Flower meadows take time ... but are worth the wait

Janice Wells
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I quite liked the grassy field that made up a good part of my rural property and had a vague idea of some day turning it into a floral meadow.

Common ox-eye daisies are smaller than these shastas but are lovely in a meadow. — Photo courtesy of Donna Ansell

But I knew that establishing a good wildflower meadow is about a three-year process and takes more work than you might think, so I

wasn’t intending to start this year.

First I’d have to get rid of a lot of the grass to make a soil bed for the flower seeds, and that was on the plan for next year. I had a vision of doing it one patch at a time, but that was before I had a backhoe burying the old pieces of concrete foundation along the beachfront as an erosion preventing technique.

In the process of doing this, a great patch of the grass disappeared under what now looks like a field ready to plant. I expect that the grass roots, etc., are under there just waiting to spring up again, but still I’m thinking Now’s my chance to sow some seeds and see what happens.

I looked it up, of course. Some of the advice can be a bit confusing; some seeds need cold weather to germinate; in cold climates, plant after all danger of frost is past; the most important thing to remember is that it’s usually best to plant at a time of year in your area when the soil is warm. I am also advised to rototill to further remove unwanted grass and weeds.

Wildflower seed mixtures contain annual, biennial and perennial flowers. (I think wildflowers is a misnomer because many great naturalizing flowers are not natives.)

The annuals will usually sprout sooner, grow faster, and bloom earlier. The best ones (to me, the only ones) for meadow purposes will reseed themselves.

Biennials form leaves the first year, bloom the second year and die, but they are heavy seed-producers and hopefully end up in your meadow permanently.

Perennials are slower to sprout and grow, often not showing shoot growth for months. If seeded on site, they often won’t flower their second year, but will get better in successive years.

The two seed mixtures I’ve ordered contain blanket-flower, yarrow, dwarf cornflower, wallflower, coreopsis, foxglove, purple coneflower, baby’s breath, liatris, butter and eggs, flax, evening primrose, poppies, pansies, asters, lupins, phlox, “and more.”

Some of these I wouldn’t have chosen and I will add individual packs of others that aren’t there, like shasta daisies and rudbeckia and a few that have gone mad in my garden, such as feverfew, bellflower and cornflower. I may cheat a bit and put in some seedlings and more mature plants.

Fertilizing isn’t advised; fertilizing promotes fast weed growth and meadows rely on natural conditions. The flowers happiest in your conditions will do the best, which is as it should be.

You might want to pull some weeds or shrubs that pop up or you can let them go for a truly naturalistic meadow. I’d be very happy to have some of the original native grasses from my spot.

The second year will be better when some biennial and perennial wildflowers begin to bloom.

As your meadow fills out, you may want to re-seed or spot transplant species to fill in bare spots or increase certain species and you should continue to weed out undesirables.

In other words, a flower meadow is not a simple matter but it is less expensive and labour intensive than making a lawn, costs way less to maintain and is better for the environment.

After a few years, you’ll work yourself out of doing much weeding and sit back and enjoy the flowers, birds and butterflies.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc.  You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca.

Note to readers: please do not send

thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

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