A rainbow of flowers was sown in the middle of spring during the Covid-19 lockdown by Herbaceous Supervisor Kirsty Wilson. At the time only key horticultural staff were on site to look after the valuable plant collections, the rest having been furloughed. It felt emotional sowing it alone but gave her hope that by the time it flowered it would be in full bloom to welcome back our visitors.
A Pictorial Meadow is an annual seed mix that provides the simplest method to achieve a gorgeous breath-taking display of flowers with the minimum amount of preparation and after care. It is sown in situ and will grow on average type soils, where it will quickly start distinctive ‘waves’ of colour right up to the first frosts. This flowering display provides a rich nectar source for pollinators and is certainly putting a smile on the face of our returning visitors.
The flowers in the mix are a carefully blended selection of colourful annuals designed to provide high quality and cost-effective flowering displays with minimal effort. They have been developed following many years of intensive trials at the University of Sheffield. Unlike other seed mixes that are available, they have been designed to flower and provide visual interest over an extremely long period of time (from summer through to late autumn).
They have been used to inject large-scale colour impact into commercial landscapes, deprived social housing sites, roadside verges, roundabouts and in our own home gardens. They provide a colourful, wildlife-friendly replacement for mown grass; and can be sown formally in beds or to provide colour between shrubs, trees and perennials. Leeds City Council included a meadow mixture in their magnificent Gold Medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2010 and these mixtures were used extensively in the London 2012 Olympic Park with great success. Here at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh we have sown this annual mix on the bed next to the public display glasshouses where the proposed Edinburgh Biomes glasshouse will be built. The plants in the bed were relocated in advance of construction work starting and rather than leaving bare soil this beautiful annual seed mix was sown.
The annual seed mix was sown at 2-3g per square metre with sand in spring 2020. It takes about 8 weeks from sowing to flowering. Crucial to the success of this annual meadow is the cleaniness of the site prior to sowing. For good performance you need a weed free seed bed and in particular you need to ensure that you have removed all the perennial weeds and any grass. It is also important to lightly firm the soil after sowing the seed.
As well as the annual meadow display bringing a rainbow of hope to visitors and providing a nectar source for bees it allows people to think about meadow landscapes. The sheer joy of being immersed in a meadow – surrounded by the fluttering of butterflies, chirping of crickets and the buzz of bees is increasingly rare. Many of us won’t remember a time when the countryside was filled with wildflowers and grassland that rippled with dazzling displays of flowers. Without urgent action to tackle dwindling biodiversity – these memories will disappear. 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been removed or destroyed since WW2 for intensive agriculture and increased food production. Just like our flowers the insects that feed on these flowers are in trouble with a third of the UK’s wild bee and hoverfly species showing decline in their numbers since the 1980s.
Why not try an annual Pictorial Meadow in your own garden next year for a burst of colour and to help our pollinators. The short variety can even be sown into a barrel or container. This might lead you on further to consider converting an area of lawn in your own garden into a perennial wildflower meadow using native species local to your area. This type of perennial meadow will reappear every year and it will help encourage wildlife in your garden.