How to make a flower meadow, part 1
Our shortcut is to start with bales of golden straw.
Where to get straw? Check local directories for farm supply stores and make sure to bring a drop cloth if you are using a car for transport. We buy straw in small amounts throughout the years to replenish the ground, suppress weeds, and expand the meadow.
Prepping the ground:
To make meadow on top of grass or weeds: first lay thick blankets of straw on top of mown grass, OR, in wilder areas, pull or cut the large weeds first (leaving the flowering types like goldenrod and aster), then blanket shorter weeds with plain cardboard or thick newspapers, with straw on top. Now you are ready to begin collecting seeds to sow over the winter, and into spring. Many meadow seeds actually thrive best when tossed on top of snow! We started our meadow by sowing seeds in pots over winter, letting them freeze outside, and when they had grown a bit in Spring, we transferred the small plants into biodegradable cardboard boxes and paper bags, placed right on top of the future meadow areas and kept them moist until they were established. To these plants, we added short grass, clover and some shrubs.
Collect seeds from anywhere and everywhere: gather seed pods from wild meadows before rain can ruin them; trade seeds with friends; purchase from mail order by searching on "bulk seeds"; always check local shops in case there are few left from Spring; and join Seed Saving groups and plant exchanges. We also included in our meadow blend several pounds of short grass seed called Northern Turf, and tall yellow and short red clover from a farm supply store.
Pictured on the top right— we used photos of mature plants combined in PhotoShop to get an idea of what the finished meadow might look like. Of course what it ACTUALLY looks like some day will be a surprise, but planning the color combinations ahead of time can make a BIG difference in overall harmony.
A meadow feature:
We spray-painted an inexpensive metal garden arch lime green and wove old grape vines throughout—an idea we got from the Philadelphia flower show last Spring. It now marks a sort of entrance to our meadow and is anchored by our first country rose garden: Smiling Jean, a pink rose with a wild looking bloom, and Baltimore Belle, a white-blush climber with lush cabbage-rose blooms.
Progress in our meadow:
We've been working on removing weeds for over a year, and now have several areas where we are down to bare ground, ready for lots of meadow flowers. In these areas we've now added a medium thick layer of straw and begun sprinkling extra packets of seeds right on top, letting the rain and wind do the actual design work.
We're still expanding! Using old carpet, tarps, bricks, even old welcome mats we are gradually eliminating weeds. At this stage we use glyphosate under the tarps where it will break down (organically) without coming into contact with our dogs and cats. The tarps are kept in place for about five days, then moved to a new area.
What we planted so far:
The backbone of our meadow is started with the plant list shown below; these seeds were sown over the winter and are now first-year plants. Only the dianthus, Johnny jumps ups, and daisy bloomed the first year. The entry to the meadow is a green arch with roses. Smiling Jean roses are thriving, but are not carmine as we hoped—more of a magenta. Baltimore Belle rose is making her way up the green trellis with her lush white and blush blooms. Here's our main plant list:
— Poppies, carmine (pink-orange)
— Potentilla, coral-pink Mrs. Wilmott
— Dianthus, violet
— Johnny jump ups
— Primrose yellow
— Yarrow, golden
— Daisy, Shasta white
— Chicory, blue
— Larkspur, white
— Correopsis, plains yellow
We also added in key areas: huckleberries, lilies in stone-pink and another in rust-scarlet, plus blue hydrangeas. In foot path areas we are propogating Kenilworth ivy, Creeping Verbena, and Creeping Jenny.