There is a general consensus that wildflower area = low maintenance. If this is something you're considering on that basis, STOP now! Stunning in full flower, meadows are very special places, and having been lucky enough in a past life to spend a hazy summer surveying them in upper Teesdale, they hold a special place in my heart. But, like all areas of planting, they require care and attention.
So as a starter for ten, wildflowers tend to thrive in poor quality soils, low in nutrients, otherwise they are quickly swamped by faster growing grasses. And by and large, most of our urban spaces are pretty high in nutrients. The first stage in creating a wildflower area is to deplete the chosen area both of fertility and existing competitive plants. Often, as in today's case, this is done by stripping an area of turf, sometimes it's done by planting yellow rattle seeds, sometimes by a combination of both.
The next stage is to sow wildflower seeds. Packs of wildflower seeds are often given out for free, but are rarely used correctly (it's not enough simply to throw them on a bare area). Like all seeds they need moisture and warmth to germinate and some will require covering lightly - instructions should be on the packet and need following! I quite like these guys, who use a mixture of annuals (taking only one season to produce a flower and seed) and perennials, the ones with staying power.
The wildflower area I'e been working on today has been established a couple of years, and looks stunning in summer. Normally, after the plants have set seed, the meadow should by cut back to ground level in around September/October, with all the excess vegetation removed (if it were to stay, it would only add to the fertility of the soil, encouraging the pesky grasses!) We're a bit late with this one - it's December - but it still needed doing regardless. Thankfully it wasn't too wet and most of the plants were still standing tall, not flat against the ground.
Most contractors, in fact all I've come across, favour a petrol strimmer for a job like this. It doesn't require electricity (rare on outdoor sites) and it's quick and relatively easy. But petrol strimmers are noisy, the fumes are terrible, and of course there's the carbon footprint of using petrol as a fuel. I much prefer the old fashioned method of using a scythe.
If you've not seen a scythe before, it's the tool choice of the Grim Reaper, and producing one almost always results in exclamations of days being numbered and time being up. This is part of what makes it a joy to use - there is always a conversation to be had, sniggers of amusement and questions. How many people engage in idle natter about strimmers? The blade is incredibly sharp and requires frequent sharpening throughout, but with a purposeful swing, it will shear both grass and thick, thick thistle stems with ease. Of course it is quiet and there is a wonderful rhythm about scything, the type of repetitive activity that eventually absorbs you and allows your mind to wander. There's no messy fuel, no numbing vibrations, no complicated PPE and it's easily maintained. No ongoing servicing costs or replacement parts. If you get a chance to try one, don't pass it up!
Scything is not, however, for the faint hearted. It's physically demanding, especially on the arms (a correctly adjusted scythe will not hurt the back, but for most, the arm movements are not everyday enough to have built the muscles). And for me, my hands take a bashing. But apparently it is very good for the waistline, with the same twisting motion as a hula hoop, and it certainly burns some calories if my hunger is anything to go by!
Four hours later, and the wildflower meadow has been scythed ready for the next season. The surplus vegetation raked to one side will provide a habitat for overwintering mammals and insects (several small field mice had an opportunity to scarper from my swinging blade!) and come spring, compost to feed the edgeline trees. No carbon footprint, zero emissions and a wonderfully peaceful afternoon. And in return I was treated to one of spring's most stunning wildflowers - a beautiful, if a little early, cowslip. Joy!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.