Gourmet Gardener: Meadow maker
Looking to grow a wild meadow, Tara Kate Linnane has some tips in her latest Gourmet Gardener column...
Wildflower meadows create a vibrant feeding and nesting ground for insects, birds and small animals. The whimsical flowers and grasses, with sporadic pops of colour, can make an attractive feature in your garden. Once in abundance, the brightly coloured annual species such as poppies and cornflowers have declined. This decline is due to their classification as a ‘weed’ in cereal crops and the result of selective herbicides.
Traditional Irish hay meadows have also been replaced with silage cutting, which has led to a decline in pollinators as the hay meadows were a rich source of pollinator food.
When growing vegetables it is essential to attract as much pollinator activity into the garden as possible. If we want to ensure our pollinators are there when we need them, then providing enough food, in the form of flowers, is key. Planting a native wildflower meadow can help.
I have encouraged a section of my garden to grow into a lush wildflower meadow. It has evolved over the years. I now find annuals such as cornflowers, that have self seed around the meadow, among other native wildflowers such as red and white clover, knapweed and oxeye daisies. If you sit and listen on a sunny day you can hear the hype of activity and it is extremely therapeutic.
Wildflower meadows are in their full glory at this time of year, but the best time to create and sow your meadow is in autumn. Now, is the perfect time to start planning your meadow and begin to prepare the area and collect the seeds to sow.
Choose your wildflower seed mix. Annual mixes are more colourful but are less sustainable. When selecting a mix, try to stick to Irish wildflowers. You can test your soil type and amend the mix to suit your site. Generally a good mix can include: cowslip, herb-robert, knapweed, meadow buttercup, oxeye daisy, red clover, yarrow, selfheal and a special ingredient called yellow rattle. This magic ingredient is an annual flower that has a special ability to reduce the vigour of the grasses allowing the wildflowers to flourish. This is also known as the meadow maker and is essential when selecting your wildflower mix.
The fun part – sowing your meadow – is carried out in late August/September. You need about five grams of seed per square metre of meadow. Scatter the seed and gently walk across it so that the seeds are in contact with the soil.
Wildflower meadows tend to grow better on unproductive soil, where vigorous grasses don’t out-compete the flowers. The best way to reduce soil fertility is to remove the top layer of topsoil, using a turf cutter, or a spade and some muscle-power!
Choose a suitable area, it doesn’t have to be a field, you can select a section of lawn or an old flower bed. Growing wildflowers in a patch or strip can be a great alternative and more cost effective than sowing a full meadow. You can also create a wildflower meadow naturally through reduced mowing. Mow once in autumn and remove cuttings to reduce soil fertility, then wait and allow wildflowers to grow naturally, making your garden more pollinator friendly.
Take this time during summer to recognise and enjoy the wildflowers around our areas and hopefully this will inspire you to make a plan to create your own patch in autumn, which will look wonderful and will also be an important habitat for the pollinators that we rely on.
* Tara Kate Linnane is from Kilnaleck in County Cavan. She is a horticulturalist with a passion for growing vegetables at home. She has an Instagram page with her husband @two peas in a polytunnel.