WHEN we moved to the West Midlands, six years ago, I remember being impressed with the horticultural quality of the local roundabouts. There were no coats of arms etched out in colourful bedding, but what Telford and Wrekin borough council created each year was quietly beautiful.
They were early adopters of the “massed annual display”, or “pictorial meadow”, where seed sown directly on to bare ground in spring creates schemes, usually large in scale, in a single season. The inspiration, as with all successful gardening, comes from nature.
A British wildflower meadow is a sight to behold. It is also a complex grassland habitat hard to create from scratch. About 20 years ago, Sheffield University landscape department, led by Professor Nigel Dunnett, worked on the concept
of annual meadow gardening, removing grass from the equation and introducing exotic flower species to increase the longevity of the show.
Today, many of our famous parks and gardens use the approach for certain areas. Earlier this month, I was alerted to its arrival at Trentham gardens, near Stoke-on-Trent, by another roundabout hub. It was a vast golden fluid body of coreopsis. Inside the gardens I met Carol Adams, who has been leading the restoration of the Capability Brown landscape around the lake.
What better way to cover the scars, in this the year of Capabilty Brown tercentenary celebrations, than with broad swaths of mixed annuals, aided by Professor Dunnett. The result is spectacular. From a distance, the visitor perceives hazy bands of colour. Close up, it is an intricate tapestry of individual flowers. Carol explains that they used different recipes in different parts of the estate, and to create the banding.
Traditional bedding displays tend to be static, whereas an annual meadow is in flux from June till November with separate species and therefore colours and textures waxing and waning. At Trentham, the displays were alive with insects, and the seed-heads attracted green and gold finches. It has been a short-term design solution that, given the reaction of the visitors, will probably be repeated.
Annual seed mixes are available in a wide range of colour themes. “Pictorial Meadows” sells a pastel mix with white Ammi majus and pink cosmos peppered with clear blue cornflower and scarlet poppies. “Meadow in my Garden” produces one of the most diverse mixtures; its “Passion” mix contains calendula, larkspur, gypsophila, salvias, scarlet and Californian poppies, and cosmos.
Meadow mixes are a relatively cheap way to create a colourful show from midsummer well into autumn. They lend themselves to community projects or areas of private gardens that are awaiting grander plans. They need a weeded, well-cultivated and raked patch of land in sunshine. This is your advance notice.