Plants for wild flower meadows

Wild flower meadows have evolved as a result of a regime applied to them for hundreds of years. Typically they would be cut for hay in July after which they might be grazed by cattle or sheep through into the autumn. This regular cutting and grazing reduces fertility to a level at which wild flowers can hold their own against vigorous grasses which otherwise would crowd them out. You can create similar conditions by stripping off the topsoil or – in time – by regular mowing and removing the cuttings.

You can obtain seed mixtures of perennial wildflowers to suit different soil types or, if you prefer, you can grow seed just of the particular plants you want – see table below. It shows plants separately for early (leave uncut until July) and summer meadows (cut up to early June then leave), and further subdivided by type of soil, assuming that it is neither extremely acid nor extremely alkaline. Include at least a few plants marked as easy to grow, and it is a good idea to always include ox-eye daisies in the mix because they are greedy and thus help to reduce fertility levels. (They will start to disappear after a few years unless you disturb the ground.) The safest approach is to start just with a limited number of easy-to-grow plants then start adding more species later as soon as those are established.

Early flowering Late flowering
Flower colour Easy? Flower colour Easy?
Wet patches
Fritillary white/mauve Greater birdsfoot trefoil yellow
Marsh marigold yellow Devilsbit scabious blue-purple
Lady's smock pink/white Y Perforate St John's Wort yellow
Ragged robin pink
Heavy clay soils
Rough hawkbit yellow Y Meadow cranesbill blue
Common sorrel green/red Common knapweed red-pink Y
Greater knapweed red-pink Y
Spiny restharrow pink
Most soils
Common birdsfoot trefoil yellow Y Lady's bedstraw yellow Y
Bugle blue Y Common birdsfoot trefoil yellow Y
Salad burnet red/yellow Wild carrot white
Meadow buttercup yellow Y Oxeye daisy white Y
White campion white Goatsbeard yellow
Red clover pink Black medick yellow Y
Cowslip yellow Yellow rattle yellow Y
Oxeye daisy white Y Field scabious blue-lilac Y
Black medick yellow Y Selfheal violet Y
Yellow rattle yellow Y Tufted vetch blue-violet Y
Kidney vetch various Meadow vetchling yellow Y
Yarrow white Y
Light sandy soils
Field forget-me-not blue Harebell blue
Lesser trefoil yellow Perforate St John's Wort yellow Y