– Rethinking the wildflower meadow
By Yvonne Buckley, Professor of Zoology, Trinity College Dublin
There’s something madly romantic about a sea of poppies and cornflowers shimmering in a summer breeze. We imagine lazing in this mirage of a wildflower meadow, surrounded by happy bees and fluttering butterflies, congratulating ourselves on our contribution to conservation and the wellbeing of the planet. The reality is very far from that romantic image.
Throwing around some ‘wildflower seed mix’ or a ‘seed bomb’ in the hopes of producing the kind of meadow you see in a French landscape painting just doesn’t work. The soil is wrong, the existing grasses outcompete these weakling ‘wildflowers’, the seeds are often not native and the flowers, like nervy thoroughbreds, may have been bred for looks and not function. Even if you did achieve that aesthetic ideal, it would be short-lived and wouldn’t necessarily help with conservation of plants, bees or butterflies, never mind the vast diversity of other species that make up a healthy, functional ecosystem.
Throwing around some ‘wildflower seed mix’ or a ‘seed bomb’
… just doesn’t work.
…the seeds are often not native and the flowers,
like nervy thoroughbreds,
may have been bred for looks and not function.
We need to retrain our aesthetic appreciation of wildflower meadows. Imagine a mixture of Henri Rousseau’s sharp architectural plant forms and Dürer’s ‘Great Piece of Turf’ as the ideal image of a functional meadow. There are flowers in our ideal meadow, of course, but they are the common rather than the exotic. They are the shocking yellow of dandelions and the dusky pinks and whites of clover, the daisy ballerina tutus and the softly nodding grass flowerheads. Our ideal meadow, supporting many more species than just the charismatic pollinators, is rarely mowed, never fertilised and provides surprises every year as new species emerge from the seedbank, like Sleeping Beauty, dormant for many years.
Our ideal meadow provides a succession of resources for bees, butterflies, birds and earthworms; nooks and crannies for beetles to hunt, snails to nibble, and frogs to shelter from the sweltering Irish sun(!). With the right kind of care, patience and appreciation for the native, the common, the species of our childhoods, we can achieve a healthy, functioning meadow from a sterile lawn or grass verge. We don’t need to throw around non-native species or populations of species from far away, seeking the immediacy of a ‘bomb’. Nature takes time.
A natural wildflower meadow is more sustainable and will look better year after year if managed correctly. Wildflower meadow, National Trust, Northern Ireland © Craig Somerville
© Réamaí Mathers
The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan does not endorse seed bombs.
Other articles of interest:
- Reducing mowing for pollinators – brilliant for bees, harder for humans! – the joys and pitfalls of creating a wildflower meadow
- Don’t mow, let it grow – and amazing things will happen! – how reducing grass cutting gives our native wildflowers a chance to bloom
- Practical advice on managing wildflower meadows – how natural meadows are flourishing under management practices of the Irish Wildlife Trust Laois/Offaly branch
- Is your action for pollinators making a difference? You can help by tracking changes in insect pollinator populations
- Wildflowers – to plant or not to plant? Why buying wildflower seed is not always helpful
Watch our videos on creating natural wildflower meadows HERE
Seed Bombs © Kevan Davis, CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons