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10 things to know about Wildflowers and meadow

wildflower meadows

10 things to know about wildflowers and meadows

A blog by Matthew Cameron, an experienced meadow restoration conservationist in the North East of Scotland, eager to pass on some tips. 

Wildflowers and meadow are fascinating people all over the UK for their beauty and their significance to pollinator populations. And rightly so! The benefits brought by creating meadow or planting even small numbers of wildflowers can be numerous. The Habitat People are busy making wildflower meadow all over the North East, from gardens all the way up to our carbon offsetting sites. We love it. And we have learned a lot from our projects. Every project has its own set of challenges and qualities to work with. From experience we know it can be quite frustrating and costly if you don’t have solutions tailored to your meadow. I am writing this blog for all the people who are enthusiastic and want to know a bit more about their meadows or meadows-to-be.

Why are meadows so important for biodiversity?

Wildflower meadow is now a rare habitat in the UK. A loss of 97% of the post WW2 area has occurred. This is equivalent to an area the size of Wales. And with it the disappearance and decline of many species reliant on meadow. Including iconic species, like skylarks and grass snakes, and essential species, like pollinators. Meadows make our ecosystems more resilient to climate change and function better for local crops, drainage and more.

Where to grow wildflower meadow?

This is starting point for all projects. It has a very simple answer. Anywhere in the UK! Well, more or less, wildflower meadows can be in the shade or broad sunshine, on acid or alkaline soil, and in wet or dry patches. The only exception is where there is already valuable habitat. These varied conditions each come with their suitable community of plant species. There is also no space too small, one of the very first jobs done by our company was a mini meadow on an Aberdeen high-rise 


apartment balcony. Even on the 3rd floor there are now bumble bees and hoverflies.

How and when to plant / sow wildflowers?

This is also a simple one. Anytime! Up North you can get away with sowing in any month, because the weather is gentle enough not to scorch the fragile early germination stage. In general, the best periods to plant and sow are late spring or early autumn. This allows you to avoid a portion of the not insignificant watering duties, reduce the likelihood of a hosepipe ban and take advantage of a rapid germination conditions.

Grass is the key to a good meadow

There is often some surprise at the high proportion of grass seed in a meadow mix, but it is there for a reason. If you were to compare a wildflower meadow to a sandwich. The grasses would be the bread. The not so interesting and largest part of the sandwich, providing essential structure for holding the filling in place. The wildflowers are the sandwich filling, the exciting element that defines the sandwich. Every wildflower meadow needs to be 70-80% grasses. These grasses needed to be finer and less dominant species, like fescues and bent grasses. Finer grass allows wildflowers to break through more.

Neonicotinoids, a silent killer of bees

A crucial consideration for a biodiversity rich wildflower bank or meadow. Neonicotinoids can backfire your ambition to help pollinator and other insects. These chemicals are insecticides typically applied as a coating to the seed. Plants absorb these compounds into all tissues, including nectar, and remain present in lethal quantities for a long time. Then unfortunate bees attracted to these plants suffer fatal navigation, physical and reproduction issues. Unbelievably these insecticides can be found in many potted plants and seed packets. Some “reputable” retailers such as RHS have been happy to overlook these devastating chemicals. Thankfully, B&Q and some other retailers are neonic free. Our own nursery is also organic, pesticide free and grown from seed we collect. Find out more about neonics by reading this blog.

Can I leave it to develop on its own?

The “wild” element of “wildflower meadow” is often interpreted as a requirement to leave land to it’s own device for it’s benefit. This is a common misconception and cause of failure of many a meadow. In a natural ecosystem there are many animals and natural processes that keep a meadow healthy. Active management is necessary, particularly in early stages. That means weeding, watering and cutting. Without these, the result will be a low diversity grassland with few flowers and many grasses.  

Is cutting essential?

Yes, most certainly, but how and how often are crucial questions. In the wild, strict grazers like bison which were once common in Europe were perfect for this. Grazing the right amount and opening the meadow floor up to the light. Deer species aren’t so great. As selective browsers, these nibble the delicious and painstakingly grown wildflowers leaving the grass. The best non-natural alternative is a rough cut with a scythe once per year. Removing the cuttings after a while.

How long does a meadow take to take / germinate?

At The Habitat People we only wish there was a reliable response. Optimal conditions and regular watering can deliver this in a mere fortnight. More grueling conditions may take anywhere up to 5 weeks after sowing. If you haven’t seen anything by five weeks its time to have a serious think or email us for advice.

Where do most meadow seeds and plugs come from?

Wildflower plugs are quite hard to find in person, and even online stocks are often short. So, when you see some, it’s very tempting to snap them up. But for the sake of bumble bees and all other insects, and the wildlife that relies on healthy insects, its essential to check insecticide use. Furthermore, many pot plants have a significant climate impact which we have explained on our Instagram. The best solutions are to collect seed or propagate friends and relatives plants. Of course, insecticide free plants are better than nothing most of the time!

Less known uses of wildflower meadows

Wildflowers and meadows are hidden jewels for many reasons. In some parts of the world they do still receive recognition. In France they are associated with delicious high alpine meadow cow cheeses. In the same way they are reputed to produce some of the worlds best honey with very low crystallisation rate. Outside of food and agriculture, this habitat is a fantastic sponge for carbon dioxide. So much so The Habitat People have built a carbon capture service based on meadow restoration. This allows us to increase biodiversity, build rare habitat and reduce overall emissions.

07507 482375

available from 10:00 – 18:00

Address Old Mill, Castle Fraser, AB51 7LD

Email matthew@habitatpeople.co.uk 

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