McMeadows

Hampshire solar farm
Solar Farm seeded by us with local direct harvest mix
It was fantastic to see wildflower meadows splashed across The Times page 3 this morning, as well as appearing in the Leader section. The gist of the piece was to amplify the recent thoughts of Trevor Dines, a botanist at Plantlife.
Dr. Dines is anxious that generic wildflower seed mixes are being used to restore meadows rather than locally sourced seed, producing a kind of “McMeadows” effect.
There are, of course, lots of reasons why it’s much better to use local seed. We promote local harvesters and suppliers as much as we can, and sell their seed through our website. We use local rather than “McMeadows”mixes for larger scale projects whenever we can.
And that’s the first problem. 97% of our meadows have disappeared, so it’s likely there is no local meadow from which to take seed, particularly on the scale you might require. In the real world, in most cases it is just not possible.
So why not look at buying seed from local wildflower seed harvesters? Most harvesters only produce up to 200kg of seed, enough for 16 acres. Sadly, there just isn’t demand for more. There aren’t many of them, either – I know of four or five – and the business isn’t exactly a ticket to instant wealth.
There are a small handful of larger scale wildflower seed specialists, who are generally pretty good (with one or two exceptions!). They’re enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable.
I assume it’s the generic mixes these guys produce which have annoyed Dr. Dines. These mixes are made up from seed usually grown in an individual single species bed and mixed together to predetermined %s, and are often marketed as being appropriate for a particular soil type or situation. These producers usually also produce a couple of general use mixes.
Suppliers would argue that these basic mixes are better than solutions available elsewhere, and consist of species occurring naturally across most of the UK. They are from the UK, reliably available, reasonably priced and have transparent content.
This is not where Dr. Dines should be taking aim.
Many commercially available and seed packet “wildflower seed mixes” contain non-UK seed, agricultural cultivars and non-indigenous UK plant species. We are regularly undercut by contractors using these seed mixes, even when UK native wildflower seed is specified. The seed companies selling them are driving prices down, misleading consumers, producing inappropriate mixes and hurting the development of our own wildflower seed production. As are Dr. Dines’ comments.
Tarring all “commercial suppliers” with the same brush suggests he may be ideologically motivated. It would be great to think NGOs are able to tackle meadow creation. Sometimes they do, to great effect, but not on the kind of scale we need. There’s often no reason for them to be interested in the projects which come up. Nor do NGOs have the manpower, knowledge, time, expertise and necessary equipment to supply and seed large scale sites. We need to encourage specialists in this area and pay them.

2013 – A Good Year

2013 – a good year. Not just for us, but also for wildlife in the UK, which showed how resilient it is. A decent summer and we were rewarded with all sorts of excitement. Here we had our first colony of Tree Bumblebees and clouds of Clouded Yellow Butterflies. The Wagtail and Wren pairs which moved into the new house with us both had successful years too, as did the new honeybee nucleuses I brought in from a friend.

Bombus Hypnorum
Tree bumblebee and Phacelia
As well as re-establishing my apiary I’ve now got the bare bones of our garden and mixed orchard and meadow areas sorted. Raised beds everywhere as the (clay) soil is so brutal, and structure from some pleached hornbeam and Hawthorn hedges. Lots of veg and, of course, Hybrid Musk roses and bee plants in the “formal” garden, together with some of my favourite fruit trees. We have peach, almond and apricot, together with a vine, goji berry and some of the prettiest English apples there are. I’ve been tinkering around with green manure, which has been fun, and now have swathes of an attractive wild red clover, phacelia and Trefoil mix.

In the orchard are some pleasing oddities and some more of my favourite things, which mostly seem to have taken well.

Ditch through meadow areas
Ditch through meadow areas
The meadows are looking good too, with some interesting success stories (Forking Larkspur and Wild Clary), and I’m dying to see what my water obsession produces by way of flora. The pond is yet to hold water properly, but is getting there, and my borage and strawberry bed is coming on.

The house has been fabulous to live in, not least because we can light and heat it effectively for free. I’ve become a huge fan of renewables this year, not least because of the exciting work we’re doing with Good Energy and Solar Century. I just don’t understand why the take up of some of the schemes offered by the government is so low. I DO understand the backlash against large scale solar developments, despite their potential for significantly enhancing biodiversity. For the government to flip-flop on renewables and energy bills smacks of short term populism, however, and really damages the development of the industry.

Hookgate Cottage
Hookgate Cottage, with solar panels and wood burning range chimney.
It has been very tricky for us, for example, as we have to try to judge future demand for hedge plants and wildflower seed. Folk should be reminded that our retail energy costs are among the lowest in Europe.

This has been one of my major business related irritations this year. I’ve also been very irked by the luke warm response to the Ash tree dieback issue. There’s apparently too much vested interest opposing a requirement for plants to be sold with a label confirming their country of origin. When people buy “native British plants” they generally want native British native plants grown in the UK.

I try to remain apolitical, but I have to say the government has been very disappointing on this and on the other environmental issues I know a bit about, from neonicotinoid use to agricultural subsidies. This is particularly unfortunate at a time when conservation NGOs are struggling with funding.

In the private sector, though, things are moving in the right direction. Folk are becoming aware of what biodiversity is and what it means to them. Although bees have generated a disproportionate length of column inches in 2013 they have focused attention on issues like habitat loss and pesticide use, as well as reinforcing awareness of our dependence on the natural world. The current vogue for foraging has helped that too, together with an increasing sense of localism. What better way to celebrate local distinctiveness than through local food?

We are finding ourselves involved in an increasing range of projects, which reflect that interest. Some are pretty large scale; we already hope to sell around 10,000kg of wildflower seed in 2014, for example. Some are much smaller; I was delighted that we were recently able to help fund ARG’s work with sand lizards on the Merseyside coast. We’re enormously proud too of our work this year with Friends of the Earth, Noble Foods and the Co-op, to name but three of our customers.

Sackcloth and Ashes

There has been understandable anger about the government’s handling of the Ash tree crisis in the UK, but I wonder if it is partly misdirected. Trying to pull up a biosecurity drawbridge by banning plant imports seems to be at best a Canute-like reaction. We should do what we can, of course, but what we need is a better longer term pre-emptive strategy of prevention. We can at least slow the spread of disease by changing perception about the importance of the provenance of plants and seed and labelling them properly for consumers. This would buy time to formulate a more effective response to a problem which may then never even reach us.

We are much better at blaming each other for environmental disasters than we are at containing them. The size and complexity of these problems dwarfs the resources which government can throw at them. The scale of the tragic story of the American chestnut (Castanea dentate), for example, almost confounds understanding. A blight, probably originating from chestnut trees imported from Asia, spread like wildfire down the East Coast in the first half of the last century and killed up to an estimated 4 billion trees.

Of course plant pathogens and parasites have always spread and over time plant populations often recover from them, but their consequences can be so severe we should do everything we can to lengthen the odds of accidentally importing them ourselves. The Ash tree disease might have been blown here from across the Channel rather than relying on human agency like the American chestnut blight, but it might not. Trees and their diseases travel all around the globe and have done since the Romans started planting reminders of home around their Empire and importing exotic fruit into Italy. Horse Chestnuts, introduced here in the late 16th century from the Balkans, are now quietly bleeding to death in leafy London suburbs from a combination of a canker from the Himalayas and a leaf mining moth from Macedonia. Many pathogens and parasites migrate between species; Ramorum disease, currently killing larch here, is also found in rhododendrons. Even for the Australians, with their natural advantages of geography and population, controlling plant imports is difficult.

