This is your chance to boost biodiversity in your own backyard and it’s all based on successful meadow conservation work carried out by National Botanic Garden of Wales scientists.
A staggering 97 per cent of wildflower-rich meadows across Wales and the UK have been lost over the past 100 years and, with them, all the butterflies, bees, fungi, hoverflies, beetles, birds and mammals that once thrived there.
Here’s your opportunity to help redress this loss.
Staff and volunteers at the Botanic Garden have harvested, cleaned and packaged a mix of organic seeds from native wildflowers and grasses which grow on the species-rich meadows of their national nature reserve – and they are on sale now.
You don’t need to own a rolling field either; you can do it in your own back garden.
Science officer Dr Kevin McGinn says now is the perfect time of year to get sowing and growing a meadow: “Imagine a mix of grasses and colourful wildflowers swaying in the breeze, providing a stunning display and a space to watch wildlife – right on your doorstep. Meadows are not only a haven for pollinating insects but for birds and small mammals, too. Providing the right habitat will result in all this wildlife moving right into your garden.”
Says Kevin: “The first step is to choose an area of your lawn that gives you the best starting point. If possible, choose a sunny patch, preferably with poor soil that already has wildflowers or ‘lawn weeds’ – that’s a good sign that conditions are right.”
And if you think your neatly mown lawn isn’t meadow-ready, you couldn’t be more wrong: “Repeated mowing and removal of the clippings gradually reduces soil fertility. This makes grasses less vigorous, and will let the wildflowers compete.”
So what is in the meadow mix? Head of Interpretation Bruce Langridge takes up the story: “Using our research of plants and pollinators coupled with our knowledge of what makes a meadow, we have chosen seeds of species which are plentiful on our Waun Las National Nature Reserve and which will help accelerate the transformation of your lawn to a wildflower-rich, biodiverse space.”
“Eyebright Euphrasia sp., is a small, pretty flower whose petals remind me of a long-eyelash-ed cartoon temptress. Eyebrights take nutrients from surrounding grasses and help to create space for other wildflowers to set seed and thrive.”
Performing a similar job of sucking the life out of tall, bulky grasses but even more effectively is yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor. “Which is why I call this the ‘vampire of the plant world’. As an added bonus, when their seeds are ripe, the seed capsule inflates and the seeds inside rattle if shaken like maracas,” says Bruce.
Cat’s ear Hypochaeris radicata might look like a dandelion but it’s not. Bruce explains: “Pollinating insects love it and its deep tap roots help to bind the soil and they draw up water into the soil during really dry spells.”
The bobbly red heads of great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis are an increasingly rare sight in Welsh meadows but they provide a late-in-the-season source of nectar as well as a perching spot for extraordinary orb spiders.
And nothing says “summer” like a swathe of meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris. Pollinating insects adore it too while children still enjoy testing their love of butter by seeing if its petals reflect up to their chin.
Meadow Mix – we collected wildflower seed in late summer, so you could get all of the above species as well as plenty of bent and sweet vernal grass, with the added bonus of some surprises which could even be one of the four species of orchid that thrive on our meadows.
Says Dr McGinn: “Managing an area of your lawn as a meadow will reward you and your local wildlife with an increasing abundance of wildflowers year-on-year. Leave your lawn to grow long during the spring and summer months, then cut and collect the clippings once the seeds have dropped. Although perennials like great burnet and meadow buttercup will take time to establish and flower, it is worth the wait.”
To find out how to transform your lawn into a wildflower meadow, read Dr Kevin McGinn’s blog here.
The seed mix has been produced by the Botanic Garden’s ‘Growing the Future’ project as part of their Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme which guarantees that plants sold under its marque are grown without the use of peat, are free of synthetic insecticides and proven, thanks to 17 years of research, to be perfect for pollinators.
To see the National Botanic Garden’s wildflower meadow in May, watch this short film –