Wildflower Gardens: How and Why?

“I love all wildflowers, none are weeds to me.” John Clare, British Naturalist

A British tradition
After writing so extensively about the hidden value that can be found in many of Britain’s native plants in our Plant Medicines series, we thought it high time to talk about Wildflower Gardening.

Since many Wildflowers are now characterised as being invasive or a nuisance, we wanted to remind our readers of the heritage Wildflower Gardening in England and the benefits that cultivating a less regimented space can yield.

The cultivation and collection of wildflowers have been a pastime for nature lovers since at least the reign of Henry the VIII, at that time the wildflower of the hour was hopped which were being added to beer for the first time.

Unfortunately, since the renaissance period, Britain has lost over 90% of its naturally forming wildflower meadows, most of that only in the last century!
A creeping danger
The tragedy here is that while these meadows are of course a welcome sanctuary from the hustle of urban life, they are also crucial bastions for native biodiversity.

It is estimated that a single square metre of wildflower meadow could be host to over 40 different species of animals, to say nothing of its plant population, including multiple pollinating insects, reptiles, amphibians, and birds.

Wildflowers’ bragging rights don’t stop there either, they are known to conserve rainwater, dampen the risk of flooding (I know and I’m sorry), and sequester lots of carbon as well.

The fashion of creating wildflower gardens at home sprung out of tiring of the uniformity and symmetry of popular gardens of the time i.e. among the wealthy classes of the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, gardens like those at Versailles were the standard by which others were measured and the standard was based on mathematical perfection more than emulation or even reverence for natural forms.

Aristocratic figures like Vita-Sackville West and Gertrude Jekyll were among the first to voice their protest by creating what was described at the time as ‘gardening incidents’ on their own land.

In other words, Vita and Gertrude got sick of drawing inside the lines and they decided to do something about it. What’s more, is you can too, enjoying all the benefits of a wildflower meadow whilst resting assured that it will be an extremely low-maintenance space.

After all, wildflower meadows existed for millions of years before we’d even developed horticulture and are therefore pretty much self-regulating.

Creating a meadow of your own

Although this isn’t a comprehensive guide, we will disclose a few of the basics and, as we’ve mentioned, once a wildflower meadow is established it requires very little maintenance to survive and thrive.

Wildflowers also have the handy distinction of thriving best in unfertile soils and that means they can be used to fill gaps in your existing garden rather than having to clear space-usually the first job in planning any new project.

However, if you’re wanting to create a devoted wildflower meadow then you’ll likely need to reduce the soil fertility in the area. Either scrape away the top few inches of topsoil or plant some mustard plants and save wildflower sowing for next year. By that time, the mustard plants will have depleted much of the nutrients in the soil since they’re such hungry buggers.

Sunny and open areas are best for wildflowers, not only will this give them the resources they need to thrive but it will also make the jobs of bees and butterflies easier in accessing their pollen.

Once soil and site are sorted, lay black plastic down on the now-thinned soil to remove competing native species, then start shopping for seeds.

Cowslip, buttercups, clover, and yarrow all make excellent additions to a wildflower space and many of them have medicinal properties as well!

Aftercare is as simple as trimming any dead material in the midsummer of the first year and then making sure you stagger mowings so that different growth periods are covered, giving you an even distribution of different flowers. 

Over time, your meadow will attract greater biodiversity and eventually a complex ecosystem may start to emerge, populated by insects, birds and even small mammals. You’ll be able to look upon a miniature world of your own creation and enjoy its vitality for years to come.

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