Organisations like Flora Locale and campaigners like Sarah Raven are making us all rediscover the beauty of our naturally occurring wild flowers and grasses as well as making us aware of the importance of these rich habitats for bees and other animals.
Building, farming and escaping none native plants have all massively reduced the area where native plants can grow and thrive. This has greatly reduced the natural diversity of the UK’s plants and animals. Farmers are now being encouraged to set aside narrow margins around their fields and hedges to allow native plants to thrive. These relatively small wild areas greatly increase the number of insects and birds that are able to survive in any given area.
Local Authorities are trying to increase the proportion of wild flowers in their own plantings both in parks and along road verges. This is great for our wildlife but it’s also good news for us. Who can forget the wonderful showcase of wild flowers around the Olympic Stadium – much better than a boring old lawn.
© Michael Kappeler/Photoshot
The Olympic Park set aside an area the size of 10 football pitches for its wildflower meadows however small plantings can be spectacular and still really help our wildlife. It is easy to create a wonderful wild area in your own garden. You can convert an existing flower bed, transform a forgotten area of your garden and make lawns more exciting. You can sew a wild flower seed mix or add bulbs or plug plants to existing lawns or borders.
Plug Plants & Bulbs
Plant in August so the root system can develop before flowering. Cut the grass short before planting.
Choose your Seeds or Plants
Its hard to know what plants are actually native to the UK. Many of the most familiar plants are not actually native. Flora Locale is a UK charity that aims to promote and conserve native plants in the UK. They publish a list of suppliers that stock native plants and seeds so this is a good place to start. Simply CLICK HERE
Choose seeds that are suitable for your soil type. There are good online sources of information that will help you identify your soil type and choose suitable seeds like this comprehensive guide that lists each wildflower and its suitability for differing soil types and moisture levels; Simply CLICK HERE
If you are not an expert then you can buy ready mixed seeds which contain seeds suitable for different soil types in the right proportions, for examples Simply CLICK HERE
There are mixes out there for different things – those that selectively encourage birds, bees or butterflies, enrich lawns, ponds bogs and sandy soils. Some suppliers produced special red, white and blue mixes for the Royal Jubilee and there are even some wedding mixes that provide flowers suitable for posies and wedding favours. So inspect the area you want to plant and choose something imaginative as well as suitable.
Prepare The Soil
To get the best results from your wild flower seeds you need to prepare the ground properly. This will maximise the number of seeds that germinate and minimise the number of weeds that you do not want.
Remove all the existing plants that you don’t want – you might want to leave certain grasses and selectively remove plants that are not native or are too invasive. Alternatively you might just want to use a weed killer to totally clear the ground before sowing your new seed mix. It can be a good idea to leave the ground for a few months to allow the weed seeds still in the soil to germinate so you can remove these before sowing your flower seeds.
Wild flowers have evolved to live off poor soils so do not enrich the soil before planting. In some cases you might want to remove some of the top soil or previously enriched soil before you plant your wildflowers.
You can plant anytime from late spring to the end of Autumn. You will get better germination rates when there is rain so avoid the driest months. It is a good idea to mix your seeds with sand before spreading. Mixing with sand helps you spread the seeds evenly over the area. Don’t sow on a windy day because you will lose a lot of seeds. If the soil is dry lightly water it to help the seeds adhere to the ground you have prepared.
You don’t need to cover the seeds with soil or rake them in as many seeds need sunlight for germination.
Grasses are an important component of the wild flower mixes and they germinate first. You need to cut them a couple of times in the first Spring to about a height of 5cm and again in Autumn. For the first year many of the flowers will not appear as they need 12 months to mature. When they do flower in the second year you need them to drop their seeds so you will have flowers the following year. So when you do your first Autumn mow leave the cuttings on the ground as the seeds are in this material.
Review the mix of colour and height and consider adding a few bulbs or plug plants to add interest. If there are flowers you really like you can buy single variety seeds to boost the number of your favourites. You can also dig up or remove the seed heads from anything you don’t like or that there are too many of.