Bizarrely for such a common tree, enormous numbers of our native ash are imported into Britain. We want them cheaply and instantly available. Much planting is grant aided, and usually comes with the expectation that trees must be bought immediately and at the lowest price available. This is in keeping with the general attitude consumers have towards buying plants or seed. Unfortunately, as a consequence, plants and seeds have to be sourced from abroard. We need bigger and more profitable nurseries here, producing native trees, wildflowers, fruit trees and hedge plants. How can they be nurtured? Consumers have to be encouraged to think about tree planting as something which gives slow pleasure rather than instant gratification. If they are ordering a large number of plants or volume of seed they could be encouraged to do so a year in advance to give smaller growers a better chance of bidding for the business.

No-one buying plants or seed online or at a garden centre currently knows where they’re from or even, if online, who they’re from. There is a “specialist” site I know selling fruit trees, run by a firm of web designers. Most countries have provenance certification schemes for trees and wildflower seed from local producers, but unless you were a professional you wouldn’t know – or know to ask for a certificate.

When a prospective buyer searches for “native wildflower seeds”, “woodland trees”, or “conservation hedging” they might reasonably expect that the plants and seeds that they find are actually native (like the ones we sell!). The question of what constitutes “native” vexes ecologists all over the world and its answer varies, but however you define it, the “native” plants or seed the online buyer stumbles across are probably not. “Wildflower” seed mixes often even include species from the other side of the world; around the corner from us is a lovely spot which the owner thinks is a traditional English meadow as it’s full of wildflowers. They’re North American wildflowers. Is that a problem? It is if there’s anything invasive or diseased there, or if you’re trying to encourage butterflies, for example, whose larvae typically only eat indigenous plants.

This is where we can usefully educate and regulate. Oblige online resellers and nurseries to label the origin of their plants, in the same way that supermarkets do with food. Educate consumers to value locally produced seeds or plants and pay a decent amount for them. The precarious and unrewarding lot of local growers might then be improved enough for them to earn a decent living.
Globalism and biodiversity are unhappy bedfellows, but consumerism and biodiversity could get along very well. People will always buy native trees or wildflower seeds rather than collect them themselves, so we should make sure they know how to buy the right stuff.

The Wacky World of Wildflower Seeds

It’s difficult making money out of wildflower seeds if you produce them properly. It’s risky, highly seasonal and difficult, and people don’t pay enough for seed as they don’t for plants; they can buy imports much cheaper. Much of the seed in wildflower seed packets is European (and sold sale or return), like most of the “native” hedging sold in the UK. People are now terribly confused about what a “wildflower” is; I know a lovely meadow full of North American wildflowers. Lovely, but not what I’m after, which are the sort of flowers you might find in a a traditional hay meadow, for example, supporting an attractive British ecosystem.
No-one seems to know how big the market for British wildflower seed in the UK is; Kew recently commissioned a piece of market research which came up with a resounding blank. I think there are maybe only 5 proper producers here, and lots of smaller folk who harvest meadows and sell that seed as a direct harvested mix. The industry doesn’t produce much wildflower seed in total, particularly in a year as bad as this. To give you an idea, I’ve been wrestling with a shortage of Yellow Rattle. Rattle is an interesting plant and an interesting indicator of how big the market is. It’s almost an essential for meadow creation, for reasons I’ve talked about before. If you were to sow it in an existing sward you’d do so at something like 0.5g per square metre, or 2kg per acre. I reckon there were only about 400kg harvested in the UK this year, enough for 200 acres. Nationwide.
Does this matter?
The problems with imported seed are twofold. As I’ve already mentioned, it means that people get confused between wildflowers and British wildflowers, regardless of where they’re produced. The “British” species that are sold might also be quite different from the flowers we have. Local populations of plants in the wild here look very different, let alone plants grown from Serbia, for example. It seems worthwhile trying to preserve local variation in our flora which leads to ecologists sometimes specifying locally harvested seed or green hay. This isn’t very helpful from the point of view of UK seed producers, ironically.

