Featured Charity: December 2016 -
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We are Plantlife
Wild flowers, plants and fungi play a fundamental role for wildlife, and their colour and character light up our landscapes. But without our help, this priceless natural heritage is in danger of being lost.
Plantlife is the organisation that speaks up for our wild plants, lichens and fungi. From the open space of our nature reserves to the corridors of government, we’re here to raise their profile, celebrate their beauty and to protect their future. Join us in enjoying the very best that nature has to offer.
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The meadow maker
Creating your own wildflower meadow? Spread a little bit of magic with yellow rattle, nature’s own lawnmower, says Plantlife’s botanical specialist, Dr Trevor Dines
Ever thought of establishing a wildflower meadow? It’s perhaps one of the most rewarding ways to bring native flora and other wildlife into your garden. What could be more attractive than a swathe of oxeye daisies, buttercups and knapweed swaying in the breeze on a warm summer evening?
But one of the biggest challenges is getting the grass under control, especially if you’re creating the meadow in an existing lawn or area of rough grass. If it’s too vigorous, it simply shoulders aside the flowers you want to encourage. Thankfully, though, nature has provided her own weapon for us to deploy.
Most meadow flowers are perennials, growing fresh new shoots from their roots each year and spreading slowly through the sward. But yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is different. It’s an annual plant, completing its entire life cycle in one year. It produces large quantities of seed, protected inside inflated seed pods that rattle when they ripen and dry in late summer, hence the name. In the olden days, this sound was used as a cue to the farmer that the hay was ready to cut.
During April and early May, the seeds germinate
and grow quickly,
The effect of this can be astonishing. As the yellow rattle draws water and nutrients from the grasses, their growth is suppressed, sometimes by as much as 60%. This literally creates space in the surrounding vegetation so that other flowers have room to grow. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between the number of yellow rattle plants per square metre and the diversity of other flowers in a meadow.
Known as ‘the meadow maker’, yellow rattle does such a good job that I wouldn’t attempt to create a meadow without it.
Sowing the seed
Yellow rattle can be a little tricky to get established in the garden, but follow a few simple steps and you should be able to get it going. Once you have, it will appear each year and work its magic by itself.
These days, with our culture of quick-fix gardening makeovers, people often want instant results. But you can’t rush a real wildflower meadow and part of the joy of a meadow is seeing the gradual changes over time. As your yellow rattle gets established, you’ll see the grass become thinner and more open, and more flowers will be able to spread. It really is your best friend in the meadow.
► Buy your wildflower seeds from Plantlife’s online shop. Visit http://shop.plantlife.org.uk or call 01722 342730