Sweet meadow musing

If you don’t fancy tree hugging, try a spot of meadow-musing or ‘meadowtating’ and join in a miniature festival of life, writes…

If you don't fancy tree hugging, try a spot of meadow-musing or 'meadowtating' and join in a miniature festival of life, writes JANE POWERS

TREE-HUGGING IS something that I do only occasionally. And when I do, I have to honestly say that I don’t feel any great spiritual stirrings. But recently, I’ve found another way of being at one with nature: meadow-musing or “meadowtating”. It doesn’t promise the same kind of deep one-on-one accord as embracing a tree. It’s more like briefly joining a dynamic community, or taking part in a miniature festival of life, as you hunker down a few inches from the Earth’s surface. There, just in front of your nose, is a complete world of intermingled grasses and flowering plants, with insects, arachnids and other flying and creeping things going about their vital business.

Just as every tree is different, every meadow is different: a damp one may be full of rosebay willowherb and meadowsweet, and populated by hoverflies and speckled wood butterflies. A dry meadow may be flecked with lady’s bedstraw, clover and vetch, and visited by bumblebees and mining bees. And a typical meadow that you sow from a packet of seeds from a mainstream seed company contains cornfield annuals such as red poppy, cornflower and corn marigold. It attracts a crowd of different insects, including the marvellously promiscuous red soldier beetles, whose tendency to faire l’amour all over the place has earned them the name “bonking beetles”.

The noises of a meadow are an instantly recognisable soundtrack of summer: the low hum of bumblebees, the urgent zipping-by of flies, and the insistent scritch-scritch-scritch of unseen grasshoppers. Smell, too, is an important part of the meadowtating experience, especially on a warm day, when the scents – always gentle – drift through the air in barely discernible wafts of grassy, talcum-powdery perfume.


All meadows need to be managed, otherwise they will become colonised with unwanted weeds. If it is not mown or grazed a couple of times a year, a meadow will eventually turn into scrubland, as larger and more vigorous plants take over. The root of the word “meadow” gives us a clue to its need for management, as it comes from the Old English “maed”, meaning to mow.

You can make a meadow in the tiniest of spaces or in the largest of fields. I’ve seen metres-wide meadows in school gardens, and substantial acreages of wildflowers and grasses on organic farms.

The late Christopher Lloyd, in his 2004 book Meadows, now out of print (but still available to buy online), writes that the meadows at his home at Great Dixter in East Sussex were made from existing lawns. His method was to stop using fertiliser and weedkiller, to allow the broadleaved plants reproduce, and to add wildflowers as seeds, bulbs and plug plants.

This may not suit all lawns, however, as the soil may be too rich. Hemiparasitic species such as yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and eyebright (Euphrasia), which feed partially on the roots of neighbouring plants, can help reduce the vigour of the grass. But in some cases, the best way to establish a meadow in fertile soil is to start from scratch, and strip away a layer of topsoil before sowing seed.

One of the things that makes a meadow look like a meadow is a well-defined edge, such as a neat strip of mown grass around the margin. This shows that it is intentional, instead of a weedy patch that someone was too busy to mow. If it’s a large meadow, mow paths through it, so that people can move through the grasses and flowers without harming them. Add an inconspicuous seat too, if possible, to allow them to indulge in an undisturbed session of meadow-musing.

Wildflower meadow advice

Select seed mixtures and plants that suit your soil and conditions.

Best times for sowing are mid-March to June, and late-August to October. Clay soil meadows should be sown in spring.

Cut (or graze) meadows one to three times a year, depending on the soil and species mix. Mowing should be timed to allow bulb foliage to die back, to let plants drop their seed, and to let insects complete their life cycles.

After cutting, leave the clippings for a day or two so that the seeds fall off, and remove them then, so that soil fertility does not build up.

Don’t be alarmed if your meadow looks a bit sad occasionally: its management requires that it has the occasional unflattering haircut.

Charity opening

Next Saturday (August 13th, 2pm-5pm), the garden of plantsperson and expert gardener, Carmel Duignan, is open at 21 Library Road, Shankill, Co Dublin. Plant sales, refreshments. All proceeds to Blackrock Hospice

Seed sources for meadows

Most seed companies have wildflower and meadow mixes. However, if you are sowing near an ecologically sensitive area, choose an appropriate mix of Irish-grown seed from Design by Nature (056- 4442526; wildflowers.ie). Pictorial Meadows (pictorialmeadows.co.uk) offers well-researched, painterly mixes of garden species and wildflowers. These non-traditional meadows are suitable for all sites which are not adjacent to areas of importance for native flora.