Wild flow­ers

Kim Stod­dart ex­plains why wild flow­ers should be a wel­come ad­di­tion to any small­hold­ing

Country Smallholding - - Welcome -

Grow wild this au­tumn

No mat­ter what you use your small­hold­ing for, or the size of your plot, na­tive wild flow­ers and plants have an im­por­tant and ben­e­fi­cial role to play. Ei­ther by al­low­ing them to move into un­used corners or hedgerows, or by ac­tively plant­ing a wild flower patch or meadow, do­ing so will help make a dif­fer­ence in a num­ber of im­por­tant ways:

First off, you’ll be help­ing to counter the de­cline of such ar­eas across the UK (we have lost 97% of our na­tive wild flower mead­ows since the 1930s) and in turn, you’ll be do­ing your bit to cre­ate a vi­tal and at­trac­tive habi­tat for pop­u­la­tions of bees, but­ter­flies and birds. Just watch how quickly they move in and get to work on the veg patch, pol­li­nat­ing the likes of your bean, tomato and squash flow­ers which re­quire their help in or­der to pro­duce a crop.

Grow Wild is the big­gest-ever wild flower cam­paign in the UK. Sup­ported by the Big Lottery, Grow Wild is the na­tional out­reach ini­tia­tive of the Royal Botanic Gar­dens, Kew. Grow Wild brings peo­ple to­gether to trans­form lo­cal spa­ces with na­tive, pol­li­na­tor-friendly wild flow­ers and plants. They be­lieve that we, as a so­ci­ety, need to bet­ter con­nect with na­ture, each other and ex­toll the many virtues of colourful wildlife havens. I re­ally couldn’t agree more….

Po­ten­tial health ben­e­fits for live­stock

I ac­tively en­cour­age live­stock-friendly wild flow­ers and plants into the field where we keep our Shet­lands, as wilder graz­ing has many ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially for ponies, horses, mules and don­keys.

Ac­cord­ing to the Wildlife Trust, such tra­di­tion­ally man­aged, species-rich mead­ows of­fer a high fibre, lower calo­rie diet that is far more ap­pro­pri­ate to main­tain­ing horses in good health than bog standard grass­land. As own­ers of any eques­tri­ans will know, lamini­tis, a nasty dis­or­der that can se­ri­ously af­fect their feet, is largely caused as a re­sult of eat­ing grass that is too rich in sug­ars.

There was even a Coun­try­file episode a few years ago where a farmer in Wales had a wild flower meadow where he put any of his cat­tle that were un­well. He called it his hos­pi­tal field. So there’s the po­ten­tial for many dif­fer­ent types of an­i­mal to ben­e­fit from this graz­ing on the wild side.

In fact, many wild flow­ers have re­puted medic­i­nal prop­er­ties that have been used for cen­turies. For ex­am­ple Ox­eye Daisy can make a syrup for chesty coughs, Selfheal for heal­ing wounds and pre­vent­ing sore throats and in Chi­nese medicine to treat liver com­plaints. Then the com­monly avail­able Plan­tain fam­ily (Rib­wort Plan­tain pic­tured) has been in­cluded in herbal teas and for the treat­ment of ev­ery­thing from dis­or­ders of the res­pi­ra­tory tract and skin, through to in­sect bites and in­fec­tion

Sow a patch of wild flow­ers

You don’t even need to have a large gar­den to grow them – a small plot or con­tainer will do. First, there are the an­nu­als. These used to be arable or corn­field weeds and in­clude pop­pies, corn­flow­ers, corn cockle and corn chamomile. They need bare soil to grow, so you will have to clear the space for them ev­ery year, ei­ther by plough­ing (which is OK if you ac­tu­ally have a corn­field and a trac­tor), or by blow­ing up the ground with high ex­plo­sives (World War any­one?), or by sim­ply fork­ing over the soil, weed­ing and rak­ing. They need full sun to do their best. Other na­tive wild flow­ers, such as ox-eye daisies, pink cam­pion, cowslips, knap­weed and but­ter­cups, are peren­ni­als and will flower year af­ter year. They don’t need bare soil, so they can be com­bined with grass to cre­ate a meadow, es­pe­cially if the grass has been weak­ened by a par­a­sitic an­nual called yel­low rat­tle, leav­ing spa­ces for wild flow­ers to grow.

1 Choose an open, sunny site. Clear the site of rub­bish, and dig out and re­move any ex­ist­ing plants. Rake the ground flat to pre­vent all the wa­ter end­ing up in one place; it doesn’t have to be level, as long as the slope isn’t very steep.

2 Rake the soil to a fine tilth (a tex­ture sim­i­lar to a crum­ble top­ping or fine bread­crumbs).

3 Check the packet to find out what area the seeds will cover. To get the coverage right, you can lay bam­boo canes on the ground first to out­line a square me­tre. Sprin­kle on the seeds; some, such as poppy, are much smaller than oth­ers, so keep shak­ing the packet to en­sure you get an even coverage of species.

4 You will need to wa­ter the soil if it dries out. Use your hand to tell if it is moist or not. Poke your fin­ger 1 or 2cm into the soil – it might just be the top layer that is dry.

5 Col­lect seeds from your wild flow­ers to sow next year in new ar­eas.

More about the Grow Wild Cam­paign

Grow Wild has given away wild flower seed pack­ets to in­di­vid­u­als and seed kits to groups, as well as fund­ing more than 350 com­mu­nity and youth projects across the UK and four large-scale am­bi­tious flag­ship projects. For more on the UK’s biggestever wild flower cam­paign, visit www. growwilduk.com You can also sow a vir­tual seed at https://www.growwilduk.com/sow­ingmap

As a thank you, you’ll be en­tered into a prize draw for a chance to win a For­est Holiday worth £ 500.

John Mac­far­lane at the Grow Wild project in Scot­land

The com­mon poppy

A corn­flower at Kew

Scat­ter­ing the seeds of the Welsh poppy

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