As mentioned in the last newsletter, creating wildflower areas had the biggest vote from local residents, both on the map that hung in the Market Garden and in the suggestions written down at the Nature Recovery Network’s launch in January. But… there were many people who said that they had ‘tried wildflowers and it hadn’t worked!’
At Long Mead, we have been experimenting with creating wildflower areas over two decades and have confirmed for ourselves that the most important thing, as of course every gardener knows, is: ‘Right Plant - Right Place.’
Unfortunately, in their eagerness to inspire us all to do our bit for pollinators and wildlife, the media, environmental organisations and seed producers forget to tell us this golden rule.
All too often, packets of seeds or seed bombs muddle cornfield annuals and hay meadow perennials. They include a vast range of species that require differing soil pH, hydrological conditions, and management. One local environment organisation’s instructions that we recently reviewed fail even to mention that meadow flowers grow only in full sun!
Even more confusing, if you look on the internet for pictures of municipal efforts of wildflower plantings (and many councils are now taking this on) you find roundabouts and verges where oxeye daisies and other meadow perennials are swamped in brilliant red flushes of poppies and pink corncockles and brilliant blue cornflowers. All these cornfield annuals (or arable weeds as the farmers call them) are in their first year of bloom. For their seed to germinate (and to flower in subsequent years) they need cultivation - the ploughing that takes in a corn field every year. Of course, you can’t dig over the soil if you have also planted perennials that you want to survive.
So, this is one major cause of disappointment with attempts to grow wildflowers. If you want poppies and cornflowers and corncockles, you need to dig over the soil every year to repeat that first flush of brilliant bloom or, better still, collect the seed heads and replant the seed, so that it goes where you want it to. Think of sweet peas or lettuces or nasturtiums - we wouldn’t expect them to go on year after year without bare soil, even if we let them go to seed. The fact is that every year we have to re-sow them.
In our traditional wildflower meadows, on the other hand, virtually all the plants are perennial. Not being dependent on being propagated from seed annually, they don’t need bare soil. In fact, the sooner they grow and cover the bare soil the less likely annual so-called ‘weeds’ will creep in. Perennials don’t flower in the first year, indeed, sometimes they don’t flower for several years, which is why seed producers include annuals in their mixes to appeal to our 21st century need for instant gratification. Sometimes, they describe these annuals as a ‘nurse crop’ to stop the ‘weeds’ getting in, but they take light and water and their dramatic display ?f colour runs the risk of turning the discreet beauty of the perennial flowers that emerge over the following years into disappointment.
So, the second rule that we’ve learned on Long Mead is to think of creating a meadow like raising a child – hard work and sometimes unlovely in the beginning, but turning into something of lasting pleasure, delight, and pride. Dr Alison MacDonald, the guru of meadow restoration at Oxford University, reckons that it takes 150 years recreate the complexity of a floodplain hay meadow ecosystem. Of course, foresters think nothing of planting oaks to be felled in 150 years and orchardists talk of ‘planting pears for your heirs’ given their slowness to fruit.
Sadly, Long Mead is being mown this week so we will have to postpone the Back Garden Meadow Workshop until next year. But we’ll continue the online discussion. The key thing to know for now is that if you are sowing seed: September is the best time - following nature’s own pattern. If you are using wildflower plug plants: plant in Spring when most plants begin to grow. And think: local provenance.
The best way to halt our catastrophic decline in our local wildlife is to use the seeds and cuttings and scions of trees that we can reach from our footpaths and waysides and bring them into the green spaces in our villages and into our gardens. In this way, we restore our native stock that has been here for thousands of years, rather than risking bringing in new hybrids that simply perpetuate the biodiversity decline.
If you’re interested, join the growing number of us in the Nature Recovery Network who are collecting seed from the wayside, taking cuttings and grafts to draw our local wild plants back into our villages. We’ve secured grant funding for a workshop on propagating wildflowers from the pioneer of propagating wildflowers from seed, Charles Flower – now to take place next year. But we are still planning for our fruit grafting course to go ahead in August. Sign up here
Meantime, we are starting botanical surveys of the pilot areas for wildflower planting in Eynsham on Friday 10 July from 17:30-19:30. This will be run as a survey techniques workshop led by Alison Muldal. Please email if you would like to join us.
We will also be starting (in the next stretch of hot weather) to prepare the soil for the pilot areas in the village: lightly rotavating to a depth of 5cm and rolling the ground. This is an alternative to using weedkiller. It is intended to burn off the roots of perennial plants that are too vigorous for meadows and to germinate the seeds of annuals that we will then hoe off before sowing the wildflower seed. Please email if you would like to take part in this.
Very excitingly a new Fungi Group for the Nature Recovery Network is emerging. Max Peterson from Eynsham High Street writes:
“Such is the growing interest in our amazing biodiversity in Eynsham it would be a shame if our Fungi don’t get a look in, since they are an important part of the ecosystem. The mushrooms and toadstools that pop up in the autumn are the fruits of a fungus whose underground “root”(mycelium) may spread widely, often concentrically; hence the appearance of fairy rings. The fruiting bodies, as they are known, are loaded with spores which help spread the species. Different habitats, particularly woodland and grassland, support thousands of different species. Some are dependent upon particular tree varieties around which they may be found. A good example is fly agaric ( red ones with white spots on the caps) which often grow in association with silver birches.
Eynsham doesn’t have much in the way of established woodland (the Millenium Wood may be too new!) but there are many grassland fungi to be found on any of the fields which haven’t been treated with pesticides or herbicides. These include a few field mushrooms which are very similar to shop bought mushrooms, but it is most unwise to pick any mushrooms to eat if you can’t be 100% certain what they are, and in order to let nature take its course it is best not to pick them anyway. There is a variety known as a yellow stainer which looks almost exactly like a field mushroom but, apart from the fact that they don’t taste good, will make you sick as a parrot! So beware!”
Max goes out with the Fungi Society of Oxfordshire in the autumn and is keen to establish a local group and entice them to come foraging near us. Please email if you would be interested in joining him.