The folk that are out there making a modest living out of producing wildflower seed properly need to get these messages across to their retail and business customers:
1. Our seeds are high quality (test them like we do, and advertise the fact).
2. When you buy our seeds you get what it says on the packet.
3. There are good reasons to buy native British wildflowers…
4. …harvested in the UK.
5. You will need to pay us properly to produce them.
They also need to find ways of making their businesses more profitable. How you cope with being frantic for only three months a year I’m not sure. Harvesting and processing seed is difficult too; you need expensive kit with low utilization rates. Selling directly to small retail customers is probably not the way to go as it’s so time consuming. Rather than spending hours on the phone talking to consumers who need assurance or advice, perhaps use how to videos and online guides. Improve and expand your relationships with selected – not all – resellers (like us!).

Interesting challenges.

Newsletter No. 24: July 2012

Now summer is finally doing its stuff I feel strong enough to write a newsletter after a shameful hiatus. I’ll plead our new house build (what a nightmare that has been!) and being busy as well as the weather; it’s show season, and they always seem to take up more time than you think. I’ve been to Gardener’s World at Birmingham and the Hampton Court Flower show with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and our bumblarium, which even got me briefly on TV, although not in shot with St. Monty.

Meadows
If you needed any persuasion to start your own meadow, just find one locally and lie down in the sun, surrounded by the sound of bees (such as there are this year). More likely than not you’re not as lucky as us and don’t have one like this around the corner, which has provided huge pleasure over the last month.
It’s a perfect time to start preparing your site for plugs, seed or turf – don’t go off half cock in autumn!

Seed Packets
After the huge success of the Co-op’s Plan Bee wildflower seed packet give-away, we have also supplied Friends of the Earth with gazillions of packets to promote “The Bee Cause”. We’re working on a number of smaller scale projects for companies and charities too; have you ever thought about promoting your business or fund raising this way?

Wildflower Seeds

I gave some cornfield annual seed to a really nice bunch of folk at a Primary School in Essex last year. They were a HUGE success sown in a flowerbed, but unfortunately they didn’t let them set seed. My heart sank when I saw this recent entry and photo on their Facebook page:

“Today the children started to prepare the wildflower meadow.
They dug and raked the soil and found lots of interesting insects such as ladybirds ants and worms in the process!
I cant believe just how hard they worked as a team and we soon had the whole area cleared, well done to year 6. To their parents, sorry about their shoes, bit muddy ooppps.
We have two boxes of wildflower seeds so sow, which was another great find in the pound shop, and another packet of seeds are being delivered next week. These should be sown in the next couple of weeks as the weather warms up.
As you know we cannot post the photos of the children on facebook, so you will have to make do with pictures of the boxes of seeds!”

People like me obviously aren’t getting the message across. Sowing these seeds will no more give you a “wildflower meadow” than planting petunias will, I’m afraid. They’re not British species, they’re not meadow species, they won’t be British seeds and they probably won’t germinate anyway. I don’t know what the butterflies are on the packets, but they’re not British either, which is a bit of a clue. This kind of thing is a widespread issue; I went to Wisley last summer and popped into the shop there, only to find the RHS was selling lovely French wildflower seed.

Does it matter that any old wildflower mixes are being sold to consumers who think they are buying the right kit to establish a “wildflower meadow”? I think it does. I’m not qualified to make the ecological arguments about appropriateness, but I think it’s important that people get what they expect. There’s also the argument for supporting British suppliers. Quite apart from questions of provenance, I think most shoppers would be appalled to know where many of the seeds in packets sold in garden centres came from. We come across the same issues in other areas too; if I bought a mix of “native hedge plants” I think I might reasonably expect the plants to be British. The chances are, of course, that they’re not. It’s one of the things we make a song and dance about, and as a reseller we only sell British seed (and plants!) from British suppliers. There aren’t many about, but we try to provide geographic choice of origin within the UK as much as we can. We’re always on the hunt for new sources to add to our network of harvesters and growers, so if you know anyone local to you who produces seed please let us know.

