A meadow in your garden – easier to achieve and lower maintenance than you might think.
I went to a great masterclass at Pictorial Meadows in Sheffield a couple of months ago. Partly inspired by the fact I recently designed a fairly large garden in Bingley, which will include meadow planting around the new terraces. The other attraction for me, is that as a style of planting, it’s very difficult to find a garden or setting that doesn’t suit it, whether that be a remote rural location or a densely populated housing estate:
Above: Manor Fields Park in Sheffield. The lucky residents of the Manor Estate in Sheffield have various areas of meadow planting on their doorstep, created with Pictorial Meadows’ various seed mixes.
What is a meadow?
One of the questions posed on the day was, “what is a meadow?”
Well, the answer is probably different – or certainly the image which this word conjures up – dependent on your experiences, where you live (and have visited), and which books and magazines you read.
Most definitions point in basic terms, to a meadow being an area covered with non-woody vegetation.
But, if you are looking to create your own meadow, what do you want it to look like? Do you envisage poppies swaying in the breeze? Or a cool wash of blue cornflowers? Perhaps to you, it looks like an un-mowed field, simply grasses wafting around.
Above: One of the amazing meadow areas at Pictorial Meadows HQ in Sheffield. Not only the strip of meadow planting in the foreground, but a meadow-based green roof on the building behind.
One of the interesting points from the presentations was that their meadow seed mixes are not “wildflower meadow” mixes. This is no bad thing. Through huge amounts of research and experimentation, they have developed carefully designed seed mixes which will firstly, work in an average domestic garden setting (i.e. with normal garden soil), using a range of species which not only work in these conditions, but also with one another. And secondly, they can deliver a range of colour schemes and appearances, and look good over a long period. Even better, you can now get them in turf form, which gives an instant effect. To put this into context, to sow a wildflower meadow from seed, you may need to wait five years for it to fully established and look how you ideally want. To allow an area of grass to become a species rich meadow, even with extensive intervention, could take up to 10 years to become truly complete. I must admit, as a Garden Designer, I’d rather be able to specify something which is going to look pleasing a bit quicker than that. And I know many of my clients would think I was taking the proverbial if I said they’d be looking at 10 years before my design looks right.
So the good news is that you can choose seed mixes to create a certain look, and also choose between annual or perennials mixes. Whilst the annual mixes clearly will only last a year, this gives an added bit of enjoyment in not having to commit to a long term scheme, and being able to try different mixes foreman year to the next.
The other aspect to consider is that – just as with any planting scheme – the plants will all respond differently from one garden to another. We witnessed this on the day – two areas either side of a walkway, sown with identical mixes, could look completely different. This could be put down to slight differences in soil conditions or preparation, before any differences in management techniques were taking into account.
Meadow planting – a low maintenance garden design option
More good news is the fact that a meadow, once established, can actually contribute to a relatively low maintenance garden. Certainly, meadow planting is lower maintenance than a regular lawn, and lower maintenance than many herbaceous planting schemes. A simple, annual cut and clear regime is usually all that is necessary to keep it looking good once it’s established. Replacing some areas of lawn with meadow turf will mean much less time spent mowing, with the additional benefits of a long-flowering, pollinator-friendly display.
The following images were supplied by Pictorial Meadows to accompany an article I wrote for Design For Me, about low maintenance garden design ideas. They really show how you can achieve drastically different looks that work in urban, rural or woodland settings, and colour schemes to match your personal preference or surrounding features.
If you want to read the full Design for Me article about low maintenance garden design ideas, which includes my bit about meadow planting and other ideas from garden designers across the UK, you can find it here https://designfor-me.com/project-types/gardens/top-tips-low-maintenance-garden
Lewis Williams Gardens. Garden Designer, Shipley, West Yorkshire.