Summary of project
This is our second attempt at enhancing our garden with native wildflowers, you can see details of the first attempt and why we believe it may have failed by clicking HERE. Our second attempt will be similar to the first but with much greater ground preparation, a purchased wildflower / grass mix (suitable for wet situations), as well as attempting to grow some of the wildflowers as plugs just in case the spring rains result in flooding, see below.
This is what we did and how we did it
First of all a quick update regarding the flooding situation (for details click HERE). The local authority confirmed that at some point in February they were employing a drainage specialist to look into the matter, and that we would be updated as soon as possible. As of 7th March we still have no update which is disappointing as we first raised the issue back on the 31st August 2021.
In any case, the first enhancement looks like it failed, we have seen no signs of germinating wildflowers but perhaps its still to early. In any case we decided to not sit back and wait another summer to collect more seed ourselves so instead purchased the following seed mix…
So far we are very happy with this approach. For one thing this bag should cover 25m2, more than enough for the small areas we have planned. Secondly it only cost £9.95 (plus postage) which considering we are going for biodiversity, made much more sense than buying species separately. Thirdly the seed came with a very useful booklet on establishment (good job Meadow Mania :)). We had a look at the seed down a microscope as we wanted to separate a tiny proportion of the wildflowers from the grasses so we can grow specific species as plant plugs, more on this below, but first of all ground prep…
As per our first attempt to incorporate wildflowers into our garden, we were well aware of the need to create areas of bare ground to ensure good soil/seed contact and to limit competition from grasses and other species already present in the ‘lawn’. Our first attempt at doing this late summer 2021 was admittedly not very good. This time we have created actual seedbeds, in the knowledge we are also incorporating grass species from the mix…
Area A above was an area where creeping buttercup got a hold (see what we did about that HERE). We are relatively confident we have killed off the vast majority and the area is almost weed free. Area B has spent the autumn and winter months under leave fall from the acer and hazel and was already bare ground with nothing coming through. Area C was weeded and existing grass removed. Area D in front of the hotel will be allowed to weed up with nettles, alkanet and anything else that wants to appear.
Isolating wildflower seed to grow specific seed plugs
As noted elsewhere on this site, our ongoing concern is flooding of the garden. To date the flooding events have been short term (a matter of a couple of hours usually) and most plants survive. However we are concerned about the impacts on seed distribution should such an event occur during this period of establishment as well as the importation of nutrients that will favour more aggressive species, which could then outcompete delicate wildflower seedlings. As such we have decided to see for ourselves how easy (or otherwise) it is to grow wildflower plugs in order to plant out species that are already partially developed.
Step 1: Isolating the seed. As we all know, seeds come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This has ultimately been driven through the vagaries of natural selection, as has the strategy adopted by each type of flower i.e. to produce few large or many small seeds. For the first phase of this project we took 4 species we hope will do well from the seed mix. We did this by isolating 20 seeds of the following species, as you can see the seeds all look very different…
Step 2: Sowing. On the 6th March we sown the twenty seeds in small heated propagator trays as shown above, in five rows of four seeds. We hope that by using the propagator, we will encourage earlier germination which may allow us to attempt a second batch of seeds. We have almost zero windowsill space, so we need to get as many germinated and strong and outside in the sun as quickly as possible.
Step 3: Additional Species. In addition to the four species above we have sown Lady’s Bedstraw, Musk Mallow, Ribwort Plantain, Wild Carrot, Sorrel and Yellow Rattle in a unheated propagator, along with another unheated propagator with a off the shelf bumblebee mix.
Sowing the seed mix – Timing
Planting out any plugs we can produce will need further thought regarding timing. However the mix itself can be sown from March – May. The basic rule seems to be when the temperatures begin to regularly exceed 11oC and ideally just before some rain is due.
On the 12th March we decided to sow areas A and B as the weather forecast for the rest of the month was very encouraging (sunny with rain) and we had seen no flush of weeds coming through in these patches.
Area C was showing some signs of weeds coming through so we attacked these again by popping out a few dandelions, herb Roberts and docks and then on the 20th March we put seed on this areas as well. Note that we marked out each area with string and canes.
9th March: Amazed to see the first seeds germinating after just 3 days (white campion).
13th March: All four species starting to germinate and with nowhere in the sun to put them we unfortunately had to resort to using indoor lights.
20th March: We began moving the larger seedlings into plug trays in order to get more seed into the propagator.
23rd March: By this stage we were going a bit nuts and sown two seed trays with a tiny sample of the mix to see if we could eventually create seed tray turf.
3rd April: We noted dunnocks hoping about munching on the seed. Since a week or so after sowing C the weather turned wetter and we have spent less time outside. It seems likely birds have been busy getting what seed they can find. Worried we decided to sow a little more seed, aware that we didn’t want to over seed the area.