Garden designer Butter Wakefield talks to Rosalind Sack about the far-reaching rewards of planting a wildflower meadow in your garden, and why Autumn is the perfect time to get started
THE WILDFLOWER MEADOW ADDS AN ABUNDANCE OF COLOUR AND INTEREST TO BUTTER WAKEFIELD’S GARDEN AT HER HOME IN LONDON
Autumn is edging in yet the soil is still warm, making it the perfect time to start preparing your garden for an abundance of wildflowers come Spring. For advice on how to get started, we have turned to award-winning garden designer Butter Wakefield, whose deep knowledge is woven with an infectious enthusiasm for creating beautiful gardens that work in harmony with the creatures that inhabit them.
Introducing an area of wildflowers into your garden is one of the most effective ways of striking that delicate balance between good looks and a healthier ecosystem, believes Butter. Leading by example, Butter’s brilliantly inspiring wildflower meadow, which runs through the centre of the lawn in her London garden, is a riot of glorious colour, texture and activity. Better still, you don’t need endless acres and an unwavering quest for horticultural perfection to achieve something similar.
“Why not release the notion and the need for perfect lawns, perfect disease and pest free plants, and why not embrace the imperfect, applaud the unkempt, the wild, and try to relish a bit of chaos and decay?” says Butter. We couldn’t agree more.
Read on to discover how Butter created her beautiful wildflower meadow and how you can do the same in your garden, whatever the size of your plot…
BUTTER WAKEFIELD’S WILDFLOWER MEADOW IN HER GARDEN AND RE-WILDED AREAS TO ATTRACT WILDLIFE
What prompted you to grow a wildflower meadow in your garden at home in London?
Several years ago, I was opening my garden to the public for charity for the first time ever, and I thought I somehow needed to make it look less boring and formal, and more interesting and amusing. I had always wanted a little wildflower meadow in my garden, so it felt like the perfect excuse to finally do it!
How much space do you need to create a wildflower meadow?
A mini wildflower meadow needs very little space at all; mine is approximately 1m wide x 13m long and runs the length of my lawn. It does need poor thin soil with very little nutritional value, and plenty of sunshine for most of the day; a west or south facing garden is generally an ideal aspect. Although there are also more shade tolerant seed mixes if the sunshine is less readily available.
What time of year is it best to get started and how do you prepare the ground?
I was in a bit of a hurry, so I used wildflower meadow turf from the Wildflower Turf Company, in a variety called ‘WFT Native Enriched’. The wildflower meadow turf is best laid in the autumn, when the soil is still warm, or early spring. The ground should be stripped of all planting and grass and raked to a fine level tilth ready to lay the turf or sow seeds. Water well until seedlings appear or until the turf begins to grow, and continue to water regularly throughout dry spells.
Which wildflowers would you recommend sowing?
I think a combination of perennial native and non-native wildflowers provide a hugely rich, diverse diet for a multitude of pollinators and birds. This year, my meadow was full of Red Campion, Forget Me Nots, and a few darling little yellow Cowslips. It’s always such a thrill to see the flowers come and go. I extended the flowering season by including some very early flowering Crocus and little Daffodils called Toto, and for later, there were Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Purple Rain’. According to Frances Tophill, author of Rewild Your Garden, it’s best to contact your local wildlife charities and ask them for guidance. They generally have advice on which wildflowers grow best in your area. Climate and soil conditions should also be considered.
This year, my meadow was full of Red Campion, Forget Me Nots, and a few darling little yellow Cowslips. It’s always such a thrill to see the flowers come and go.
How long does it take for a wildflower meadow to become established and how do you manage it?
The wildflower turf gets going almost immediately if the conditions are right and the ground is well prepared. Seeds take longer and are not as fool proof, but they are more practical and economical if large areas are to be covered. After the first successful growing season, allow the wildflowers to mature and set seed (generally this is towards the end of the summer) then cut the entire area down to approximately 10cm from the ground. After giving all the stems a thorough shake to get the last seeds out, remove all clippings and stems. A further autumn mow will help to control the grass and make way for more flowers.
Aside from looking pretty, what benefits does a wildflower meadow bring to a garden?
The wildflowers bring a host of flying pollinators, butterflies, moths and birds into the garden, which help with the fertilisation of fruit, fruit trees and vegetables. The large variety of flowers provide a nectar-rich, welcoming stop-over for insects and birds en route to other destinations and aide in enhancing local ecosystems. The meadows also provide a vast array of colour, flower shape, scent and nectar and it’s this varied range of qualities that provide the most for the largest range of wildlife. It’s win, win!
What wildlife have you spotted in your wildflower meadow at home?
I have a delightful pair of Blackbirds and Robins, which are quite typical in most gardens, and a Wren and her mate who are sensationally sweet in both song and demeanour. I feel particularly lucky to have a few toads in the garden as I feel they are a great indicator that the garden is healthy and welcoming. I have also been lucky enough to spot a few Holly Blue (who appear in early spring), Small Tortoiseshell, and Peacock butterflies, and I am hoping to encourage Tiger Moths into my garden, as I have a small stand of Stinging Nettles which they apparently love. The thrill of spotting a beautiful butterfly or moth is ridiculously enthralling and hugely gratifying. I inherited a Magnolia Grandiflora in my garden (planted by the previous owners) and the big white, highly scented flowers are particularly helpful to various kinds of night-feeding moths. They are fantastic insects for carrying pollen over a great distance, often even more productively than bees!
How else have you made your garden more wildlife friendly?
Whenever necessary, I buy adult ladybirds and lacewings and their larvae online to help control aphids and blackfly. And if and when I do need more serious help with pests I only use biological (nematodes) control for all other concerns. I no longer cut back my garden in the autumn, but leave all the perennials and shrubs over winter to provide food and shelter for birds, toads and other insects. I have a compost bin for my green kitchen waste and a corner at the back of the garden stacked with dead decaying logs and moss that help to promote a huge variety of fungi. In turn they help to encourage greater biodiversity and a union between soil and living matter. Leaving pockets of your garden untouched is one of the most helpful things you can do to make your garden more wildlife friendly, so it’s best not to be too tidy!
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