Meadow planting ideas ?

As a partial experiment i am looking to add perennial plants to a orchard / meadow for a client. 

Area is around 500 sq meters on a clayish base in good sun and presently contains various smallish trees and fruit trees and a few random wild plants and a massive amount of rough aggressive grasses. 

Client does not want a full wild flower meadow due to the work involved and the logistics of removal of top soil. 

Therefore partially as i find it interesting have proposed the addition of various perennials that might handle to grass competition and some naturalizing bulbs. 

Aim is just to create a more interesting outlook from house that will be low maintenance and lowish cost - Envisage strimming the area from mid Sept through to early April ish with some caution then leaving till following sept. - all debris will be left on ground - so this will remain a fertile soil, although have toyed with the idea of trying to introduce Yellow rattle as some compensation - but key here is low maintenance and do the best one can within constraints. 

I have a list ive complied of possible contenders - my question is -- has anyone done this previously and can they advise on whether it might work and if so any tips to improve success -- such as incorrect plants choices, missed plant choices, and the big one -- plugs / 9cm or even 2 litre plants - im concerned the plants need to be strong and large enough to handle themselves from the get go. 

Plant contenders : 

Meadows cranes bill :  Geranium pretense plus varieties -- large sprawlers such as 'Orion' and 'Nimbus' and maybe some advantageous root expanders of reasonable height such as 'Kashmir white '

Knapweed : common, Centauria nigra and greater, Centauria scabiosa

Devils bit scabius / field scabius : Succisa pratensis 

Common bistort : Persicaria bistorta 

Ox eye daisy : Leucanthemum vulgare 

Foxglove common : digitalis 

Yarrow : Achillea millefolium 

Burnet great : Sanguisorba officinalis 

Common valerian : Valerian officinalis 

Camassia types 

Tulip species / sylvetris / turkistanica 

Daffs / tenby / wild 

So any pointers ? Any plant need to handle aggressive grass, get to over 60cm tall and have the ability to either increase numbers or at least not decrease quickly 

Is autumn better than spring for planting as i intend - or better to get plugs now and try and bulk them up a bit before planting next year 

I assumed removing a square foot of grass per plant would give them a chance but can anyone advise and better ideas. 

The reason im interested is because if it can work its something i have other clients i can develop it with, lots want some form of naturalist development but none want the work that goes with a true wild flower meadow. 

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  • The woods near my house are managed by the local parish council. Wide rides are cut once a year in the autumn (but single mower width paths more often), the clippings are left. The rides are covered in wild flowers. Most species present you have mentioned above but also red clover is prominent. The key to the success of these wild flower rides I believe to be the yellow rattle which is wide spread.

    Yellow rattle will need to be sown as seed in October as it needs the cold of winter to start the germination process. The seed isn't cheap though. I sowed some on a job a few years ago and I think it worked out at about £20/m2!
  • seed will be easier if you do it now and as Phil says yellow rattle seed is not cheep I sowed a wild meadow for someone a few years back and I could not believe the price of it I think it worked out more expensive than gold 

    but strong growing grass and a rich soil will be the downside  the tulips and daffs, daisy also put some snow drops and cow slips in the other plant for the summer all want to be tall 

  • Generally introducing plants into an established coarse grassland isnt very succesful. Yellow rattle I think needs bare ground to germinate, winter chilling and is an annual so its a weed of hay meadows that are managed in a particular way . Best results for meadows is to begin by establishiing a regular annual maintenance scheme that favours finer grasses and flowers; Depending on where you are in the country, what type of soil etc following the traditional hay regime is a good staring point: mid-late summer hay cut followed by light grazing till next spring. Mimic that with mowers. I wouldnt leave clippings as the tussock habit of coarser grasses flourish, out competing the finer grasses and flowers. Saying that, Kanpweed is a good tough competitor (some of the others you mention are more specific to damp meadows?). Camassias planted en masse as bulbs (are they bulbs?) is a fantastic look - though not technically wild flowers I suppose.

    • PRO

      idea is to slightly fake a meadow planting - 

      the plants just need to look suitable, not necessarily be true wild flowers as such, and survive or not decrease in numbers quickly 

      idea is that if the plants are strong enough growers they should be able to match the grass growth. 

      since the council stopped maintaining verges around here there is strong flower re appearance, and if they cut twice a year leaving all clippings and the flowers survive surely the same could be true for a 'lazy meadow approach' 

  • PRO Supplier

    Yellow rattle works so well because the roots exude a chemical that limits/ prevents other roots growing near it.

    I think small potted varieties or plugs grown on would be ok in  cleared patches of grass - the Cranesbill, Foxgloves, Yarrow, Daffs, etc will all be nice and tall and cope with a richer soil as long as it is dry/ well-drained - not sure on the others...

    Would avoid the cut and drop if you can because its feeding NPK into the soil - Councils will do it but there usually isn't a great deal of plant diversity in roadsides - normally 2-3 varieties at most. Cut rides through the grass or confine the wildflower areas to the 'clumps' rather than sparsely spread..and away from the trees.

    • PRO

      so it might be feasable to create 1.5 m radius zones around perennial groups  with yellow rattle - to stop the regrowth of grass swamping the plants as they get established. 

      What i dont get is that yes in wild flower meadows low fertility is important, with delicate wild flowers - but if you are introducing tough aggressive growing perennials into a fertile soil -- that will feed them as much as the grass and they should 'like' the extra NPK that mulched grass clippings will give. 

      • Yellow Rattle is a hemi-parasite so it thrives growing on the plants around it - grasses and legumes & others..

        You do get tougher broad leaved flowers in coarse grassland - teasel, knapweed, thistles spring to mind but grassess are geneally better at outcompeting broad-leaved neighbours in a fertile habitats and will be the dominant plant - I would have though t it would be hight maintenace to manage islands in grassland? . It does vary hugely from site to site though  Where are you in Glos? Message me if not too far away as we might have some similar things going on?

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