Which Of These Three Categories Does Your Wildflower Meadow Fit Into? 

Anne Wareham writing in this month’s issue of Pro Landscaper, discussed the meaning of the word meadow and what it means. As a farmer’s wife with a keen interest in ecology and the way that flora and fauna interact, I read the article with interest.

The phrase “wildflower meadow” conjures up a vision of beautiful people and well-groomed dogs gambolling through waist-high daisies on a sunny day. At least it does for me. Others may think of the great swathes of brightly coloured flowers surrounding the Olympic Stadium. But would either of those scenarios be recognised by a pre-war farmer looking to feed his cattle? I think not.

I think that in 21st-century terms, there are three types of meadow that could be broadly categorised as:

  • Meadow
  • Mini (or garden) Meadow
  • Flower patch

A meadow is defined in Collins English Dictionary as “an area of grassland often used for hay or grazing of animals”

That being the case, a wildflower meadow must be a grassy area, fit for grazing animals but with some wildflowers in it too. Is that what people expect when they visualise wildflowers in their own gardens?

Perhaps the setting and the scale of a planned wildflower area defines whether or not it will be a meadow, a mini-meadow or a flower patch.  An orchard cries out for an easily managed mix of grasses and perennial native flowers that will support pollinating insects, and be happy for the fruit trees to take the lion’s share of water and soil nutrients. That would fit the definition of a meadow.

Likewise, hedgerows, fence lines, unused lawn areas and the wide verges either side of a drive just cry out for long grass dotted with nectar-rich flowers. These can be managed in a similar way to a farmer’s meadow – minus the cows of course. Cut for hay in late summer and mown as necessary throughout autumn and winter.  These we could call garden meadows.  I have a six square metre garden meadow created using Meadowmat wildflower matting. Its three years old and I love it.

But what to call those wonderful swathes of brightly coloured annual native and non-native flowers that are a real joy to behold for people and bees alike? Technically, if they’re not grassy, they’re not meadows and although they provide a fabulous source of food for pollinating insects they probably don’t hold much value for butterfly larvae or overwintering creatures. They are beautiful, flamboyant flower fields, enchanting and enticing and truly lovely.

Can anyone think of an appropriate name? How about pollinator plots?

Watch our video about planting for pollinators

Download our free guide to creating a meadow