Tag Archives: wild flowers

Growing wild flowers – 2

10 July 2019

As I mentioned in the last post, we’re experimenting with growing a few perennial UK native plants, to take over from the poppies and cornflowers as they fade.

At the moment, the small scabious and knapweed are taking over at the same height as the poppies and cornflowers

Small scabious in another bed

Knapweed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

while nearer the ground we have geranium sanguineum  and yarrow keeping the show going:

Geranium sanguineum (small pink flower) and yarrow (taller white one)

In a previous post I mentioned that poppies in particular grow best in newly-disturbed soil, which is why we’ve emptied that end bed in the autumn in previous years and forked it over. However, there have been a number of really great displays of poppies just growing in grass this year, as on Soulbury Road grassy bank, so we’re going to try something different this year – we’ll add a few more clumps of perennial wild flowers through more of that end bed, hoe between them to disturb the soil a little, and sow the poppy and cornflower seeds there. That should distribute the flowers more evenly while still keeping the display going through the whole bed.

Meadow cranesbill

We also have a couple of meadow cranesbill plants at the Bowls Club end of that bed, and some tall wild carrots, some of whose flower heads are just beginning their characteristic turning inside out, to form urn-shaped seed heads that will last well into winter.

But we will still keep a poppies-only strip at the front – we have to have poppies here in front of the war memorial, and where better than a great display just as you come in from the car park?

Growing wild flowers

08 July 2019

There’s been some discussion in various local Facebook groups recently about the wild flowers that have been planted on road verges, particularly prompted by Rotherham’s planting eight miles of pictorial meadows (i.e. flowers that aren’t necessarily native to the UK, but which fit in American native species like phacelia, gillia and Californian poppies. One discussion (I can’t find the thread again – Facebook discussions can be very transitory!) asked Central Beds council why they didn’t do it, to which they replied, amongst other things, that they did help us (South Beds Friends of the Earth, the Greensand Trust, and Leighton-Linslade Town Council) to create 19 bee-friendly areas around the town. It’s nice to have the appreciation! but of course these areas are only part of the story, and probably aren’t what most people have in mind when they think of the large areas of planting along roadside verges.

In SBFOE’s bee-friendly sites we’re trying to provide food and nesting sites for bees and other pollinators, rather than producing a colourful display – we do try to do both, of course, but the focus is different. We need a framework of permanent planting, with patches of the bright cornfield annuals that many people think of as ‘wild flowers’. And this is where it starts getting complicated. Those cornfield annuals only flower for a few weeks a year, and if we want them to set seed so there will be flowers next year, we have to leave the dying stands for a couple of months after that. That can look very untidy and people can feel it looks untended, as if we haven’t bothered to weed it.

And those roadside verges and similar beds can take a lot maintenance, even if they do save on mowing costs. In many places, the grasses and oxeye daisies begin to overwhelm all the other, weaker, annuals like poppies and cornflowers, so that by the third year or so you just have long grass with white daisies in – like the verges and banks around new roads after a couple of years. And docks and thistles creep in and often take over – they’re very valuable in terms of wild life, but perhaps not what many people want to see.

You can extend the idea of ‘wild flowers’ from ‘UK native flowers’ to ‘something that looks natural, like a wild flower’, or ‘native to other countries in the northern hemisphere’, like the phacelia, gilias and Californian poppies that make many ‘cultivated meadows’ look so good.

And here’s a photo of one of our sites – the grassy bank along Soulbury Road. Photo courtesy of Brian Snowdon.

Photo courtesy of Brian Snowdon

Looking ahead to next year

20 August 2016

It’s about a year since we started refocusing here in the gardens, using more garden flowers to allow us to provide nectar and pollen for bees over a longer period than we could with only wild flowers, while respecting the setting of a semi-formal memorial garden. We thought it would take a couple of full seasons for the new plan to mature, so it seems a good time to look at how the gardens are doing.

When the current team started work on the beds about a year ago, we inherited some shrubs planted along the centre of the bed nearest the war memorial and down the centre of some of the other beds, and a couple of roses planted right next to the paths between the beds. We moved the roses out of the way of the paths, and we’ve gradually added lavender plants along the edges of most of the beds, to make an informal hedge and to provide structure through the winter when most of the annuals and herbaceous perennials die back. All the plants we’ve put in are establishing well and developing into a good framework for the more informal planting inside the beds.

This year the bulbs, pulmonaria and perennial wallflower provided plenty of nectar in early spring for bees as they emerged from hibernation and started nesting, while the other perennials and annuals gradually took over from them, including peas and runner beans planted by the children from the local preschool. We had a great display of poppies, cornflowers and oxeye daises in the top bed (nearest the car park). We try to have at least two of the bees’ favourite plants in flower at any time between February to November, and so far we’ve managed that. Right now the bees’ favourite flowers are the blue hyssops in the second bed down from the car park, and the yellow daisy-like coreopsis at the other end of the bed:

hyssop, coreopsis

Now we’re getting ready for the start of the gardening year in the autumn. We won’t be cutting and clearing until the spring, so that we don’t leave too many places where bare earth will be exposed to heavy rain, which damages soil structure and leaches nutrients away. We leave stems when they don’t look too messy, to provide shelter for overwintering insects, and we also add leaf mould to protect the soil from winter weather and to start getting more organic matter into it – that’s ‘organic’ meaning a necessary component of all soil, rather than meaning a particular way of gardening.

We’re also adding a few more plants and moving others around to places where they’ll grow best, and we’ll also sow seeds of annuals like the bright orange Californian poppies that looked so good earlier in the year. And our other main job is to clear the wild flower bed (nearest the car park) and re-sow poppies and cornflowers for next year; they grow best on ground that’s been cultivated, so we need to turn it over every year.