by Sarah Naybour
15th Febuary 2020
In our village on the outskirts of Oxford there has been big debate regarding the use of wildflowers on disused but visible spaces such as roundabouts and verges. The main ‘fear’ is that they will look messy ‘Like a load of old weeds’. However it is common practice in Germany and Holland to plant annual and perennial seed mixes in these “dead” spaces, a practice that has a proven track record of beauty, easy maintenance, low cost with the bonus of being wildlife friendly.
This is a matter close to our heart, so we were delighted to be commissioned by our local council to re-design a public space called Ridgeway View, and the opportunity to show how wildflower planting can transform our local parks and green spaces.
The likes of Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough have been using their Pictoral Meadow mixes with huge success in Sheffield for years. Reducing maintenance costs, reinvigorating the use of open urban spaces and reducing vandalism.
Successfully establishing a meadow is not simple, but it can be simplified. Last year I replaced the whole of my very tiny lawn with wildflowers using a mix of seed and soil laid over dead turf. With careful watering I was seeing germination after a few weeks and the following months the first flowers began to bloom.
The open space at Ridgeway View is used everyday by local kids playing football and riding their bikes, as well as dog walkers, parents with strollers, and elderly walkers. We needed to create a space that catered for this wide range of people whilst only using soft landscape.
Our design uses large areas of meadow and swathes of ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus and Pennisetum laid out in sections of overlapping ovals. These species have been chosen to survive the lean sandy soil, whilst the pattern provides an exciting maze for children to weave in and out of.
We have mounded some of the meadow areas and created copses of trees to enclose seating and picnicking areas. There remains a large open area in the centre for ball games and easy access across the site for dog walkers.
The other important element is the views from the surrounding properties. Parents generally like to see their kids playing, whilst others would like them obscured and bikes slowed. Again the gaps in the plantings allow for glimpses through and the blocks of plants, and slow down bike traffic and the probability of children running into the road.
The design has been welcomed with open arms by the Parish Council and we are moving to Tender soon with an aim to carry out the works in the Autumn when planting and seeding is at its best.