The Dustbin Lid Meadow

What’s green, circular, covered in bees and “pings” if you flick it?

A dustbin lid meadow of course!

Wildflower Meadows are some of the best wildlife habitats we have , supporting countless bees, butterflies and many other insects, (not to mention mammals, reptiles and birds ) yet its estimated that we have lost over 95% of  our wildflower rich meadows  during the past 60 years or so. We rightly criticize the loss of ancient rainforests in far flung corners of the world yet we’ve somehow allowed our own vast “reservoirs of  biodiversity” to be virtually ploughed and poisoned out of existence by modern farming practices. Fortunately,  the last remaining remnants of our ancient meadows are now mostly protected and, in some instances, being extended, whilst new meadows are being created elsewhere. In our suburbs and towns, many ecologically aware gardeners have dug up their sterile , old lawns in order to create small meadows of their own. Others are simply allowing their existing lawns to grow a little longer and so enable the wildflowers( already in them) to rise up and blossom.

Whilst it wasn’t possible to reproduce large swathes of species rich grassland on my tiny little balcony (I wish!), I was certainly intrigued with the idea of creating a mixture of grass and nectar rich wildflowers which, at the very least, tried to capture something of the meadow’s colourful aesthetic as well as its ability to feed a range of invertebrates.

So, inspired by a redundant dustbin lid, ( leftover from a galvanised dustbin which I’d just converted into a planter), I set about creating a mini-meadow on my balcony.

The project was surprisingly straightforward and was achieved in a few simple steps:

Turning the lid upside down, I simply drilled a few small holes in to its centre, for drainage, which I then covered with a few bits of broken crockery to help prevent soil blocking up the newly drilled holes. I then sat the lid (still upside down of course) on top of a small galvanised metal plant-pot which I then sat on the balcony’s rail. Using strong galvanised wire, (obtainable  from most garden centres and DIY shops), I secured it to my balcony’s outer rail.  I then simply filled the lid with “peat free compost ” into which I’d mixed in some water retention granules (obtainable from most garden centres). Whilst I would usually add an organic fertiliser to my compost, in this instance I didn’t as meadows actually thrive on soil which has very poor fertility as this helps to prevent the grasses from out competing and smothering the wildflowers.  Once the compost was in place I sowed a mixture of colourful  cornfield annual seeds (for first year colour) as well as  some traditional perennial  wildflower seeds which I hoped would  establish themselves in the longer term.  I was very surprised  and delighted with the results!

Wildflower Meadow – in a dustbin lid!  During the  first summer after sowing , the cornfield annuals made a colourful instant splash and were a magnet for bees and hoverflies. The lovely blue annual cornflower can be seen in the foreground  with a vibrant red poppy in the background. These annuals would eventually be succeeded by the perennial meadow flowers which I’d also sowed at the same time.

Scentless Mayweed was another of the colourful annual wildflowers which helped to attract numerous pollinators, such as this hoverfly, to the “dustbin lid meadow”

As anticipated, the cornfield annuals  made a really colourful splash within a few months of being sown in to the dustbin lid. Blue cornflowers, crimson poppies ,yellow/white chamomiles, corn marigolds  and lanky, purple corncockles all vied for the attention of  foraging bees, hoverflies and beetles. These colourful annual wildflowers were once very common in our countryside, thanks to the age-old practice of  ploughing cornfields annually, but are now very scarce due to modern farming practices which includes the liberal use of weedkillers.

Mid Summer. After the colourful annual cornfield flowers had ceased flowering and started to die down, the perennial wildflowers which I’d also sown into the dustbin lid started to come through and flower. The lovely yellow flowers of birds-foot-trefoil can be seen here and positively hummed with an endless procession of visiting bees. The plant not only flowers over a long period but is also an important food plant for the caterpillars of the common blue butterfly

Even the leaves of the meadow’s corn marigolds provided food and shelter for microscopic “leaf miners” who’s tiny size allowed them to burrow in between the leave’s inner tissues – as can be seen here by their pale “track marks”.

Once the cornfield annuals had finished flowering and  had started to die down, it was possible to see the emerging perennial wildflowers which I’d also sown at the same time. These included birds-foot-trefoil(a magnet for bees) as well as white and red campion and self-heal which all helped the meadow to buzz with bees and helped to attract many other insects, too. Aphids certainly seemed to enjoy the meadow flowers’ sappy stems who’s subsequent population boom attracted predators in the form of ladybirds and hoverflies who’s larvae then preyed on the aphids.

A whole world in a dustbin lid! The meadow flowers not only provided nectar and pollen for pollinating insects but also attracted sap sucking aphids who’s presence then attracted predators, such as this ladybird larvae which can be seen hunting aphids on a birds-foot-trefoil flower

Although the dustbin lid meadow was created over 2 years ago, it’s still fascinating to see how it continues to develop and evolve over the seasons.

As expected, the cornfield annuals eventually stopped flowering as they need continually disturbed soil in order for their seeds to germinate. The perennial wildflowers, however, continued to thrive with  birds-foot-trefoil becoming the dominant species but with other species, like  ribwort plantain  , beginning to emerge and flower within the meadow, too.

Of course, as the dustbin lid meadow continues to develop and evolve I’ll be certain to blog about its ongoing progress and the amazing range of wildlife it continues  to attract and support.