Space For Nature
Garden biodiversity forum

Features: Places and events

Title image
This is a feature summary. If you would like to read the full text, click here.

Creating a wildflower meadow: talk and tour at Bluebell Cottage Gardens, Cheshire

Bluebell Cottage Gardens specialises in cottage garden plants, but adjacent to the nursery is a three acre wildflower meadow. On 12th June 2003 I attended a Royal Horticultural Society event at the nursery during which Rod Casey described how the meadow was created. This feature describes the creation of a wildflower meadow through the example of Bluebell Cottage Gardens.

The wildflower meadow

Bird's foot trefoilBird's foot trefoil in the meadow. The Bluebell Cottage Gardens meadow can be correctly termed a perennial wildflower meadow. It contrasts sharply with the image that many people have of a wildflower meadow; e.g. a grassy mixture of poppies, corn cockles, corn marigolds etc. In fact those annual plants are more typical of arable margins - they are not really meadow flowers at all. The meadow is a permanent, though dynamic, ecosystem. Although many true meadow plants are often not the showiest of flowers, they have a subtle beauty of their own.

Assessing the site

Before creating a wildflower meadow, a careful assessment of the site is necessary. Points to be considered are:

  • light;
  • moisture;
  • fertility.

The amount of light and moisture a site receives will affect your choice of species to sow or plant there. Generally speaking, meadow plants do well where there is plenty of light, but if you have a more shady site, you can still consider developing a community more akin to a hedgerow bottom or woodland clearing.

It is a surprise to many people that a successful meadow will only develop on land with low fertility; mirroring the conditions to which meadow plants are adapted in nature. If fertility is high, steps must be taken to reduce it before trying to establish a wildflower meadow. Areas of low fertility can be turned into meadow by direct planting (providing the area is not too big), but areas of medium to high fertility are usually converted to meadow more successfully if they are completely stripped of existing vegetation and re-sown.

Preparing the site

If the decision is taken to remove all existing vegetation and re-sow, it will normally be necessary to use a herbicide (unless the area is small enough to allow manual removal of turf). Glyphosate-based systemic herbicides are relatively safe to use since they become inactive when they come into contact with the soil.

Two applications of the herbicide are necessary: the first kills all the existing vegetation, but once this is removed, the natural 'seed-bank' in the soil sends up a fresh generation of the plants. You must wait for these plants to reach a suitable size before using a second application of herbicide to remove them. At this point care should be taken not to disturb the soil which would bring more seeds from the seed-bank to the surface.

Sowing and first year maintenance

The new meadow can be sown during the late summer/autumn or in spring. Seed is normally sown at a rate of about 5 grams per square metre. Before broadcasting, the seed can be 'bulked' up with a carrying agent such as silver sand: this makes it easier to get an even spread and see where the seed has been sown. The seed should be firmed in e.g. by treading or rolling, but the soil should not be raked or disturbed in any other way (because of the risk of disturbing the seed bank).

If necessary and practical, the new meadow can be watered until it is established. During its first year, the meadow should be regularly cut short (to about five centimetres) to encourage healthy establishment of the roots. The meadow should not be allowed to flower until its second season. All cuttings should be removed from the meadow to keep down soil fertility.


In its second full year your meadow will come into its own. Now it can be left uncut right through the spring and summer. During this period keep an eye out for unwanted plants like docks and remove them with as much root as possible. You can also introduce pot grown plants if you like but remember that once a meadow is established you will need to use quite large specimens to give them a chance of establishing successfully.

The meadow can be mowed around the beginning of August after most of the flowers and grasses have set seed. Leave the cuttings on the meadow for at least a few days to allow the seed time to fall into the sward. Eventually cuttings should be removed to keep soil fertility down.

Other strategies for wildlife gardeners

We can't all establish a perennial wildflower meadow like the one at Bluebell Cottage, but there are a number of other meadow creation strategies we can try. The wildlife gardening literature is full of ideas and among the types of meadow described are:

  • the summer hay meadow;
  • the spring hay meadow;
  • the short flowery lawn;
  • the flowery hiccup;
  • the woodland glade.

The 'flowery hiccup', for example, is an idea outlined by Chris Baines in his book How To Make a Wildlife Garden. The idea here is to stop mowing your lawn altogether some time during May and leave it uncut for anything from four weeks upwards (see the feature article The flowery hiccup).

First published June 2003. Last revised July 2006.
Copyright Richard Burkmar 2003. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.

This is a feature summary. If you would like to read the full text, click here.

home Back to home page

North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan Do you live in Merseyside? Interested in its wildlife?