Flowering meadows

Building upon the ideas espoused by Robinson (1870), James Hitchmough started a programme of research in 1994 aimed at assessing the feasibility of establishing mixed native-exotic meadows, i. e. a sown matrix of native grasses and forbs but with added interest from planted exotic forbs, chiefly mainland European and Asian species. British wildflower meadows are a problematic element for managed landscapes because of the poverty of the British wildflower flora, its short season of interest (very few flower reliably after July) and the strong link between the most aesthetically pleasing and most floristically diverse, flora and shallow alkaline soils. A native-exotic meadow cut as hay in later summer/early autumn could be an exciting and colourful low-maintenance alternative to mown grass, or relatively unattractive and species-poor rank grassland, in urban public spaces. Reduced maintenance is a very powerful incentive for the development of this genre, with hay meadows taking at least 12 times less time to maintain than traditional rose borders or 10 times less time than conventional herbaceous ground cover (Hitchmough 1994). The initial work on these meadows was concerned with wet grasslands and the establishment of exotic species by planting. More recent work has focused on the creation of both wet and dry meadows in which both native and exotic species are established by sowing. Successful examples of the native-exotic meadows created by sowing and planting can be seen at RHS Harlow Carr.

Instead of using turf-forming meadow grasses as a matrix, it is possible instead to use clump or tussock forming ones, which creates a dramatically different and very striking visual effect, with taller forbs emerging from a sea of grasses (Hitchmough 1995b). In theory, the danger of weed incursion (the bane of large-scale herbaceous plantings in Britain) should be reduced because of the dominance of the tussock grasses, but there is very little evidence yet for this. A well-known example that demonstrates the possible potential is that created by Piet Oudolf at Bury Court in Bentley, Hampshire.