Summary The Grassy Groundcover Restoration Project (GGRP) has sown thirteen 1 ha plots of species-rich grassland or herbaceous understorey in previously weedy agricultural paddocks in a range of rural locations across southern and western Victoria, Australia. The sown plots are intended as both experimental trials and ‘core’ areas for the restoration of herbaceous communities native to these regions. Approximately 200 species were grown in Seed Production Areas (SPAs) and successfully sown in the field. Species were most successfully established on areas that were scalped prior to seeding, and least successful on plots that were pre-treated with 1, 2 or 3 years of traditional herbicide weed control. Weed presence was lowest in scalped plots and highest in non-scalped plots. Long-term monitoring will be required to understand the development trajectories and degree of persistence of the sown communities, but in the shorter term (3–6 years of post-seeding) an average of 80% of sown species have established and remain as adult populations. Surveys indicate that in scalped plots (n = 130) vegetation composition, structure and quality has been maintained. Conversely, composition, structure and quality have declined markedly in non-scalped plots (n = 130). Formal surveys and field observations have also revealed that all sites provide a range of habitats which have been colonized by fauna from a variety of trophic levels. The implications of building on these trials to realize complex grassy ecosystem restoration at larger scales are discussed including the securing of sufficient quantities of high-quality seed, the use of mechanized broad-scale direct-seeding techniques and the effectiveness of using complex mixtures of species early in the restoration cycle.