Author: Suse Coon

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Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 10:15 pm
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Time to Sow Wild Flower Seeds

Wildflowers like bird’s foot trefoil, yellow rattle and red clover were once common in Scotland’s countryside, but have declined in recent years because of changes in agriculture and in the way that roadside verges are cut. These plants are important food sources for many insects, especially bumblebees, whose populations have also been in decline.

The National Trust for Scotland is stepping up its work to create wildflower meadows at many of its properties. Areas of the grounds, including orchards, will be planted with important native plants to help conserve wildflowers and preserve natural habitats for insects. And now, the conservation charity is asking green-fingered enthusiasts to plant wildflowers in gardens, allotments, community areas or other green spaces. The call comes as many wildflower seeds need to be planted soon, so that the plants are in place for next summer.

Mr Lindsay Mackinlay, Nature Conservation Adviser said, “Over the years, the populations of many insects have been in serious decline because habitats like wildflower meadows have largely disappeared from our countryside. It is no wonder that we are all so worried about the future of our bumblebees – they are so dependant on healthy populations of these plants.

“Keen gardeners can play their part too by planting an area of wildflowers for next summer and the years beyond. Even the smallest space can make a difference. Wildflower seeds are widely available – just make sure you buy seeds from Scottish plants as they grow best. The plants can be grown in pots at first and don’t need too much care and attention. They look and smell fantastic and, of course, you’d be doing your bit to boost our bumblebees.”

Sow during March and April or in September, depending on soil conditions. On lighter soils, autumn-sown seeds generally germinate and establish quickly, although some will not come up until the following spring. This delay makes it advisable to wait until March or April on heavy soils, as waterlogging may cause the seed and seedlings to rot during winter.

Dig or rotovate the soil, then firm and rake to make a seedbed as for a new lawn. Don’t incorporate manure or fertiliser as high fertility encourages excessive vigour in grasses that then crowd out wildflowers.

When it comes to choosing plants for your garden, Peter Brownlees from the Royal Botanic Gardens says, “Firstly you need to match the conditions that you have in your garden with similar conditions in the wild. i.e. wet or dry sun or shade.”

The Postcode Plants Database generates lists of native plants for any specified postal district in the UK.

“For sun try Echium vulgaris, the ‘Viper’s bugloss’. It can be sown in spring and thrives in dry stony soil, it is a short lived perennial with blue violet flowers.

“Viola tricolour the ‘field pansy’ makes a good substitute for summer bedding giving a colourful display from late spring to early autumn. Sow at almost any time of the year.

“Primula vulgaris and Primula elatior the ‘Primrose’ and the ‘Cowslip’ grow well in moist grassy banks in shade. Sow in autumn.

“If you want to try you hand at something Scottish which also needs conserving, try Primula scotica the native ‘Scottish primrose’,  Ajuga pyramidalis, the ‘Pyramidal bugle’, these are quite easy to grow from seed, sown in autumn. Team them up with a native willow like Salix lanata, the ‘Wolly willow’, which is a real challenge to grow from seed as it needs to be very fresh to germinate.

“There are many good wild flower mixes of seed. They do best in poor soil and require careful cutting in autumn to make sure that the seed is rebroadcast into the ground. Again use the mixture suggested for the conditions on your site.

“Even large areas can be sown by hand quite easily. Rates will vary between individual mixes but, as a rough guide, pure wildflower seed should be sown at 1g per sq m and wildflower and grass seed mixes at 5g per sq m. These tiny amounts can be difficult to broadcast evenly so mix the seed with silver sand to make it easier to handle. To further ensure that the seed is scattered evenly, sow half lengthways and the remaining half widthways.

“Rake in lightly, water thoroughly and leave them to grow naturally. However, be prepared to protect the seed from birds if they’re a problem.

Planting in a lawn

Stop feeding and weedkilling. Some wild species will establish and thrive if scatter sown but others should be sown in pots and then introduced as one- to two-year-old pot-grown plants. Plant in small groups of the same plant.

In 2005 the Friends of Braidburn Valley Park received a grant from the Scottish Executive Biodiversity Action Grant Scheme to create a wildflower meadow in the Park. Twenty-two wildflowers and grasses were chosen to give interest throughout the year. Birds, butterflies and other insects already appreciate this miniature landscape from the past. Click here to see a species list of the wildflowers planted and sown.

Thanks to Heather McHaffie and Natacha Frachon of the RBGE for photographs

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