“Before this there was no real way for gardeners, landowners and farmers who are creating meadows to connect and share knowledge or swap tips and news,” she explains. “We are hoping to change that.” Meadows are important, she says, not just because they are so vital for biodiversity, for pollinating insects and as part of our literary and cultural heritage, but because of their contribution to wellbeing. A 2019 study indicated that time spent in well-managed alpine meadows resulted in stress reduction, including lower blood pressure, for those who took part.
“Being in a meadow filled with the sound of insects and seeing the swallows and swifts swoop over is transformative,’ Donna says. “It is calming and improves our wellbeing – and if lockdown has shown us anything, it’s that we need more places like this.”
It packs a punch
Plantlife’s botanical specialist, Dr Trevor Dines, agrees. He is one of the UK’s meadow experts as well as being a dedicated meadowist himself, having created a Coronation Meadow on land he acquired in North Wales. He has been stunned by the biodiversity that has materialised on his three acres.
“Nowhere else has quite the full punch as a wildflower meadow,” he says. He calculates that his meadow was home to a staggering nine million flowers last year, producing enough nectar to support half a million bees per day, as well as capturing and storing carbon.
He created it by scouring up the existing grass and spreading seed-rich green hay from a nearby ancient meadow. “I’ve been talking about the restoration of meadows for years but it’s only when you face the practicalities yourself that you really understand it,” he says.
However, he is just as enthusiastic about mini-meadows, from garden strips to old graveyards and road verges. “A square metre of meadow may have up to 570 flowers on it,” he says, enthusing about the delightfully-named cranesbill, bistort, betony and green-winged orchids he’s seen over the years.
Couldn’t be easier
The good news for gardeners is that creating a mini-meadow couldn’t be easier.
“If you have a lawn, just decide not to mow a patch of it, like a Mohican haircut, and see what comes up,” he says. “It can be as simple as that.”
Gardeners can also commit to Plantlife’s “No Mow May”, in which they leave their entire lawn uncut for that month, which can encourage a burst of new flora. “If you then decide to mow a shorter area, try and keep that cut to every three or four weeks instead of each week,” advises Dines. “You’ll be amazed by the shorter flowers which will emerge and provide nectar for all kinds of pollinating insects.”
These insects become food for birds and small mammals, increasing biodiversity as well as encouraging helpful predators such as toads and hedgehogs to venture into gardens. Cutting down on mowing also saves time, money and reduces carbon footprint he says, and you can easily add visual interest by cutting a mown sward through your meadow area.
He advises buying native wildflower seeds, preferably ones appropriate to your county and its soil type, and believes that even if you can only manage a tub on your balcony: “Every flower counts.”
Petitioning local councils to reduce unnecessary verge-cutting and asking your local church to consider a no-mow policy in all or part of its graveyard can massively contribute to increasing meadowland too, he says.
“What I have discovered is that every meadow is different, even tiny garden ones that are the size of a table-top,” he says. “They change every day and that’s what makes growing them so fascinating and rewarding – you never know what you are going to stumble across.”
Five fabulous meadow flowers