Discover British wildflowers

Here's our top 10 of wildflowers for a mini meadow in your own back garden

Meadow flowers at RHS Wisley

by Liz Potter |

Growing your own wildflower meadow is an exciting project, but it pays to understand what you’re attempting to create before you start. There are essentially two different types of meadow: the annual cornfield, and the wildflower meadow. They’re both completely different.

ANNUAL CORNFIELD FLOWERS are the opportunist hardy annuals that traditionally grew throughout ploughed wheat and barley fields. They rely on the soil being turned over every year and there’s no need to remove your topsoil to get started. Just prepare an area of bare soil by weeding, then raking it to a fine crumbly texture. Sow the seed in rows (as this helps you identify any weeds that emerge). Keep the soil moist. Cornfield annuals are ideal for a quick blast of summer colour. They support bees and hoverflies and will self sow, but for best results you’ll need to sow again every year.

FIVE CORNFIELD ANNUALS

CORN CHAMOMILE Anthemis austriaca – tall white dasiy with feathery leaves
CORN CHAMOMILE Anthemis austriaca – tall white dasiy with feathery leaves
CORN MARIGOLD Glebionis segetum – valuable source of nectar for pollinators
CORN MARIGOLD Glebionis segetum – valuable source of nectar for pollinators ©ALAMY
CORN POPPY  Papaver rhoeas – iconic wild poppy that self sows freely
CORN POPPY Papaver rhoeas – iconic wild poppy that self sows freely
CORNCOCKLE Agrostemma githago – these charming purple flowers are now quite rare in the wild
CORNCOCKLE Agrostemma githago – these charming purple flowers are now quite rare in the wild
CORNFLOWER Centaurea cyanus – pretty blue cornflowers are a cornfield staple
CORNFLOWER Centaurea cyanus – pretty blue cornflowers are a cornfield staple

THE WILDFLOWER MEADOW is based on traditional grassy haymeadows. Once grazed by livestock in winter and scythed in autumn to make hay, around 99% of this habitat has been lost since the 1930s, with only fragments remaining. The wildflowers that grow here are a mix of annuals and perennials that support butterflies, bees and farmland birds. Typically these meadow plants perform best on poor soil; in rich soil the grasses will thrive and outcompete the flowers.

You can leave your existing lawn to grow long and see which wildflowers emerge, but for a wider range of plantlife it’s best to start your meadow from scratch. Remove the top 7.5-15cm (3-6in) of topsoil, lay black plastic to smother perennial weeds for a few months, then dig and rake to a fine tilth. In autumn or spring, sow a haymeadow mix (adding sand so you can see where you’ve sown) at a rate of about 5g seed per square metre. You may need to net it to keep the birds off, and water until the seedlings have established.

To manage your meadow in future years, don’t mow from April to August or September. Then, cut the meadow seedheads back in dry weather using a strimmer or shears, leave them in situ for a week to release their seed, then rake off the stems for composting. Mow a couple of times in autumn, and weed out nettles, dock and thistles, which will take over if left.

FIVE MEADOW FLOWERS

GREATER KNAPWEED Centaurea scabiosa – a magnet for bees and butterflies and is very easy to grow from seed
GREATER KNAPWEED Centaurea scabiosa – a magnet for bees and butterflies and is very easy to grow from seed
VIPER'S BUGLOSS Echium vulgare – very attractive to pollinators such as bees
VIPER'S BUGLOSS Echium vulgare – very attractive to pollinators such as bees
BIRDS FOOT TREFOIL Lotus corniculatus – important footplant of the common blue caterpillar. Yellow flowers look like little yellow slippers
BIRDS FOOT TREFOIL Lotus corniculatus – important footplant of the common blue caterpillar. Yellow flowers look like little yellow slippers
WILD CARROT Daucus carrota – a tiny red dot in the middle helps you identify the white umbel flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace
WILD CARROT Daucus carrota – a tiny red dot in the middle helps you identify the white umbel flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace
YELLOW RATTLE Rhinanthus minor – helps to parasitise grass and allow meadow flowers to flourish
YELLOW RATTLE Rhinanthus minor – helps to parasitise grass and allow meadow flowers to flourish ©ALAMY
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