As Maureen Lipman once famously said, ”if it’s an ‘ology then it’s got to be clever” – and in the world of meadows, the really clever bit started with the work of Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough at the University of Sheffield some two decades ago. Their work pioneered the new seeded landscapes, creating cost-effective ‘meadows’ that were a nod to their native counterparts, but far superior in terms of flower power and longevity. The zenith of their work was the Olympic Park in London which showcased many of their unique meadow products and techniques. The movement still endures, with extensive research worldwide through the work of the University and the company that Nigel established, Pictorial Meadows – a brand now synonymous with world-leading meadow seed mixes, turf products and horticultural expertise.
For anyone who is involved in designing or creating gardens and larger landscapes, the addition of a ‘meadow’ or ‘wildflower area’ is undertaken with a mixture of trepidation and hope. This is the crux of the problem when it comes to ‘designing’ a meadow – the confidence to press forward with a project because of the pitfalls that await. To start with there is the conundrum of wildflowers/natives/non-natives/local provenance to overcome. Most projects fall at this first hurdle because the get tied up with the rights and wrongs of a particular style of meadow that is unsuitable – be it on the grounds of cost, wrong ground preparation, unsuitable product or a lack of appreciation of the maintenance involved. All of these factors can lead to disaster – particularly when the aim is to try and emulate nature – but the natural processes that are essential in establishing a harmonious ‘natural’ meadow are forgotten.
The current popularity of meadows and naturalistic planting is fuelled by an increasing awareness of the desperate plight of Bees and other pollinators. Clients expect their gardens to not only look great but also do their bit for the planet. For designers, the choice of products on the market can be exciting but overwhelming, so plenty of research is essential in order to avoid being seduced by marketing shots and language. A few years ago, the only way to create a meadow was from seed, which could be any combination of annuals, biennials and perennials – but you would be leaving your client with a bare seedbed and a set of instructions!
Now a fully sustainable meadow can be established quickly and easily from pre-grown mats of plantlets – each containing up to 150 plants of 35 different species per square metre. For a designer this is a dream – a fully formed meadow delivered direct to site which will only require the minimum maintenance of one cut per year.
The Meadowology journey has only just begun – there is so much we are continuing to learn, and so many stunning plant combinations to create more flexibility and important tools for designers and gardeners to use in their work. Please get in touch if you want anymore information – I have extensive knowledge of using meadows in the landscape and how best to achieve a stunning result.