Wild flowers and grasses are vital to support all animal life and they create a beautiful tapestry across our countryside. The wild flowers attract many creatures including different species of bees, butterflies, ladybirds and other insects.
Whether you are able to have a small patch or many acres of wild flower meadow, each will contribute to a better environment and can create biodiversity.
The Wild Flower Meadow at Highgrove was created over 30 years ago and is now a well established meadow which is ever changing, with new varieties of flowers naturalising here.
The Wild Flower Meadow that lies to the west of the drive at Highgrove, is abundant with daffodils in the Spring. Soon after the daffodils have finished flowering, the meadow starts to flourish with swathes of yellows, pink and purples. The meadow was the brainchild of HRH The Prince of Wales and Dame Miriam Rothschild. Dame Miriam Rothschild devised a mix to replicate the old meadows that had been lost over time, using 130 different species that were typical of the natural flora of Gloucestershire.
The seed was slot seeded directly into the sward using an ordinary agricultural drill. For some years you would never have known that anything had been sown, but eventually the wild flowers established themselves and started to spread. Growth was variable - lush in the moisture-retentive clay soil, more sparse in the free draining Cotswold brash - but as the fertility fell the wild flowers increasingly took over from the grasses. As Dame Miriam Rothschild had predicted, the yellow rattle in her seed mixture helped suppress the coarse grasses in the meadow. While most plants benefit from improved soil fertility, the reverse is true for the wild flowers.
The meadow is managed as a traditional hay field. These meadows are man-made systems that don’t occur naturally and are the result of a specific management regime. The best way to improve a meadow is to stick to the same regime year after year.
By cutting the meadow and leaving it to dry for a week or so and then removing the hay/silage from the meadow, this gives the best chance for the seeds to drop back into the ground. The meadow is then grazed, usually by Black Hebridean sheep, from August to October. The aim is to remove virtually all the grass and trample the surface so that the wildflower seeds are incorporated into the soil ready to germinate in March.
Healthy populations of locally occurring wild flowers have now managed to re-establish themselves in the Highgrove meadow. Wild daffodils, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, grow in an area that appears on old maps as ‘Daffodil’, while snakeshead fritillaries, Fritillaria meleagris, have been reintroduced and three species of orchid- Marsh, Southern and Early Purple orchids have appeared of their own accord on the lower, damp side of the meadow, they haven’t been introduced.
Camassias, alliums and fritillaries have been added into the meadow to introduce striking contrasts against the yellows and greens. They do not jeopardise the meadow in anyway and instead they grow harmoniously amongst the wildflowers and grasses.
A wild flower meadow attracts many different species of wildlife and it plays a vital role in the ecosystem. It has been found that in the past 50 years the wild flower meadows across Great Britain have been declining and this has resulted in the decline of the wildlife that depends on them.
It is imperative that we keep and create new wild flower meadows as they are vital to so many different species. Whether they are used as a shelter for some animals or as a source of food for others they are vital in maintaining our British wildlife.
Having a diverse range of plants will increase the different animal and insect species that they will attract.
Bumblebees in particular find a wildflower meadow a stable source of nectar and pollen rich plants species.
A meadow can easily be sown in any difficult area of your garden such as on a slope, in a particularly dry area or where the soil is poor. It is a great way to add colour into your garden and at the same time attract many different insects so that you can create your very own mini eco-system.
Preparation & Planting
Site clearance: weeds must be controlled and cleared to give the seeds the best chance of survival with little or no competition for growth. Spend the time getting rid of the weeds as this will result in a better meadow.
Neglected plots with extensive root systems will need to be thoroughly cleared to minimise the risk of the seeds failing.
Ground Preparation: it is important to select an area which is not highly fertile as wild flower and grass seeds thrive in these conditions and it also means that other grasses and weeds will grow slower and therefore the wild meadow seeds will have less competition.
A wildflower meadow in every county...
(Information from www.coronationmeadows.org.uk) Across our landscape, we are fortunate that small fragments of wild flower-rich meadows and grasslands still survive. Once the colourful mantle of our green and pleasant land, a staggering 97% of meadows have been lost in the last 75 years.
In 2012, Plantlife published Our Vanishing Flora, a report highlighting the loss of wild flowers from individual counties across Great Britain since the Coronation. In his foreword for the report, Plantlife's Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales called for the creation of new wild flower meadows, at least one in every county, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation.
The Coronation Meadows Project, led by Plantlife and in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, is working to achieve this goal. This exciting project has two distinct aims.
The first is to identify one flagship wild flower meadow – a Coronation Meadow - in each county. These meadows will be celebrated as the surviving “jewels in the crown”, places where people can enjoy a riot of colour and an abundance of wildlife in settings that have remained largely unchanged since the Coronation.
The second aim is to use these Coronation Meadows as source or ‘donor’ meadows to provide seed for the creation of new meadows at ‘recipient’ sites in the same county. In this way, new Coronation Meadows will be created, increasing the area of this valuable habitat, providing new homes for bees, butterflies and other pollinators and helping to secure our wild flower heritage for the next 60 years and beyond.
For full information please visit www.coronationmeadows.org.uk