Pictorial Meadows – what they are and how to sow one

When I announced last spring that I was planning a new cutting edge garden project to mark the Coronation of King Charles III, there were the usual groans and sniping from the sisterhood. ‘Just plant a new rose’ and ‘Why not simply put a couple of extra ferns into your stumpery – he likes those’.
But I was set on trialling a Pictorial Meadow.
I had long been a fan of Professor Nigel Dunnett’s work on the Olympic Park and the Superbloom at the Tower of London and was delighted to hear that his ‘designed ecology’ planting schemes were now available to domestic gardeners like me.

Pictorial Meadows
At last, a chance to put some of Professor Nigel Dunnett’s work on designed ecology into practice in my own garden

Through the Community Interest Company ‘Pictorial Meadows’ (link at the end) it’s now possible to buy garden- sized quantities of the specially formulated seed mixes that Professor Dunnett had been using to such stunning effect in urban settings.

Pictorial Meadows
Pictorial Meadows C.I.C. website contains a wealth of helpful tips as well as opportunities to buy seeds and turf.

A Pictorial Meadow is one that consists of not only British wild flowers but those of other countries too that occupy the same ecological niche. This results in a significantly longer flowering season and a much more vibrant colour scheme than one that consists of purely native species. Each mix has been formulated and trialled over a number of years to give a balanced composition in which no one species dominates but gives a succession of new blooming events as each species reaches its flowering period.

Pictorial Meadows
The seed selection in Pictorial Meadows results in vivid, vibrant colour schemes not seen in purely native meadow mixes

You can choose to sow either an annual mix which will give a fantastic show that same summer, or a perennial mix that will have less flower power in its first summer but hit its stride the following year, and does not need re-seeding each spring. The perennial schemes can also be supplied as a turf to simply roll out. As I knew I wanted quick results to celebrate the Coronation I went for three different annual mixes; ‘Classic’ ‘Candy’ and ‘Kingfisher’ .

Pictorial Meadows
Each seed mix contains a carefully balanced mixture of appropriate seeds

The good thing about Pictorial Meadows is that don’t require such a low soil fertility as a native meadow. We sowed ours on the site of a ex soft fruit patch and it actually seemed to grow better in the raspberry cane areas that had been heavily manured. This gives much more accessible opportunities for gardeners to grow meadows in areas that have previously been cultivated for other purposes without the need to reduce their fertility first.

Pictorial Meadows
The meadow seemed to thrive in the heavily fertilised strips left over from the rows of raspberry canes

Soil preparation is very important though. You need to reduce the competition the Pictorial Meadow seeds will encounter from weed seeds as much as possible. We did this by raking over the top surface of the site in mid April to expose the weed seeds to light and trigger their germination.

About ten days later, once a flush of seeds had appeared, we chose a warm afternoon to gently run a Dutch hoe through the surface of the soil, eradicating the weed seedlings. If your site was particularly weedy and the weather conditions allowed, you could repeat this process to make sure your meadow seeds went into a really clean seedbed, but we just did it the once, and it worked pretty well.

Pictorial Meadows
Gentle hoeing of the surface will remove the weed seedlings and ensure a clean start for the Pictorial Meadow seeds

The best time to sow the seed is in April, but our climate can vary so wildly these days that you might not be able to do this until the beginning of May.

Pictorial Meadows
It’s a good idea to mix the seed with an equal quantity of sand to make the sowing process easier. It stops the seed blowing around, and also shows what areas have been seeded.

Pictorial Meadows
Similar to the process of sowing lawn seed, rolling the meadow seed flat will aid germination. If you only have a small area, you can tread the seed in with your feet

If the weather gods are kind to you, some gentle spring rain following sowing will trigger germination, but if the turns dry it will help to artificially add some water via a watering-can with a fine rose. Once the seeds germinate there will be no need to ever water it again – these annuals are tough plants evolved to cope with adverse conditions.

From this point onwards you can wipe your bayonet. You can now sit back and enjoy months of enchanting flowers that will simply roll on over the summer months, delighting both you and your garden pollinators.
The first to show, just three or four weeks after germinating, will be the dainty multicoloured toadflaxes, followed by Californian poppies and then our native red field poppies.

Depending on which mix you have chosen there will then be a succession of colourful annuals; cornflowers and daisies, phacelia and echiums, flaxes and tickseeds. There are no grasses in these meadows – it’s all about flower power and nectar sources.

Pictorial Meadows
What comes next depends on the mix you have chosen – this is ‘Candy’

One of the aims Professor Dunnett was hoping to achieve with these Pictorial Meadows was a sense of awe and wonder at their vibrancy, recreating fleeting childhood memories of fields of wildflowers, and our newly-sown meadows certainly did this. Even non-gardening friends, and doubting sisters, were enchanted by the jostling colours and the clouds and bees and butterflies that darted amongst the blooms. They brought joy and happiness as they bobbed and swayed in the breeze.

Pictorial Meadows
There is a magic in these meadows that touches an innate core in our psyches

The show lasted until well into September, ending with some of the taller species such as the spectacular orach holding sway over the daisies and cosmos. The plentiful seed heads would be food for small mammals and birds over the winter, with the stems providing hibernating crevices for insects.

Pictorial Meadows
Even as they tipped over into seedheads the meadows played an important role in the garden ecosystem

It would tempting to assume that the seed shed from the current season’s flowers would be enough to provide a second season of annual meadow, but apparently this is not the case. Some of the species shed far more seed than others and would dominate the next season’s meadow, lessening the flowering period and lowering the plant diversity, both of which are key to the character and impact of a Pictorial Meadow. You’re far better to repeat the soil preparation process of removing the surface seed bank by hoeing in the following spring and then sowing a fresh mix of seeds.
I’m definitely doing this again, and am already excited at the prospect of another magical meadow!

Pictorial Meadows
I loved having a Pictorial Meadow in my garden and can’t wait to sow some more this spring

I also made a short video of our Pictorial Meadow project.

And here is the link to the Pictorial Meadows website

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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