are no flowers you will end up with dominant species such docks and knapweed
  • There is no need to remove top soil as a means to reducing fertility, instead establish Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Reasons to create wildflower meadow

  • Massive decline in insects species and numbers
  • Insects (including bees) tend to be underweight, infected (imported diseases) and stressed (loss of habitat) all at the same time
  • 70% of bee friendly plants sold by leading garden centres contain neonicotinoids (systemic insecticide)
  • Reduce mowing, saves time and money
  • Attractive, brings wildlife into the garden (insects & birds) and helps biodiversity


This is a meadow which is full of coarse grasses (e.g. Yorkshire fog) & docks, very few flowers. Tall grasses smother wild flowers; more grass than flowers.


This meadow has not been ploughed nor treated with fertilizers for at least 50 years, there are over 20 different species/m2. Lots of fine grass species; more flowers than coarse grasses.

Yellow rattle
Yellow rattle is a semi parasitic grassland annual, it reduces the vigour of grass and allows wildflowers to establish and thrive, it also reduces mowing requirements. It loves Yorkshire Fog grass and Cocksfoot grass.

Yellow rattle is established from seed in September (no later), sown onto bear soil (e.g. upturned 1m2 patches of turf*) although it germinates February / March (requiring the winter chilling). Establishment can be unpredictable (for example the cold wet spring of 2016) however it usually establishes very well, taking 2-3 years to build up. Use fresh seed sown at a rate of 0.1-1g/m2 (less is required in the shade where grass is weaker, more is needed where grass is strong).

* Different ways of creating bare gaps in the sward

Cut the grass short in the autumn then:

  • Lift and flip over 1m2 patches of turf at intervals throughout the meadow area
  • Harrow or rotavate strips at intervals (e.g. up hill) aiming to expose 50% bare soil
  • Winter grazing with stock (e.g. sheep) as their hooves open up the sward

How & when to establish wild flowers
Delay trying to establish wild flowers in your sward until you have got a good cover of yellow rattle, this may take up to 3 years. Then plant small 9cm plants into the sward or use ‘Green Hay’ from another meadow (contact other meadow owners, for example members of the Moor Meadows group below sell this). Expose some bare earth then spread fresh green hay (same day as it is cut).

If you have a very small area of land that you want for a meadow (e.g. 5m x 10m), rotavate it all, sow yellow rattle (September) and plant wildflower pots and plugs (e.g. scabious, knapweed, betony, bedstraw… depending upon the soil and aspect). You could do the ‘stale seedbed’ technique prior to sowing yellow rattle.

Stale seedbed method – prepare the bed as if it was ready for planting but instead of planting water it and allow all the weeds to grow, then without any futher digging, spray off the weeds then sow / plant.

Pests
Rabbits love to dig up freshly planted pots, you might need to put some chicken wire over the top for the first few months.

When to cut
You do not have to stick to exact times each year, the most important thing is to cut 4 times each season. If you have a very large area, you can divide it up and cut at slightly different times.

  • Cut when the grass first falls over
  • Then cut the new growth twice during the summer (on a high mower setting)
  • Give a final cut at the end of the summer

Cutting tools
Strimmer, sythe, mower on high setting if it can cope with long grass althernatively a sythe mower or tractor mounted topper.

References
Notes by Angela Morley (www.wildgardens.co.uk) taken from Meadow Makers Conference 1/7/17 https://www.moormeadows.org.uk/

Further information

http://www.charlesflower-wildflowers.co.uk/

http://sueeverettmeadowmaker.blogspot.co.uk/

https://www.floralocale.org

https://wildseed.co.uk/

http://www.wildflowerturf.co.uk

http://thebuzzclub.uk/

http://www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk

http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/

http://butterfly-conservation.org

https://bumblebeeconservation.org

http://www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk/c

http://johnwalters.co.uk

Summer in the garden

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Single roses are valuable to insects, here Rosa moysii is acting as a bee magnet

Rosa moysii has now stopped flowering and will soon be covered in unusual shaped red hips, its pretty leaves and upright habit continue to provide interest to the border.  Beneath, Viola cornuta & Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ have been flowering non stop since May.

Mole problems

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Gardening for wildlife can be very testing, a couple of years ago I had a lot of grass snakes in the garden, they have since moved on much to the relief of my nerves.  Currently I am blighted by moles, gorgeous little creatures I agree however my lawn areas are being churned up, in my polytunnels the salad beds are being hollowed out causing death to my plants and now the moles have moved into my flower beds.  I have tolerated these moles for several years but the situation has become severe.   Extermination a tempting thought but it is not the way forward for a wildlife gardener so I am going to try the following deterrent:

Mix 2 tablespoons of detergent, 6 oz of Castor oil in a gallon of water – mix one ounce of concentrate per gallon of water and apply to the lawn. Re-apply after rain or watering.

Lets see if it works! …


Exotic wildlife

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

I was rather pleased to spot this exotic looking grasshopper basking in the early autumn sun and maybe soaking up the heady scent of Rosa ‘de Rescht’ also.

Growing well – Devon

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

This garden was planted in spring 2015 and it is very exciting to see how well it has established, the hedges have bushed out well and need just a couple more season’s to start approaching the desired height.

The pools attract hundreds of  dipping swallows, a spectacle to behold!

Reclaiming the view

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

It is lovely to have a healthy hedge in the garden full of birds however by mid August I do look forward to reclaiming the view.

Let your grass grow

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Natural meadow area at the centre of Strode College campus, with two table tennis tables in a mown glade at the centre (not shown).  This approach has a lot going for it:  beautiful colours, textures, low maintenance, cheap, easy,  native, beneficial to moths, butterflies and all sorts of other insects…

In a few weeks time the meadow needs to be mown (or scythed) to tidy.

Summer border

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Clients border looking good 2 years after design / planting – Allium sphaerocephalon, Catananche, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Persicaria, Scabiosa…

The birds are nesting

Monday, April 25th, 2016

My willow sculptures when placed outdoors often prove to be attractive to nesting birds, last night I noticed that a wren has recently built its mossy nest in this old willow flower on the east facing end of the shed.

Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Dahlias offer a fantastically long flowering season brightening the garden into early autumn. They may not be everyone’s favourite however with the huge variety on offer, it would be very difficult to not find one you like. From miniature pompoms to neat anemones, massive semi-cactus to dainty water lily forms they come in colours ranging from pure white, vibrant orange to deep velvety red.

In my garden I grow Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’, an anemone type which is very beautiful but it also provides a late source of nectar to insects. This week I have seen a variety of bees, butterflies (comma, peacock) and moths (tiny day time moths as well as larger moths at dusk) feeding from it.