The Wildflower Meadow In October
Grasses and perennial native plants have recovered from their summer haircut and are once again growing strongly. In a traditionally managed meadow, the farmer would be turning livestock out to graze the rich vegetation.
Livestock such as sheep, cows, horses or even goats serve the meadow in two ways.
- They graze away lush vegetation keeping grass growth under control and effectively reducing soil fertility so that the more delicate flowering plants are less likely to be crowded out
- Their hooves disturb the surface of the meadow creating areas of bare soil where seeds can germinate
For a garden- meadow hosting a herd of cows in the run-up to Christmas is probably not practical. A useful, nay essential substitute, is the humble lawnmower.
Managing A Garden Meadow
Between October and the end of March, the wise gardener will mow the meadow from time to time (depending on weather conditions and the resultant rate of plant growth). The aim is to keep the length at around 5cm. ALWAYS collect clippings and take them right away they make super compost – Angela
Adding More Species To A Wildflower Meadow
Autumn is also the ideal time to overseed a meadow with more flowering species or indeed to introduce some plug plants. Simply scrape away some of the vegetation and sprinkle a few of your chosen species on to the bare soil. This is what Mother Nature is doing when she tries to establish plants into animal footprints. Incidentally, the cowslip takes its name from ‘cow slop” because new plants were believed to grow in cowpats.
Take care when choosing your wildflower seeds or plants. It is illegal to dig plants up from the wild but it is ok to collect seed, provided that the plants are not rare or endangered AND that the landowner is happy for you to do so.
Be aware that cornfield annuals such as poppy, cornflower and corncockle will only flower for one season. These are plants whose seed must fall on to recently disturbed land if they are to have any chance of growing. By all means, try sowing them in a perennial meadow….but don’t be surprised if next summer they’re not as prolific as you’d hoped.
Essential Plants For A Wildflower Meadow
Essential in a wildflower meadow is yellow rattle. It is a semi-parasitic plant with a lovely yellow flower that is very attractive to bees. The real joy of yellow rattle (unless you are a farmer hoping for a bumper crop of hay) is that it will suppress grasses and give the flowering plants a chance to grow. Sow freshly harvested seeds from yellow rattle in the autumn. They need to get a frost on them before they will germinate.
My own garden-meadow was created almost three years ago using Meadowmat wildflower matting. It established very quickly and has given me a good floral display every summer as well as a nice crop of hay. But, I did establish the wildflower mat on to a part of what was the veg patch. In other words, nice fertile soil. Each summer, despite having lots of flowers, some species have thrived at the expense of others. That’s fine, I’m a farmers wife who likes to garden and I’m very well aware that to keep an abundance of species anywhere sometimes needs a bit of human intervention and so this autumn I plan to top up the species with some seed. Ragged Robin, Scabious, heartsease and white campion, as well as yellow rattle, are scheduled for sowing this weekend. Watch this spot for progress reports.