There can be few finer sights than a meadow in full floriferous glory or a spectacle more redolent of the English landscape. It is amazing to think of the transformation in thinking amongst gardeners over the past few years from attention and admiration of wild nature to trying to emulate or even embellish it in their own gardens. True, many people still prefer the carefully crafted look of a herbaceous, mixed or shrub border but an area of true or ‘cultivated’ wildness can be just as much a display of the gardeners craft.
At some point in the dim and distant past the nature that surrounded us seemed to grow smaller and we brought what we considered the best bits into close proximity to our dwelling places with because they gave us sustenance or pleasure. As more of the landscape became husbanded true wild nature adapted to our techniques or was pushed to the uncultivated periphery. With greater mechanisation and urbanisation the most desirable or fashionable plants were brought directly from the wild into our gardens by seed, cutting or wholesale pillaging. Mechanised farming and the unrestricted use of chemicals completed man’s dominance over the wilderness. This is why people are drawn to meadows and hedgerows, perhaps we find ourselves catching a glimpse of something vanished or what we imagine has disappeared tinged with the honey tones of nostalgia. Ironically much good meadow planting can be seen along the roadside where the soil has been disturbed and poor soil has been piled at the sides to make verges.
Whatever the case meadow gardening is not for the impatient gardener. Much of our richest flora grows on poor shallow soil which, unless you have it, has to be created by stripping away the richer topsoil down to the subsoil. For those without the means or nerve to contemplate such a drastic step then the nutrient content has to be reduced over time. The key factor is to start with a weed free area and then either sow an annual or permanent seed mix. Nettles and docks can be a problem on heavy soil and will need to be sprayed off or weeded out by hand.
The first year will see astonishing growth including pioneer species such as oxe-eye daisies which will gradually give way to a more stable mix over time. The grass species will settle down over time to a finer mix including common bent, crested dog tail and red Fescue. Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus major) will help weaken any invasive grasses and a mowing regime which starts with a July cut followed by close mowing will help keep on top of more vigorous species and reduce the fertility.
A few years need to go by before introducing bulbs and perennials such as greater knapweed or Geranium pratense which can be grown as plugs and planted into ground or scattered as seed with fingers crossed.
Aesthetically when a meadow is brought into a garden it looks best in a semi agricultural setting such as an orchard where a froth of cow parsley beneath a flowering apple tree will make a jaw dropping sight. Otherwise contrast the wildness with structural elements such as clipped hedges or topiary.
If you are lucky enough to have the sort of soil that meadow flowers prefer then get out the deck chair and listen to the birds and bees humming the tune…..”Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”.