Despite the alluring packaging, wildflower seed has had a bad press in recent times, which is one of the reasons why wildflower turf and plug plants are such attractive alternatives. I’ve often asked myself what the problems are that people have with seed, and I think they fall into three categories; preparation and management, appropriateness, and seed quality. How we can shorten the odds on making seed work for people and getting them to buy the “right” mixes?

Getting preparation and management right is just a question of persuading folk to do some research and have some patience. Carrying basic information on the website is one thing, but if I were tackling a reasonable sized project from scratch I would at least buy a couple of books, and probably get an expert in to give me a management plan. The cost of that sort of investment is tiny relative to the whole project. We’ve started to offer just that kind of service, particularly aimed at designers and landscape architects.

Making sure the seed mix is right is as much about making different options available as it is asking consumers the right questions about their site and what they want from it. A generic mix bought off the shelf may be completely inappropriate for your soil type, which means it will disappoint; it could also fail because the seed is old or has been badly stored. The good quality end of the market hasn’t done enough to let consumers know that their seed has demonstrably better germination rates than cheaper mixes, which consequently represent a false economy. We’ve started randomly testing our mixes through an external laboratory to give extra peace of mind, and offer a testing service as an option for larger orders too. It’s relatively inexpensive and I can’t imagine why more suppliers don’t do it.

There is a kind of trade body for wildflower seed – Flora Locale – who do a great job, but it’s specifically not an organization able to issue some kind of a kitemark. Perhaps Kew, who have started to get involved, might be interested in setting up some kind of a scheme and raising broader awareness of these issues. In the meantime we’ll carry on doing our best to try to, and perhaps most importantly raise appreciation of the aesthetic of what an ecologist would call “unimproved grassland”. At the very least it would be good to see more (British!) native plants in gardens in some form or other.

This blog also appeared as a guest blog for the The Grasslands Trust

How to Make a Wildflower Meadow: Part One

Introduction

There is a mystique about wildflower meadow creation that suggests it is difficult and time consuming. Not necessarily so. And a wildflower meadow – even a small area – is a buzzing, fluttering living thing of great beauty and wonder.

Make one because you want to and not because you think it’s the right thing to do, however. If you do, it will bring you great pleasure. You’ll also find it easier to manage than you might think. Less wearisome and polluting mowing, for example…

Gentle reader, if you are a gardener or landowner looking to turn a relatively small area of land into a wildflower meadow you can cut straight to the chase with this introductory video if you prefer:

What is a Wildflower Meadow?

Cornfield annuals and grasses

Let’s start by saying what’s it’s not. It’s not this, lovely though it looks. These are “cornfield annuals”,  with the odd grass intruder. You can buy mixes of native British annual wildflowers, which produce a gorgeous display in mid-summer and provide welcome nectar and pollen to pollinators. That’s all though folks.


They are quick to flower – around 2 months after seeding – but have a limited flowering window. You can extend it with multiple sowings. These cornfield annuals demand a completely different regime to a perennial wildflower meadow; I grow them in borders and follow the tips in this video from one of our suppliers, Emorsgate Seeds: Managing Cornfield Annuals .

They have a limited ecological value too, truth be told. Butterflies, for example, love the nectar from annual wildflowers but need perennials and grasses as foodplants for their larvae. Pollinators generally need a longer flowering period. Other invertebrates need the protection of perennial plants to overwinter.

Pictorial meadow

There are also some more or less good “pictorial meadow” mixes available. These can look gorgeous and provide a long flowering window. Carefully selected, they can also be excellent for at least some pollinators. It’s a quite different look to a traditional wildflower meadow and most likely delivers less in terms of biodiversity (sweeping generalisation, I know). There are no grasses, and these mixes generally include a majority of non-native – typically American – species. They usually need reseeding every year – i.e. consist of annuals. This also means extra expense. They’re widely used in urban environments, where they look great.

