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