It’s easy to see why in bygone days, lawns were an invention of rich people. The pristine lawn allowed them show off their expensive garden equipment and the gardeners they could afford, to maintain the perfect patch of emerald green we call the lawn.
I was never one for the pristine patch. Indeed, our lawn was once a paddock for pregnant ewes who grazed it thoroughly and manured it well. I rather like the buttercups and daisies that appear every year and I have almost convinced myself to take the next step and turn our lawn into a wildflower meadow.
On my travels visiting gardens around the country (pre-COVID-19) I came across a fabulous wildflower meadow that’s part of the gardens at the Montenotte Hotel in Cork city. These gardens were overgrown and covered in scrub when, before coming under the care of head gardener Ann Daly, they were transformed into a series of beautiful gardens that includes a wildflower meadow. So who best to turn to for practical advice on planting a wildflower meadow than the woman herself.
Taking the plunge
Creating a wildflower meadow isn’t as simple as chucking a few seeds around the place says Ann who has some sound advice on creating your own.
“The gardens at The Montenotte Hotel are located on a steep site that leads down towards the road and Kent railway station. The last level opens out to a sun-trap of a third of an acre.
“The site is south facing and very sunny. The soil was ideal for a wildflower meadow and that’s what we decided to grow.
“We used the mini-digger to rake the soil and we picked off the stones and prepared the ground. We sourced the seed from Sandro Caffola (wildflowers.ie) in Co Carlow. Sure you can buy packets of wildflower seed on the internet that might be wildflowers in California but they won’t be Irish.
“In order to get the most suitable seed mix we had to answer questions on the amount of ground, its aspect, soil type and what was growing on the site already. The suitable seed mix cost €500 to cover a third of an acre. I was surprised at how little seed we needed but at a teaspoon per square meter, scattered by hand, it was more than enough.
“I remember thinking at the time that I’d be a laughing stock if this didn’t work but I need not have worried as the magic of nature took over.
“It was amazing and the range of wildflowers had to be seen to be believed. Blue cornflowers, red poppies, sorrel, pansies, vetch, white yarrow, scabiosa and corn marigolds are just some of what appeared. Some of the wildflowers are annuals meaning they self-seed and re-new themselves. Others are bi-annuals such as campion ‘Silence’ that take two years to appear and then they self-seed. So I’m looking forward to a whole other flush this year.
“We planted the wildflower meadow in September/October as some of the seeds such as yellow rattle need a cold spell to germinate but you can also sow in March/April/May. We cut a path through the meadow so our guests could walk through it and it grew to over a metre in height. To cut the meadow back to ground level you could use a strimmer or a scythe. If the grass is strong you can mow it very early in the season.
“Through the summer I collected my own seed, which I named, placed in paper bags and stored in the shed. The whole process has been a learning curve but it’s also been wonderful working with the beauty of nature. And our guests just love it.”
After 30 years in business, Sandro Cafolla of Design by Nature and wildflowers.ie in Co Carlow knows how to grow wildflowers almost anywhere.
“We now grow 120 plant species of which at least 60 are included in all our seed mixes. Our business only stands up if the wildflowers actually grow and grow well so we are there to support our customers all the way,” he says.
For farmers who are interested, Sandro would recommend his All Ireland Bee and Pollinator mix, or his hedgerow mix that’s labelled GF03 on his website. He also recommends WF01 – the traditional Irish Wildflower Meadow mix.
Sandro can’t stress enough the importance of buying genuine Irish grown wildflower seed. “We need to preserve the genetic material of our native species and don’t want plant pests coming into the country that could overrun some of them. There are no checks on seed bought over the internet so you are much better off buying genuine Irish seed,” says Sandro. CL
Where to buy genuine Irish seed