Typical meadow in high summer

“Traditional” meadows come in different types too, but are grasslands which are mown for hay. They are typically grazed or cut through the winter. In other words, artificial, not natural features – always worth remembering. They also have (relatively retiring) native grasses, not aggressive agricultural cultivars, which means they can also have perennial wildflowers. This is what makes them so attractive and good for wildlife.

Wet meadow

They can look strikingly different looking according to local conditions and the time of year, which to my mind makes them even more fascinating…

Is My Site Suitable For A Wildflower Meadow?

How much sun does your planned meadow get? As much as possible; it is of course possible to grow wildflowers in shade, but a wildflower meadow you won’t get, as the species in it need full sun.

Is the area you’re thinking of used for anything else? Many folk (mea culpa) establish a nice looking meadow area in a new orchard, only for it to be shaded out in 10 years time. In any case, fruit trees like rich soil, meadows don’t.

This last point is much debated and the single biggest issue people have. Sometimes soil is just too rich in nutrients for a wildflower meadow to establish. You’ll end up with a jungle of nettle, dock, aggressive grasses and your favourite other local weeds. You’ll read a lot about meadows’ need for low fertility soils. Wildflowers need lower fertility than grass and things like nettles. Feed scabious fertiliser and you won’t get much reaction. Feed nettles and grass and they will go bonkers. If you have lots of nettle in particular, that’s a good sign your site is destined not to work.

In any event, you should definitely work to reduce soil fertility over time by at least removing cuttings. Some more determined enthusiasts go further; you can invert the soil, for example, so that you’re seeding onto subsoil and the topsoil is buried.

How Do I Start My Meadow?

Before you start to think about preparing your wildflower meadow area, what sounds like a stupid question. Do you know what’s already there? It might be that the existing flora is pretty good, and with a few tweaks to management you might not have to do very much to end up with a really nice meadow. If you’re not sure, ask someone in to have a look.


If there’s not much there you have a choice of 3 routes, and will need to take different first steps according to which you choose. The table below summarises the differences between wildflower turf, seed mixes and plugs. Of course, all 3 are not mutually exclusive; they can be used in combination.

Wildflower Turf

We’ve only recently figured out how to make successful wildflower turf, but it’s a problem which seems to have been cracked by a few people now. Its great virtue is that it is instant, and can create an almost immediate effect. Although you can include annual wildflowers in a seed mix, we often have customers complain that there is nothing happening in their meadow for ages while the perennial flowers establish themselves.

Wildflower turf can be pretty diverse, but not as diverse or interesting as the better seed mixes, and of course it’s one size fits all; unless you have over 400 square metres to cover, in which case we can produce turf on a bespoke basis, there is one – albeit rather good – mix for everyone. You not only lose local diversity, but you couldn’t easily tweak the mix for a particular purpose either. You might want to encourage a particular species of butterfly by introducing its food plant, for example. Generally wildflower turf doesn’t include grasses.

My other concern is the mesh which it’s grown in, which doesn’t seem to biodegrade… hmm. Perhaps something the producers can crack.

I think it’s a good solution for some, however. Don’t be too put off by the cost; if necessary you can use a chess board planting system, alternating between existing sward or seeded squares and wildflower turf. This video is well worth a look: Wildflower Turf. Fab.

Wildflower Meadow Seed

Seed mixes are much cheaper and can be tweaked as to soil type, situation and customer requirement. Wildflower turf might be over £12/square metre including VAT (plus carriage), but wildflower meadow seed usually works out between 15p – 25p.

Local direct harvest mix with cornfield annual “nurse”

Ecologists (and me!) like “direct harvest” mixes, sustainably harvested from donor sites, sometimes hundreds of years old. They can be super exciting! You can find very diverse mixes with high floristic content and at least relatively local provenance. You can get pretty much instant colour by adding a “nurse” of cornfield annuals – this is a site we seeded recently using this approach. It’s going to be AMAZING!

