There’s something quite magical about a patch of wild flowers with beautiful blooms buzzing with insects.
Before I was born fields around the UK used to be full of colourful annual wildflowers such as poppies, cornflowers and cornmarigolds. Not any more! Some farmers prefer to use weedkillers to wipe out these native plants so their crops will be easier to harvest and process. Others farm organically and have set aside land to allow wild flowers to grow which is brilliant. But there’s some bad news:
In the UK we have lost 97% of our wild flower meadows since the 1940’s. That’s right … in just 70 years MOST of our wildflower meadows have been ploughed up to make way for industrial estates, roads, houses and bigger fields better suited to modern machinery and intensive farming methods. Most of the remaining farm land has been treated with herbicides to prevent weed growth and insecticides to kill insects. No wonder our bees and butterflies are in decline!
There are some simple things that gardeners can do to help our wild creatures. One of the best ways is to grow some wildflowers.
It’s easy to grow wild flowers from seed. They are very hardy and will grow in most gardens. All you need to do is give them a patch of ground or a large container in the sun where they won’t have to compete with vigorous grasses for nutrients and water. Growing some beautiful wildflowers in your garden can help to provide food and habitat for insects and small creatures. Here’s how:
- Beneficial insects such as Bees, Hoverflies and Butterflies will collect pollen and feed on the nectar produced by wild flowers.
- Birds and small mammals will feed on the seeds produced at the end of the flowering season.
- Tiny hibernating insects such as Ladybirds will shelter in the seed heads or foliage throughout winter.
How to create a wildflower meadow from seed
• Early autumn is the best time for this, so late August to the end of September is perfect. The second best time is in spring, in March or April.
• Choose your hardy annual wildflower seed mix – for mini meadows or containers a small packet of seed is sufficient. You’ll need a big bag of seeds for a wildflower meadow.
• Select a patch of good earth in your garden in a sunny sheltered position. (It’s a misconception that dry poor soil is best for hardy annuals. Plants perform best in good earth with plenty of moisture for nectar production)
• Clear the ground of all weeds and grass making sure you cultivate to a depth of 15cm / 6 inches then rake the soil to a fine tilth. (What’s a fine tilth? This gardening term means rake your lumpy stony soil to break up the lumps and remove large stones, repeat until you have fine crumbly soil suitable for seed sowing. I’ve included the trowel to give you an idea of scale… I used a rake to break the soil down in three stages.)
• Scatter your seeds evenly over the prepared ground. Please resist the urge to sow too thickly… it’s never good for the plants. Mixing the seed with a carrier such as dry sand at a rate of 10% seed to 90% sand will help you to see where you have already sown the seeds.
• Water carefully with a fine sprinkler so as not to wash your seeds into clumps.
• The plants will grow and develop during autumn and winter and will flower in May/June/July next year. Remember that plants strive to produce seed… once they have done that they will die. It’s important to dead head often or cut flowers for the house to prevent seed setting. If you’re vigilant you can prolong flowering until the end of summer.
• At the end of the season let the flower heads form seed pods. Allow sow to self sow or cut the stems and shake them to release the seeds. Don’t forget to collect the rest in paper envelopes for sowing elsewhere.
That’s it… it’s so easy. You will be totally amazed by the wildlife you attract and how wonderful your garden looks with the minimum amount of effort from you.
Please don’t use insecticides or pesticides in your garden. They kill butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects. They also kill ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders … the natural enemies of your garden pests.
There’s a wild flower for most gardens and gardeners.
You may want to:
- Grow plants to provide pollen, seeds and habitat for wildlife,
- Cut flowers for the house, church or special events
- Grow and sell your own flowers
- Add a splash of colour to your garden in late spring and early summer
Whatever the reason I hope you’ll love the gorgeous Wild Flowers you choose for your garden as much as I do! Happy Gardening