Research for book reveals plastic-backed meadow mat

Now spring is approaching, and we start to think about our gardens, watch out for plastic-backed meadow mats. Many people buy wildflower turf or meadow mats thinking they are helping nature and improving biodiversity, but they don’t realise that almost all of them have plastic backing. Suppliers say they break down, but they don’t, they break up into micro plastics which are even worse for wildlife.

I found this out when I was doing research for Habitat Man. Kevin, an ecologist who set up the green garden consultancy  was shocked when he found huge amounts of plastic in some old wildflower turf that the local Council purchased in good faith from

Knowing this, I emailed all the other suppliers of wildflower turf and meadow mats to check if they used plastic.

Only one said they didn’t – Quality Garden Supplies claimed they used hessian backing not plastic in their meadow mats, so I purchased it, dug up my lawn turf and composted it, purchased horticultural grit as recommended to prepare the soil and then laid it straightaway when it arrived. It wasn’t until I saturated it with water and the edges where the turf was thin got washed away that I saw the plastic mesh backing. I got in touch with them immediately but they haven’t responded.

Meadow Mat supplied by QGS

Advice: just let your grass grow and see what pops up, you should get dandelions daisies, buttercups and clover at least. If you want a wider variety it is a little trickier as grass out-competes most wildflowers, so even if you add wildflower seeds, they may struggle.

Professor Dave Goulson says: “it is much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to grow your own wildflower meadow. In fact you may already have one: just stop mowing your lawn and see how many different flower types pop up. If there aren’t many, you can grow plug-plants from seed and plant them in, or go the whole hog and remove the turf and sow a wildflower meadow mix.” He provides more advice in his book Gardening for Bumblebees

One tip is DON’T add fertiliser as wildflowers prefer nutrient-poor soil. Yellow Rattle seeds (for optimal results plant in autumn) may help reduce the vigour of the grass, giving wildflowers a chance to grow.