Regularly, I hear of people trying to create ‘wildflower meadows’ in their gardens. They have killed back the existing foliage, planted expensive flower seed and become dismayed when the plants already living in the area push through and out-compete the new introductions. Careful hand weeding and selection of the natural plants growing through can create an amazing garden effect whilst supporting the wildlife that already live in the area. I used to work in a garden that allowed the paths and driveways to be populated by forget-me-knot, herb robert and teesels. Careful thinning with hoes allowed the plants to balance and grow well, creating a beautiful spectacle whilst providing a food source for the birds and insects that survive on these plants. Rounds of nettles were grown as features in the wilder areas of the garden. These were mass populated by so many insects as well as providing hiding places for small frogs, protecting them from both natural predators and the dreaded lawn mower. This was one of my favourite gardens to explore and work in.
Creating a wildflower patch in the lawn doesn’t need to be complicated. Take a first cut in July after the existing plants have seeded, and ensure to rake up all the cut foliage straight away. This should be repeated later in the year, usually around the end of September, then leave the area until the following July. Raking up is vitally important as the dead plant matter cannot break down and feed the soil. Raking also provides a level of disturbance, weakening the stronger coarse grasses and rotating the seed bank within the soil. If one species of wildflower appears to be taking over (such as thistles or docks), selective hand weeding can discourage these plants from spreading further. Wildflower meadows support the greatest diversity when the nutrient levels are low, and these competitive plants cannot take such a stronghold as they would on fertile garden soil.