Strictly speaking, meadows are defined as areas of grassland that are cut for hay in mid-summer and then grazed during autumn and winter. Animal’s hooves breaking up the ground and the removal of grass make it an ideal environment for wildflowers to flourish as soil fertility and aggressive-growing grasses are reduced.
At RHS Garden Rosemoor we have no animals, but when the weather is dry during the winter months we cut and collect the grass and then stop cutting in early spring to allow wildflower meadows to establish and to encourage the wildflowers to grow. We do not cut again until late summer in order to remove the hay crop.
Before you try to turn an area of mown grass into a meadow it is best to let an area grow so that you can see what you have already got; choose an area that is open and sunny.
No amount of wild flower seed sown into existing grass will create a meadow, so to aid establishment we get the help of yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor). This is an annual plant that can be sown straight into grass; it will also reduce vigour as it is partially parasitic on the grass roots.
Our initial sowings of yellow rattle were in September after we had heavily scarified the area, helping to weaken the grass. We have then been able to establish plants that have been grown in plugs, selecting species according to our soil type (heavy clay) that include: bird's foot trefoil; selfheal; common knapweed; lady's smock; ragged robin; ox eye daisy; betony; and meadow buttercup (left). Once the rattle has established it will then go on to self-seed in future years (with some maintenance help from us).
Have a go and encourage more wildflowers into your garden and get that feel-good factor that you are doing your bit for wildlife and wildflowers.