Donor meadow

These direct harvest seed mixes are outstanding value for money, as they include a wide range of species – sometimes rare – and up to 70% wildflowers to 30% wild grasses.

You can also buy generic mixes, which are less exciting – but you do know what you’re getting. They are typically 80% or even 90% grasses and only 10% – 20% wildflowers. The grasses are certified – i.e. not harvested from wild populations. Have a look at our blog on which wildflower seed to buy for more information.

If you don’t buy your seed through us or our sister website please please make sure you are buying from another specialist supplier.

Wildflower Plugs

Wildflower plugs are usually sold as little egg cup sized plants. They’re typically only a year old, or even less. They’re relatively cheap (around 50p/plant including VAT), and you can buy trays of varied species to suit different soils and situations. Although they can be handy when starting from scratch, in combination with seed, we generally see people using them to add to an existing lawn. They will need to be planted at 5 / square metre.

Preparation

It’s relatively tricky to establish a seed mix in an existing sward, which puts a lot of people off. A garden lawn usually has a lot of perennial rye grass, which is there for a reason – it’s a thug. One way or the other you really need to start with a clean sheet. Either put a plastic sheet or similar down to kill the existing grass and weeds, cultivate repeatedly (the “stale seed bed” approach), or stripping the topsoil off completely*.

Prepping the ground for wildflower turf is less problematic, as the mesh the flowers’ root systems are based in acts like a mulch.

SeedPlugsTurf
CostLowMediumHigh
DiversityHighLowMedium
SpeedMediumMediumInstant
Local(can be) HighLowLow
Use in grassPossiblyYesNo
CustomizationHighMediumNo
PreparationHighMediumMedium


Many people want to start their meadow in spring. If you do, be prepared to water – particularly as our springs have been so dry recently – and make sure the soil has been properly prepared. At that time of year it’s difficult to know how many weeds might be lurking on your site. There’s also an issue with “vernalization”; many species, most renownedly Yellow Rattle, need a prolonged period of cold before they germinate. If you sow them in spring you won’t see anything until the following year. Better to spend the summer preparing the site and planning and DON’T shoot from the hip. Work towards D Day in October, when you want to be looking at bare soil.

DON’T add topsoil or compost, by the way!

Before you seed, just create a bit of a tilth and clear away larger stones etc. by raking.

Seeding

Unless you have specialist kit, you’ll end up hand broadcasting your seed. Why? Wildflower seed comes in many different sizes and shapes, and has very low seeding rates – typically 4g/square metre. Drills and spreaders can’t generally cope with it. Because the seeding rate is so low, divide the area to be seeded into squares, using canes or similar. The size of the squares doesn’t matter – whatever you feel comfortable with and is appropriate for the site. Weigh out enough seed for a square. Add an inert carrier like sand or sawdust to ensure more even coverage, and show you where you’ve gone. It doesn’t matter how much.

Try to do two passes in each area – one in each direction. This will also mean the coverage is more even. Walk steadily. Once seeded, do not cover!

What Do I Do To Convert Existing Pasture/Grass into a Wildflower Meadow?

Folk often seem to think that native plants are imbued with supernatural powers of establishment. Would you scatter lupin seeds on your lawn and expect them to successfully germinate and establish themselves? Please bear this mind when contemplating conversion. This will take longer than you think, and be more problematic.

You can try by either using plug plants or Yellow Rattle, or both. For plug plants make sure the grass is cut tight and removed around each plug so that it won’t be out-competed by it. Reckon on 5 per square metre, and use Rattle as well. Yellow Rattle is an attractive annual wildflower which parasitises grass, reducing its vigour and thus giving other wildflowers more of a chance. It needs to be sown in Autumn, and you need to cut any existing grass very short as well as scarify it to see around 50% earth before raking the seed in. The idea is that after a year you can cut tight and scarify again, but this time sow your other wildflowers.

Continued here…

*please don’t use weedkillers if you can possibly avoid them.