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Following our completion of the central bed (aka the Pollinator Patch), we wanted to create yet further habitat for wildlife. Wildflower Meadows are superb for attracting insects and are very much in vogue at the moment. So we felt this would be an ideal addition to the Rec.
The location agreed on was the grassed area near to the ramp and this was later supplemented by the steep bank on the other side. So in March 2021 we set about our meadow making. The first task was to prepare the ground which was really hard work; made slightly easier by the number of gardeners who got stuck in, and some very welcome help from Ian Bailey and Hilary Bradley from the former Community Engagement Team at the Council. Having staked out the area, we started cutting and lifting all the turf. We then broke down the soil to make a fine, weed- free tilth as a base for the meadow. Grasses, especially the rye grass which is commonly found in parks and gardens, will quickly crowd out the less robust wild flowers if it’s not removed. We found a use for these turves by piling them up to create a beetle bank at the edge of the meadow. Hopefully it will prove to be a ‘des-res’ for a number of discerning insects. Now, having prepared the ground, we were ready to lay the wildflower turf. This is the quickest and easiest way to establish a meadow. Wildflower plug plants and seeds require a lot more patience and personally, I’ve not had a great deal of success with the latter.
There are any number of companies that supply wildflower turf these days, but we hadn’t appreciated how much difficulty we’d have getting hold of some. Such is the popularity of meadows now, that we were finding suppliers had run out towards the end of March, and that we were likely to have to wait until the autumn before more became available. It was getting to look as if we would be left with a patch of bare earth all summer, when SCC came to the rescue. They had some surplus turves from their meadow creation schemes in the city centre and were able to let us have enough for what was needed. The turves were starting to dry out by the time we received them and so we knew we had to lay them as quickly as possible. Then came our nemesis again ……THE WEATHER!
We accepted that we would have to water the meadow initially, to revive it and help it to get established. Then we hoped that Mother Nature and the April showers would take over. No such luck! It didn’t rain once throughout the whole month of April and so, we had to keep the meadow watered ourselves, to prevent losing everything. That was easier said than done because it’s at some distance from the only source of water at the Rec. It was quite a work up, having to link 2 hosepipes and drag them halfway across the park. We succeeded in our efforts and were finally rewarded with rain, and a flourishing meadow.
The meadow looked really good throughout that first summer (2021) and attracted a wide variety of interest, from park users and insects alike!
However, in order to retain the flowers year on year, it’s necessary to mow the meadow in autumn and remove all the cuttings. If organic matter is left on site to rot down, it will fertilise the soil, to the advantage of the invasive grasses. Wildflowers flowers grow best on impoverished soil, where there is far less competition. Another way to suppress unwanted grass, is to encourage the growth of yellow rattle. This is a native annual plant, also known as the ‘meadow maker. Its roots draw out water and nutrients from grassroots and severely
weaken their growth. We did scatter seeds of yellow rattle last year but sadly to no effect. We’ll try again this year, hopefully with more success.
Having put on a fabulous display in 2021, the following spring, the meadow seemed to promise a repeat performance. That was until the weather intervened yet again! The severe drought we experienced last summer was unfortunately too much, even for our wildflower meadow and everything turned yellow and died right back. We concentrated our efforts on keeping the garden alive for the benefit of pollinators, but given the water shortage and the logistical difficulties, we had to leave the meadow to its own devices. We’re hoping that a good number of the perennials plants survived and will emerge with renewed vigour this summer. It would be wonderful to again see a thriving meadow, full of beautiful wild flowers and alive with the sound of buzzing insects. Fingers crossed!
NB One disappointing aspect of the wildflower turf is that it’s grown on a plastic mesh that isn’t biodegradable. I was told that this is done for reasons of practicality and cost. But it does seem rather illogical to try to solve one environmental problem, by creating yet another. I have spoken to some conservation bodies, and I understand that talks with producers are ongoing, and will hopefully result in a more sustainable solution.
Words by Denise Long
Photos by Denise Long and Bruce Larner
Click on any photo to enlarge