23 April - Digging our new native wildflower meadow

Digging our new wildflower meadow on 23 April 2016

To enrich the biodiversity of the Green by adding native wildflowers and thus provide 'infrastructure' for beleaguered pollinators such as honey bees, bumblebees and other native bees, it has long been the aspiration of the Group to add another meadow to the Green, complementing the meadow of annual plants planted last year with the help of Bristol City Council. This year, the RGCG finally started work on preparing the ground for a summer flowering meadow of native wildflowers. We chose an area not used for walking dogs, playing games or having picnics near to the entrance at Cossins and Metford Roads.

Native wildflowers do much better in low fertility soil, as established rye grass and vigorous weeds can outcompete the flowers in the battle for space. We chose two different methods for preparing the ground: one, removing a layer of topsoil and the plants in it (the two linear areas); and two, digging up and inverting the turf (the rounded and lowest area), and we'll be keeping an eye on the mini-meadows in each.

The plants were added a week later, and we chose to add established plants grown in 8 inch pots, and tiny plug plants. There were two main reasons for choosing these. First, the established plants, we hoped, might have a better chance of successfully establishing themselves than the tender plug plants, especially if the summer turned out to be a very dry one (a vain thought, as it has turned out). The second reason was economic: we couldn't afford to buy all the plants as established plants (at 5-6 times the cost of the plugs). So we hedged our bets with a mix, planting over 40 established plants and over 160 plugs.

The plants we chose were:

  • Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
  • Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
  • Meadow Scabious (Knautia arvensis)
  • Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
  • Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
  • Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis)
  • Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum)
  • Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
  • Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
  • Orange Hawkbit (Pilosella aurantiaca)

We also added red clover seeds straight to the exposed soil. Red clover is an excellent plant for pollinators, particularly bumblebees.

The first few weeks after our precious plants were planted were dry, and so the meadow needed watering, but since then, the wet and warm summer has proved ideal for helping the plants to establish. It seems that all our plants have survived! First to flower have been the purple meadow cranesbill, the yellow rattle and the orange hawkbit, and the others will be following soon. It has been lovely to see that already there have been honeybees from local hives visiting the young meadow!

Yellow rattle is a helpful plant to have when trying to establish a new meadow - particularly one in fertile soils - as it is semi-parasitic on grasses and helps to weaken them. It does better with native grasses, though, than with the rye grasses that are typical of farmland and urban areas, so its use in our meadow is experimental.

We'd like to add other typical summer flowering meadow plants in the future, such as:

  • Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
  • Selfheal (Prunela vulgaris)
  • Betony (Betonica officinalis/Stachys officinalis)
  • Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)

It can take several years for meadows to establish, and the meadow will need help in the meantime, particularly with keeping more aggressive plants under control. It will also need mowing bi-annually - early spring and mid-summer. After the flowers have set seed, the meadow will be cut, and the cuttings removed, so they don't decompose in situ and add to the soil's fertility.

The new meadow has attracted lots of comments from people passing through the Green and all of it has been overwhelmingly positive.

If you're interested in establishing your own wildflower meadow, two excellent sources for plants (and seeds) are:

Emorsgate Seeds: http://wildseed.co.uk/home

Naturescape: http://www.naturescape.co.uk/acatalog/index.html