So you want a flowery mead? Not satisfied with the creative mowing option of Meadows – 101?
The next most simple meadow (note the word simple, not easy, nor quick) is one made up of annuals (which are flowers that complete their life cycle in less than a year, like you’d buy in a punnet at the nursery). To create them is ‘simply’ a matter of cultivating the soil at the right time, and sowing a heap of seed.
The most obvious candidates are virtual weeds of recently cultivated soil. ‘Wildflower’ or ‘wildflower meadow’ mixes are usually made up of such things, like poppies, cornflowers, corn marigolds and corncockle. All these plants were weeds of corn crops in the past (hence the repeating prefix), as there wasn’t any seed cleaning process that could separate the desirable grain from the undesirable flower seed. That ensured that corn fields (a generic term covering several grains – not maize or corn-on-the-cob) were very pretty indeed. That’s poppies, above, in a field in France.
For these to succeed, the soil must be cultivated every year. The seed won’t germinate in undisturbed ground. It’ll just lie dormant, for years and years. Recently our local railway line was upgraded. Poppy seed that had laid dormant for decades suddenly came to life in the disturbed ground, and the surrounding gravel burst into bloom. The next year, without cultivation – nothing.
Last year at Prieure d’Orsan, they were experimenting with four different types of ‘corn’, or four different grain mixes, following ancient practices. You can just spot the cornflowers coming into bloom.
Now I’m all to aware that none of these demonstrate what one of those meadow mixes can do. Truth is, I don’t have a single pic that illustrates them so I’m hoping you can extrapolate from what I’ve got.
Theoretically they should be self-sustaining, in that there should be plenty of seed shed every year, but you just need to make sure that the soil surface is cultivated, at least a little, to create what amounts to a seed bed.
It also makes a lot of sense to go for plants that are happy to germinate in autumn, grow over the winter and then flower in spring. That way, you’ll hardly have to worry about watering. You cultivate in mid autumn, sow the seed, let the rains do their work, and then prance about in a billowing semi-transparent cotton sundress when it’s all abloom in spring.
I don’t at all share the logic that would say that if we’re going to engage anyone in gardening we’ve got to talk it all up, and concentrate only on the positives. I wish I’d been told the downs as well as the ups when I was starting out, as I would have avoided at least a degree of the self-condemnation that followed failure, which was virtually inevitable. So I’m going to be frank, and give you the pros and cons of annual meadows, as far as I know them. Hang on. Time for a pretty picture – too much writing
This is at my mate Woosh’s place. It’s not a meadow of any sort, but I told you I was short on pics. The point is that it could be, and both of the annuals here would make sensational annual meadow plants. The seed was simply scattered onto recently cultivated and raked soil. At the back are orange chiffon poppies (Woosh and orange chiffon – nice juxtaposition) and at the front Californian poppies.
Now for the pros and cons of annual meadows.
Pros: they’re relatively simple; they’re cheap (seed is always the cheapest way of acquiring plants) and they’re quick (in full flower in just a few months).
Cons: They require annual cultivation of the soil; cultivation nearly always encourages other weeds as well (at my place, I’d probably wind up with thistles towering over the flowers), and they can look really ordinary after flowering. There’s not much you can do to redeem them over summer. Good, perhaps, for an out-of-the-way place that you can look at in spring, and then ignore over summer, until you tickle it all up again in autumn.
The best, and most complex meadows contain bulbs and perennials. Let’s save them until next time.