Meadow Update: Survival of the Fittest

Back in February I had the bright idea to plant a mini meadow around the four apple trees I ambitiously refer to as an ‘orchard’.  It was of course the wrong time to do this.  Autumn is the best time, as you can sow Yellow Rattle to weaken the grass and so give wildflowers a chance to establish.

But I’m not one for letting practicality get in the way of a brainwave.  First I stripped a very small area and planted wildflower plug plants (see Folly alert! The meadow experiment).  Then I discovered seedballs.  I threw in a few handfuls of conventional wildflower seed mix for good measure (see Meadow Update! Seedballs!).

This is how the area is looking now.


From the various seed mixes, Corncockle is probably the most successful species.  This was in the wildflower seed mix.


All of the plug plants did well.  Here is Greater Knapweed.


And Musk Mallow.

Musk Mallow

There have been a handful of cornflowers.  These were in the seedballs and the seedmix.


But most of the blue is coming not from a wildflower, but from Nigella.  I had some spare seed when I was sowing into a tray, and I just threw it at the wildflower patch.  The seeds I threw did far better than the pathetic seedlings in seedtrays that I have since dumped on the compost heap.


I know, this is hardly a wildflower, but it does seem to like it here, and has thrived on neglect.


There is a darker purple form too.


I think this is self-seeded chamomile.


As I was taking photos, there were Brimstone butterflies dancing around, but none obliged me by sitting still for a photo. Instead I got a very long-legged fly thing.


This is my favourite weed in our garden, Scarlet Pimpernell.  The flowers are tiny, just a a couple of millimetres across.  It has the most delicious combination of warm orange petals with deep purple staining at the centre.  This colour combination has inspired many a planting plan in my garden.

Scarlet Pimpernel

I’m not sure what this is, but I like it.


At the very end of the orchardy meadow folly, I planted a rose, ‘Morning Mist’.  I really need to water it.  Nothing in this area has been watered, and is hasn’t rained properly since the end of May.  This was the rose a couple of weeks ago.  I love the colour of this rose.  It is like a holiday skirt.

Rosa ‘Morning Mist’

The description in the David Austin catalogue tells me that this rose is suited to wild areas, but I think I probably do need to take a little care of it.


Despite my total neglect (which is the point of a meadow) the area is coming along nicely.  I realise now that it would be nice to have some grass in and amongst the flowers, but that won’t be a problem: the grass will be back soon enough.  In the Autumn I will dig patches of soil to sow Yellow Rattle into, and this hopefully will germinate and keep the grass in check in the years to come.  These flowers will set seed, and nature will decide which species thrive.

As a comparison between plug plants, seedballs and seed mix, I can say that the plug plants all survived, so whilst this was an expensive option, it is a reliable way of ensuring you have a specific species, at least for a season.  The seed mix germinated more quickly and more reliably than the seedballs.  Many of the species listed in the seedballs and the seed mix did not appear.  They may be lying dormant in the soil for next year.  Some of the species, like forget-me-nots and foxgloves are biennial, so I would not have expected them to be prominent in the first year.

The benefits to growing a wildflower meadow are that there are many more beetles, bugs and butterflies, and that Stevie has a bit less grass to mow.  In fact we have decided to let all of the grass in the allotment grow long.  Nature wins.

Do you have a wildflower patch in your garden?  Which species thrive near you?

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23 Comments Add yours

  1. Driftwood says:

    I bet it’s tempting to give it a bit of a cosmetic touch-up! Great photography.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I think I will pull up thistles and nettles!

  2. Wildflowers do really well in our garden, especially cornflowers, corncockles and the yellow flower with the insect that I don’t know the name of. The bees love them and the wildflowers don’t seem to mind the full-sun and drought conditions that perennials struggle with under the hedge.

    1. Ali says:

      It is great to have a low-maintenance area, isn’t it?

  3. Wildflowers are gorgeous! I also love the variety. Great photography!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, Lisa.

  4. Very pretty – it looks like a success to me.
    I don’t have enough land to have a meadow. I live in the city and one would have to live in the country to have a meadow here, but they are lovely.

  5. bcparkison says:

    Beautiful. some times these mixes don’t have a mix. You did well with yours. I need to look up Yellow rattle. Might need some of that.

  6. Great idea well executed. We had a meadow in an orchard in our Victorian garden in Newark. We didn’t have to sow anything because it was very mature. Cowslips did well there. Here in the New Forest we have little self seeded orange poppies that last a day and keep repeating throughout the summer. We do dead-head those but you wouldn’t have to.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Derrick. I’m hoping for lots of poppies next year, as I threw around some extra seeds from field poppies in another part of the garden.

  7. Heyjude says:

    I don’t have space for a meadow, but I did throw a packet of bee and butterfly seed onto a 1 sq.m bed last summer and had loads of flowers. Obviously no grass to compete with. I was hoping for some self-seeding to happen but only one marigold re-appeared. And lots of musk mallows and some wallflowers. Last year I had lacy phacelia, Californian poppies, marigolds in yellow and orange, some nigella and a little red flower I didn’t know. Well worth the £3 the packet cost me!

    1. Ali says:

      That’s useful to know. That was very good value!

  8. Emma Cownie says:

    Love the Corn flowers and Nigella. My mother asks me, why does the grass go yellow like straw and yet the weeds in the borders of the garden thrive? I suggested it might have something to do with deeper roots.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, and they’re suited to low-water and low-nutrient conditions.

  9. Lovely. I am planning meadow patches in the churchyard I look after. Yellow rattle is on the menu this Autumn too.It is a very hard thing to do, to establish a meadow.
    PS. I think the purple flower is Verbena hastata.

  10. Valonia says:

    Thanks for this, it’s really interesting and useful as we’ll be starting our wildflower area this September. I’ve just bought some Seedball mixes too so we’ll have to see how they go!

    1. Ali says:

      I’d be interested to know how they work for you.

  11. Nicky says:

    It’s looking very pretty Ali, mine was seeded at the end of May and I have lots of leaf and not much flower. I’m being patient and just leaving it this year. I expect, like you, there’s seed that hasn’t germinated this year but will next. But, I do intend to “interfere”, adding plug plants of my favourites in the bare patches and pulling up the ugly ones that look too much like “weeds”.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I keep meaning to go round with my gloves on and take out the thistles.

  12. Clare Pooley says:

    As you see I am still trying to catch up! The yellow flower with the insect is probably Corn Marigold – very pretty but disliked by farmers and so is in danger of disappearing! I also think that the pale purple spike flower is Vervain (Verbena officinalis) rather than Verbena hastata xx Both those will probably have come from your wildflower mixes but might have been in the soil already, just waiting for the right moment. The little white daisy-like flowers are probably a Mayweed of some type. I’d need to look carefully at the leaves etc. and smell the leaves to make sure.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Clare! I love that you would have to smell the leaves – the full sensory experience.

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