Wildflowers for Gardens and Public Spaces

Wildflowers for Gardens and Public Spaces

Since the 1930s, a staggering 97% of the UK’s meadows and flower-rich grasslands have been lost – an area in size similar to Wales! However, over the last ten years, with public understanding of environmental issues increasing, wildflowers have been making a substantial return in private gardens and public spaces alike across the country.  

Wildflower meadows come with an abundance of benefits. First – and most importantly – they provide a food source for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Areas of wildflowers allow these insects to thrive and ensure that they can move across the landscape freely – without the possibility of not having a food source on their journey. As they move across the landscape, it’s important to remember these essential insects pollinate a lot of the food crops that feed us humans. 

Once these insects have pollinated the wildflowers, this enables them to develop seeds and spread to grow in other places. Many of the pollinating insects themselves are eaten by birds and small mammals – furthering the life cycle. Additionally, in the winter when less insects are out in the open, wildflower seeds can be a much-needed source of food for the same birds and small mammals. 

Asides from the multitude of environmental benefits that wildflowers will create in your gardens and public spaces, they also look fantastic! Most mixtures provide an array of beautiful, bright colours that can transform any area – large or small. And, once they have been established correctly, wildflowers are tough and can do very well without much human intervention. This makes them a great choice for council ran public spaces and gardeners who may not have too much time of their hands. 

As well as these benefits, a well-established patch or strip of wildflowers can create very stable soil health due to the complex root systems that they create. 

Although wildflowers are tough and can thrive without too much work, there are many common mistakes that people make when sowing them. See below for our dos and don’ts – as well as some commonly asked questions…


THE DOS AND DON’TS OF GROWING WILDFLOWERS

DO -

  • Clean seedbed as thoroughly as possible
  • Select the right mixture for soil type (this will help with future management)
  • Control the grass by cutting back
  • Remove the cuttings in autumn

 

DON’T -

  • Apply fertiliser
  • Cut too short (this will kill some of the species)
  • Cut mid-summer (this will kill the crop)
  • Drill (too deep)
  • Graze (as some species poisonous)

Commonly asked questions...

1)  How do I avoid dominant species such as rattle, ox-eye daisies or poppies taking over the mixture? 

Species that tend to dominate can partly be controlled by limiting inclusion rates to, say, 5% of total mixture; while such species will retain a propensity for ‘conquest’, proper management; i.e. cutting back in autumn (removing the cuttings) and sometimes in spring (if grass too abundant) will help contain the species balance.

 

2)  Can you grow wildflowers on fertile soil?

Yes. Some wildflowers will actually grow bigger. The problem is that grass will grow bigger still and overwhelm; this can be ameliorated by starving the soil of nutrients and clearing as much plant growth as possible pre-sowing.

 

3)  Is there a different approach to managing annuals as opposed to perennials? 

Yes. Annuals should not be cut in spring unless subject to excessive grass growth. Ideally annuals should be cut only in October (or once seeds have fallen out of the heads) and the cuttings removed. Perennials should be cut in spring and autumn; in spring cutting the grass only to the height of the wildflower head; in autumn cutting back more sternly, and the cuttings removed.

 

4) To what extend can a wildflower mix be tailored to attract certain types of insects, and therefore certain types of bird? 

It would be foolhardy to suggest that a wildflower mix will determine the exact ensemble of insects and birds to follow; but in the same way as Borage, Birdsfoot trefoil, Clovers and Echium are a safe bet to attract bumblebees; so too it is a safe bet that hedgerow-species such as Hedge Bedstraw, Musk mallow and knapweed will attract caterpillars and fly-lavvy – a favourite of partridge chicks. 

It should also be remembered that the height to which the wildflowers grow is important as well. For example, a wildflower plant that grows 6in and above is out of reach of pheasant and partridge chicks; yet for the Yellowhammer it is ideal because it likes to jump along the ground for its feed. Also, some wildflower species produce only pollen while others produce only nectar - both are important. In all respects, the overriding message is that diversity. The larger the diversity, the more insects attracted, the greater the biomass achieved. 

 

5) Which mixtures suit which soils? 

Please note: the wildflower species highlighted in the brackets are a small representative sample of the total species present in a mixture. A typical wildflower mixture would have between 20 and 30 wildflower species  

Answer:

  • Most soils: Standard Wildflower Mixture (includes cornfield annuals, Oxeye daisy, field poppy, Yellow Rattle) 

The Cornfield Annuals will give good colour in the first year – and the other species will come into their own in the second and subsequent years. 

  • Bank/Steep Sides: Legume Strong Mixture (includes Black Medic, Birdsfoot Trefoil, salad Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Creeping Buttercup, Lucerne) 

Takes a few years to establish but once there has a really good show of species. Also good for light loamy ground and can help soil structure in ditches and verges. 

  • Shaded Areas/Woodland: Woodland Clearing Mixture (includes wood sage, ramsons, bluebell, upright hedge parsley)

Ideal for shaded areas on edge of woodland or clearing; takes a couple of years to establish but well worth it. 

  • Dry soil: Sandy Soils Mixture (includesBlack medick, Bulbous Buttercup, Ribwort Plantain, Common Vetch)

`       Tailored for free draining areas, prone to drying out over the summer; deep rooted varieties able to stabilise soil and thrive on very little nutrients. 

  • Semi Shade Areas: Hedgerows, Margins and Shaded Areas Mixtures (includes Hedge Bedstraw, Musk mallow, Garlic mustard, Teasel)

Also suitable for woodland edges and shaded banks 

  • Heavy Soil: Heavy Clay Mixture (Contains Lady’s Bedstraw, Tufted Vetch, Yarrow, Black Knapweed)

This mixture is suitable for areas of modern acidity; i.e., below pH6 or where soil is heavy, compacted and difficult to breakup. Also, with an inclusion of yellow rattle for grass growth suspension. 

  • Peaty Soils:  Acid Soils Mixture (Contains Bethony, Common Catear, Ragged Robin, Sneezewort)

Good for peaty high organic matter soils commonly found on moors, heath lands, reclaimed land or woodland clearing.

 

To find out more about Bright Seeds full range of wildflower mixtures, or to discover what might work best on your shoot – head over to our website or call the office on 01722 744494.


10th May 2021

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