Meadow Maker

Frome resident Sue Everett is hoping to be part of the next agrarian revolution. She is passionate about restoring wildflowers to our countryside and believes that farmers have an important role to play. Over 98% of British wildflower meadows have been lost since World War 2, largely because of changes in farming practice. Sue works with farmers, and others, to create species rich meadows all over Somerset.

 Sue Everett
Frome meadow-maker Sue Everett

The sweep of wildflowers at the Olympic Park in 2012 delighted thousands of park visitors and TV viewers of the Games. ‘The Olympic meadows were great,’ says Sue, ‘They planned carefully to create two months of high impact and it looked wonderful. It’s not the same as a meadow of native flowers that has been untouched by chemicals or the plough for many years, but it’s still very pretty!

Meadows are more than fields full of pretty flowers to Sue, though. The love of wildflowers runs deep in many of us but there are practical reasons why we need more meadows. ‘Wildflowers actually help hold the soil in place.’ explains Sue, ‘A meadow of wildflowers and grasses has a dense root system that keeps the soil from washing away in a heavy downpour. Bird’s foot trefoil, which has yellow pea like flowers, can have a root system up to 50cm deep. Rye grass, which we see planted everywhere in fields, has nothing like the same root density.’ It can take up to a five hundred years to produce an inch of top soil, so it is a precious resource that we don’t want washed away during heavy rain.

An annual meadow

Another practical reason for more meadows is to help pollinators. Meadows full of wildflowers are a feast for bees, butterflies and moths. Einstein said that if the bees disappeared, and they have been suffering a serious decline in recent years, mankind would have only have four years of life left. Without bees the flowers will not be pollinated, and without pollination there would be no fruit, tea, soybeans, cotton and many other crops. So more wildflowers is good for us all

We can see a lovely example of an historic meadow near Frome at Edford Meadows, Holcombe, where you can see 90 different flowering plants, including several types of orchid. The Somerset Wildlife Trust owns and manages the meadow. Last autumn the Frome community unsuccessfully tried to purchase Rodden Stream Lake Meadows for public use. Although they have now passed into private ownership, Sue is hopeful that the new owners will safeguard the meadow.

 Donor Field
A mature perennial meadow with fine wild grasses

While it’s important to protect existing meadows, Sue is also enthusiastic about creating new meadows – and you don’t need to have a farm to sow a meadow.  ‘I planted a meadow in the front garden of my last home. It started out as a rockery, just a few square metres, and I ended up with nearly 40 species of flowers, grasses and sedges. I have also sown a meadow in my new Frome front garden, and on my shed roof!’

A skipper in a meadow

Meadows are a great way of bringing colour into the garden. They need less maintenance than a traditional lawn, requiring no mowing at all between April and July and less frequent mowing during the other months. It’s not an approach that suits everyone, but, if you like the idea of watching the butterflies dance across the wildflowers in your garden, sowing a meadow could be for you. They are straightforward to establish as long as you follow some simple rules. Sue advises, ‘The trick with meadows is the preparation and the aftercare. This is much the same as planting anything in a garden.’ She has identified 5 common mistakes people make when trying to establish a meado

  1. Not eradicating competitive plants prior to sowing seed
  2. Using an inappropriate seed mix
  3. Sowing at an unecessarily high rate (about 10g per square metre is enough)
  4. Not following correct management after sowing
  5. Believing that in Year 1 nothing has grown and the scheme has failed (it takes 2 years for most plants to flower), and abandoning it.

Sue can supply a suitable seed mix, as requirements do vary according to the local conditions. ‘It’s not a question of one size fits all – different plants thrive on different soils.’ she says. Wildflower seed mixes are also available in garden centres. Check the packet carefully before you buy, however. Annual flower mixes will only flower once, providing just one summer of interest. Perennials flower for many years but can take longer to get established. A true meadow has wild grasses, as well as flowers. Some packs will contain non-British seeds, which can extend the flowering period. There are many source of advice about creating meadows. Sue recommends the‘Grassland creation and floral enhancement’ section of the Flora Locale web-site,

A bee orchid in a mature meadow

We are lucky in Frome to have Sue the meadow-maker in our midst. Our farmers, gardeners and local wildlife can only benefit.