Perennial meadows

After the preparation of the desired habitat (a subject dealt with elsewhere in this book) and planting and/or sowing, a period of waiting patiently and monitoring the coming developments starts. Slowly and gradually, the vegetation develops; as a rule, the more gradual it is, the better the results, typically due to the reduced influence of vigorous weedy competitors. The difference between poor and rich soils is visible immediately

Slow development with few germinating weeds is an indicator of poor soils. An explosion of seedlings on the other hand tells of richer soil conditions. In a poor, dry situation with a clean initial soil condition, few species will be obvious at first. The pioneers will generally consist of common species: Poa annua, Cardamine hirsuta, Stellaria media, Chenopodium and Atriplex species, Lamium purpureum, Polygonum aviculare, Matricaria recutita and M. maritima, to mention a few. Gradually their part is taken over by perennial species, such as Cirsium arvense, Rumex obtusifolius and R. crispus, Poa pratensis and P. trivialis, Plantago major and Trifolium pratense. In wet situations, Ranunculus repens, Alopecurus geniculatus, Typha latifolia and Juncus effusus are counted among them. They all are characteristic species for pioneer and disturbance situations. Such vegetation during the first few years looks rather rough and shows little flowering. Patience is the word, one just has to sit it out. It is a phase that may sometimes take years, and it is part of the natural succession. By and by the rougher species make place for the more refined, more free-flowering ones. This is how a flower meadow evolves.

If one does not wish, or is not able, to wait for natural evolution to run its course, since it usually does not offer much in the way of rich species variety, one may additionally sow a mixture of flower seeds (with or without grass species mixed in) and plant out some other species. One can do this as soon as the initial groundwork is finished, and when weather conditions are favourable for germination and establishment. This method gives quicker results and, particularly when one also applies certain maintenance measures, the rough pioneer phase may be avoided. A slightly different pattern of succession during the first years will be the result. At first the field weeds appear, immediately followed by the biennials, such as Berteroa incana, Dianthus armeria, Echium vulgare and Isatis tinctoria. One cannot use these species on wet soils, they can be replaced by quick flowering species, such as Lychnis flos-cuculi and Aster tripolium. Soon after, the first perennial species will appear: Geranium pratense, Dactylorhiza praetermissa, Cirsium dissectum, Anthyllis vulneraria, Astragalus glycyphyllos, Silene vulgaris, Hypericum perforatum, Prunella vulgaris, Centaurea pratensis and Galium mollugo are some arbitrary examples. With spring sowing on poor soil there will generally be a thin, very open vegetation by the end of the first year. Mowing may sometimes not be required at this stage. Yet it is wise to start removing anything that should be removed. The next year, an increasing number of species will start to germinate, among which are the seeds produced during the first year. The vegetation gradually closes, the turf becomes more dense and the pioneers disappear.