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Bloomin' wildflowers

Unsightly wildflowers or beautiful weeds?

We revel in the sight of wildflower meadows full of colour but are repelled by brambles and stinging nettles. Some of those plants classified as weeds (ie a plant growing where it is not wanted) were introduced into our gardens as ornamental or medicinal plants. Others such as cornflowers and larkspur were once common in cornfields but are now rare in the wild and cultivated in our gardens instead.

We supply British origin mixtures of wildflowers and grasses suitable for various soil types and situations. Choose one that suits your local conditions. (Do not rob the countryside, for some species it is illegal and will have a detrimental effect over time for any species. Also please only sow our mixtures in your own garden).  The best time to sow your wildflowers is in autumn.

Perennial wildflowers (ox-eye daisy, red campion, cowslips, sweet woodruff) grow better on nutrient poor soil, where the more vigorous grasses won't out-compete the flowers. To reduce the vigour of established grassland, introduce rattle, eyebright and lousewort. The most commonly sown is Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle). In late summer/autumn cut the grass short and then broadcast the seed. As an annual it can be prevented from seeding in future years by cutting it down.

Annual meadow mixtures, usually of cornfield annuals, need rich soils. A good choice if you are creating a border in your garden.

Seed can be sown in spring on heavier soils, avoiding waterlogging and rotting of seed but generally autumn is better. On lighter soils, autumn-sown seeds generally germinate and establish quickly, although some will not germinate until the following spring, needing a period of cold..

Prepare the ground.

Clear away any annual weeds.  Eliminate vigorous perennial weeds, such as nettles, docks and dandelions by digging out and removing the roots, pouring on boiling water or treating with a flame gun. As a last resort, kill off persistent vegetation with systemic weedkillers that leave no residue in the soil harmful to the newly seeded crop. 

On very fertile soils, remove the top layer if you can. Otherwise sow mustard (green manure) BUT remove the crop at flowering time as this will help lower soil fertility. Don’t dig in any manure or fertiliser.  Rake over the soil to create a seedbed and leave for a month for the soil to settle and any weeds to grow. Remove these by hand before sowing.

Different mixtures use differing broadcast amounts, please refer to the packet instructions. As a very general guide flower only seed should be sown at 1g per sq m as opposed to wildflower / grass mixes at 5g per sq m. Mix the seed with dry sand to make it easier to handle and sow more evenly.

Tread or roll lightly to give good contact between the seed and the soil, water thoroughly and leave them to grow in their own time. Ward off the birds though!

Sow annual cornfield mixes on cleared bare soil, free of perennial weeds as above. Autumn sowings seem to benefit poppies, while spring sowings favour corncockles. Many of these plants; cornflower, corn poppy, corn marigold, corncockle will flower within 95 days of sowing. Leave the plants to self seed for repeat flowering the following year. Rake over the ground in spring to encourage germination. Additional sowings may be required in the first few years to replenish seed in the soil.

A simple way to encourage wildflowers into your patch is to stop mowing your lawn. Try cutting the grass just once in autumn and then again in spring, removing all of the mowings (good starting material for a compost heap). Soon such species as rough hawkbit, yarrow and selfheal will appear, depending on your soil type. You can then supplement these natural self seeded varieties with those of your choice to suit your soil type.