Where the wild things are!

Creating your own meadow or place for wildlife isnt as hard as it seems. Heres a few native wildflower species that will thrive whatever your conditions

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Meadow at Oxford Botanical gardens

There’s been a lot written about wildflower meadows in the last few years and whether the style is prairie or english meadow there can be no doubt they are absolute havens for wildlife.

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Green Hairstreak
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Newts need water but can often be found in leaf debris and thick grass
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Knapweed is an important source of nectar to butterflys

If you’re considering turning an area over to wildflowers there are a few things worth considering before splashing out huge amounts of money on seeds. For example what soil you have. A clay soil will support a totally different type of wildflower to a sandy soil. If you have the benefit of a stream nearby perhaps you would be better suited choosing moisture tolerant plants.

I’ve been lucky to have worked in some beautiful gardens with well thought out wildflower meadows, some even had native orchid species!

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Orchis mascula – early purple orchid

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Dactylorhiza fuchsii – common spotted orchids

If you’d like to know more about identifying native UK Orchids, of which there’s over 50, have a look at this handy guide

But Orchids are a plus, a wildflower area doesn’t always have the right conditions for them, often you won’t even be aware they are there until conditions become right for their germination. Orchid species should NEVER be removed from the wild, the soil in which they grow has very specialised conditions which cannot be replicated and by moving them you are pretty much giving them a death sentence no matter how hard you try.

What about what you have then?

Lets have a look at what you can grow!

Acid/Clay soils

Clay soils are prone to drying and cracking in dry periods and being cold and wet during the winter. They also have an ability to hold nutrients which for wildflowers who thrive in undernourished conditions can be a challenge! I’ve included the description of acidic as most clay soils tend to err towards slightly acid conditions but it’s always best to check your soils PH. Testing is a simple process, kits being available from most garden centres.

  • Autumn Hawkbit( Leontodon Autumnalis)

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  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
  • Corn Poppy (papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip ( Primula Veris)

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  • Yarrow, (Achillea Millefolium)
  • Yellow Rattle (Rhinanathus Minor) – This is one of the most important ingredients in a wildflower meadow
  • Betony (Stachys Officnalis)
  • Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis)
  • Lesser Knapweed (Centaurea Nigra)

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  • Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)

Going back to Yellow rattle, the reason this is so important in a wildflower meadow is its fascinating means of extracting nutrients, it’s a parasitic plant! It attaches itself to the roots of surrounding grasses and stunts their growth thereby allowing the other less dominant species to flourish. Getting it established is the most important factor when starting your wildflower meadow and this is best done in the autumn using fresh seed. Of course once its in and in subsequent years this can be done purely by the process of cutting your meadow down.

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Meadow at the Queen Elizabeth Park, London

What if you’re on a chalk grassland though? Chalk will support a whole different range of species, its alkaline, low in fertility naturally. Sandy soils also are well-drained so ive included these two together. You’ll notice that some of the plants are included on both lists, this is because they are “bombproof” so let’s have a look at what you can grow!

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Chalk meadow at Ayot st Lawrence, Herts

Chalk & Sandy soils

  • Agrimony (Agromonia Eupatoria)
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Vetch ( Vicia sativa)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium Pratense)
  • Corn Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip (Primula Veris)
  • Dark Mullein (Verbascum Nigrum)
  •  Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)
  • Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
  • Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium Verum)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium pratense)
  • Musk Mallow (Malva Moschata)
  • Ox Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum Vulgare)
  • Rough Hawkbit
  • Ribwort Plantain (Planatago Lanceolata)
  • Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba Minor)
  • Self Heal (Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)
  • White Campion (Silene Alba)
  • Small Scabious (Scabiosa Columbaria)
  • Wild Carrot ( Daucus carota)
  • Yarrow (Achillia Millefolium)
  • Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus Minor)
  • Wild Marjoram (Origanum Vulgare)
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Meadows in the Orchard at Waterperry, Oxford

Come September its time to cut your meadow down. In the past ive used a brushcutter to cut meadows down, this is a great method for seed dispersal and if im honest it’s a job I love! Some people use a topper, which doesn’t always get low enough for the low growing species, others swear by using a scythe which is a very exhausting way & takes a great deal of skill to do properly. Plan to do it when you have at least a week of dry weather ahead.

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Posing for a Brushcutter selfie!

Later the cut grass and wildflowers can be collected either manually by raking or if you have a large area and the equipment you can “box” it up & remove it. This is incredibly important as the removal of cuttings firstly helps spread the seeds and also lowers the fertility of the soil which wildflowers prefer.

What if you have a stream bank or water meadow? What plants love to grow there?

These suggestions are best sown 1-2 metres within the streams edge as these plants do better with damp feet, again you’ll notice some that are included in the 2 previous mixes.

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Stream/pond edges

  • Gypsy Wort (Lycopus Europus)
  • Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula Ulmaria)
  • Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
  • Teasel (Dispsacus Fullonum)
  • Tufted Vetch
  • Water Avens (Geum Rivale)
  • Yellow Flag Iris (Iris Pseudocorus)

Of course there are many more native species which could be included, one that you don’t often see is this lovely chap. Stellaria holostea – Greater Stitchwort, most often found in hedgerows rather than meadows, its beautiful delicate flowers are a pleasant surprise peeking out from under hawthorns.

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Which leads us nicely to woodland wildflowers! If you havent got an open area to turn into your own personal nature reserve or if your garden is shaded by lots of mature trees this could be your answer. Of course there are Bluebells and wild Garlic but there’s lots more that can thrive in the shade of your leafy canopy!

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The Bluebell Woodland at Hole Park

Woodland Wildflowers

A traditional english woodland when properly managed can be awash with colour and nectar. It’s only an unkempt area full of brambles & nettles if left neglected. Traditionally pigs would be allowed to rootle around in the undergrowth keeping some of the thugs at bay but these days that’s relatively rare. As is the tradition of coppicing, stands of hazel to a gardener are such a boon, it’s a shame we don’t all have access to it. I digress!

If you do have a shady area under trees though you can make it come alive with just a few choice natives

  • Bluebell Seed (Hyancith non Scripta)
  • Common Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupotar)
  • Hedge Bedstraw (Galium Mollugo)
  • Wild Garlic ( Alliaria Petiolata)
  • Hedge Woundwort (Stachys Sylvatica)
  • Herb Bennet (Geum Urbanum)
  • Nettle Leaved Bell Flower (Campanula Trachnium )
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal ( Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Square St Johns Wort (Hypericum tetrapterum)
  • Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis Odorta)
  • Upright Hedge Parsley (Torilis Japonica)
  • Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis Cambria)
  • Wild Angelica (Angelica Sylvestri)
  • Wild Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)
  • Wood Sage (Teucrium Scorodonia)

Some of these listed are absolute nightmares in a garden setting such as Geum urbanum and Meconopsis cambria but in a woodland setting are perfect. It’s a matter of choosing the right plants for the right place and remember we are looking at this as a “Wild Garden” rather than a cultured bed full of choice specimens. Hopefully this will give you the confidence to go out and select some seed and sow your own little patch of wilderness.

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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