Wild flowers are important in supporting our native insects and animals. Not only do they encourage high biodiversity, they also make a pretty and colourful addition to the garden. The most attractive way to grow wild flowers is by planting a meadow, although they can be grouped formally in beds and borders to great effect. A quintessential part of the British countryside, wild flower meadows are an important part of our environment and an excellent, wildlife-friendly alternative to lawns and borders.
There are two types of meadow you can grow at home - annual meadows and perennial meadows. Both can easily be grown from mixed wild flower seeds or by using wildflower plug plants. Wildflower seeds are the most cost effective option, particularly for annual meadows or for planting up large areas.
For tips on making your garden more wildlife friendly take a look at our article on 'How to encourage wildlife in your garden'. For a list of other wildlife-friendly plants take a look at our 'Plants for wildlife' guide. Click here to buy wildflower seeds online from Thompson & Morgan.
Annual wild flowers bloom in their first season, giving a bright show of colour from early summer onwards before dying and setting seed in late summer or autumn. Annual wildflower seeds such as cornflowers, poppies and corn cockle look very effective scattered in beds and borders to create a colourful meadow. Annual meadows such as those seen at the Olympic Park in London aren’t strictly wildflower meadows. They contain few grasses and are often a mixture of native and non-native wild flower seeds, such as our Honey Bee Flower Mixed. This creates a very colourful display with big impact and although it’s not a true meadow, is still very beneficial to pollinating insects. Unlike perennial meadows, annual wild flowers need rich fertile soil to give the best display.
Perennial meadows more truly represent the natural meadows found in the British countryside. Perennial wild flower seeds for meadows consist of grasses and flowers, and thrive best on poor soils where the grass won’t outcompete the wild flowers. These meadows are most successful in large areas and take several years to establish properly and flower. Most perennial wild flower mixtures contain a high level of grass seed and are generally unsuitable for small garden use, often turning into a weedy-looking mess after a few years!
Perennial wild flowers such as ox-eye daisies, ragged robin and red campion can be found in open areas or woodland. Woodland wildflowers such as primroses, wood anemones and bluebells can be grown from seed or purchased as plants and are excellent for shady gardens. Buy wild primrose seeds here.
Sow wild flower garden seeds in March and April, or September if your soil is light and well drained. They prefer an open position in full sun. For annual displays, autumn sowing favours wild red poppy seeds and cornflowers, whereas spring sowing tends to favour corncockles and corn marigolds. View our wild poppy seeds for sale here.
Annual wild flowers can be watered while they establish, to encourage good growth. Perennial wildflower meadows should be left to grow naturally without any additional water or fertiliser. Fertile soil favours grass growth which competes with the flowers.
Meadows will need cutting back or mowing each year; traditionally they would have been maintained through grazing or hay-making. You can mow paths through wild flower meadows to allow access without trampling the plants. Try and make the path winding rather than straight for a more relaxed feel. This also encourages you to take your time walking along them!
Annual wild flower meadows can be cut back in late summer or autumn, once flowering has finished and the plants begin to brown and die back. Cornfield annuals produce abundant seeds which can be left on the soil to grow for another display next year. They are plants of cultivated ground so the soil will need to be cultivated and prepared each spring for the meadow to persist each year.
Perennial wildflower meadows need annual maintenance to encourage the more desirable plants to grow, and reduce the vigour of rampant plants. Most perennial wild flower seed mixtures contain summer-flowering plants but some mixtures may be designed for spring colour; including plants such as primroses, fritillary, cowslips, lady’s smock, bugle and self-heal. Some mixtures may contain both spring and summer wild flowers and should be treated as a summer meadow.
Your lawn mower may struggle with cutting long grass, so for smaller areas use a strimmer or cut by hand with shears.
You may find weeds a problem, particularly in the early stages of growth. Some persistent weeds such as thistles and dock are best weeded out by hand or spot treated with a glyphosate-based weed killer. Perennials meadows can sometimes become dominated by grass. This should be controlled by mowing but you can also try introducing an annual wild flower called Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). This plant is semi-parasitic to grasses, weakening their growth, and these wild flower seeds are sown in early autumn.
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.