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How to sow a mini meadow in your garden

Undated photo of meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris).

By Hannah Stephenson
Fancy sowing a mini meadow in your garden? If you want pretty early summer blooms that will attract pollinators and other wildlife, you could be sowing the seeds now.

Scientists at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW) have combined their know-how of plants that attract the most pollinators, with practical experience of which native wildflowers and grasses grow best in meadows and why.

Autumn months are the ideal time to get sowing and growing a meadow at home, as some perennial wildflower seeds need a colder spell to kick-start germination. Sowing seeds towards the end of the year can also give you the best chance of an early flower display the following summer.

The Botanic Garden’s team – world-renowned for its work in using DNA barcoding science to track which plants pollinators are drawn to – can analyse pollen from the bodies of pollinating insects and assess which plants they’ve actually foraged from, and so are able to advise on which species to grow to boost the buzz in your own back garden.

This research work underpins the NBGW’s recently-launched Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme, which guarantees eligible plants are loved by bees and other pollinating insects, don’t contain synthetic insecticides and are grown in peat-free compost. It aims to prevent pollinator decline and benefit other wildlife such as hedgehogs, sparrows and frogs.

What should you plant in your mini meadow?

Here are the NBGW team’s six favourite wildflowers, available in seed mixes or in individual packets…
1. Meadow buttercup ‘Ranunculus acris’
Who doesn’t adore a bright yellow buttercup? Pollinating insects love them too, almost as much as children who still enjoy testing their love of butter by seeing if the petals reflect under their chins.

2. Cat’s ear ‘Hypochaeris radicata’
This looks very like a dandelion, but it’s not. Another favourite with pollinating insects, its deep tap roots not only help to bind the soil but they draw up water during really dry spells and help it drain away when wet.

3. Eyebright (Euphrasia sp)
A small, pretty annual flower with eyelash-like petals, eyebrights take nutrients from surrounding grasses and help create space for other wildflowers to set seed and thrive.

4. Yellow Rattle ‘Rhinanthus minor’
The vampire of the plant world, this annual sucks the life out of tall, bulky grasses, again allowing other flowers to bloom and improving biodiversity. When their seeds are ripe, the seed capsule inflates and the seeds inside rattle if shaken like maracas.

5. Black knapweed ‘Centaurea nigra’
This tough, thistle-like meadow plant gives a late season surge of colour and a rich larder of food for pollinating insects.

6. Great burnet ‘Sanguisorba officinalis’
Unfortunately now an increasingly rare sight in UK meadows, this wonderful plant has bobbly red heads which provide a late-season source of nectar, and the perfect perching spot for orb spiders.

How do you create a meadow?
Dr Kevin McGinn, Science Officer at the NBGW, says: “Pick a spot in your garden that is sunny and, if possible, with poor soil, where wildflowers or lawn weeds are already growing. That’s a clear sign the conditions are right for a mini-meadow.

“Freely scatter the seeds if planting in bare soil or, if you are planting in an area of lawn, first cut back vegetation really short so, when you sow your meadow mix, it definitely makes contact with the soil. Then water well and wait for your low-mow, slow-grow, super show of wildflowers to appear.”

He adds: “During spring and summer avoid cutting the area, but then once the wildflowers have bloomed and their seeds have dropped, you can give it a clip. Perennials like great burnet and meadow buttercup will take time to establish and flower, but it is worth the wait.

“Grassy, wildflower-rich meadows are a haven for insects like bees and butterflies and also for birds and small mammals. If you provide the right habitat in your garden, the wildlife will move in. There’s nothing better than creating a space to watch wildlife right on your doorstep.”

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