Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Wildflowers in Vogue

Wildflowers are truly in vogue and have popped into my world on a number of occasions this year, leaving me both open-mouthed with delight and transported back to my childhood and my fascination with my local flora. As a child I lived in a small Derbyshire Village surrounded by hay meadows. I would spend hours searching out different varieties and identifying them for my pressed flower collection. I also liked to pick small posies of Clover, Penny Moons, Hair Bells, Yarrow, Buttercups and Lady's Smock, to give to my mum. In Summer there was always the ubiquitous bunch of wildflowers on the kitchen window sill spilling its ring of pollen.
I have been constantly surprised by wildflowers this year; not only on account of their sheer beauty and abundance but also encountering them in situations that I would never have imagined. I nearly crashed my car at the end of Broad Street as I craned my neck in disbelief to catch a glimpse of the central reservation full to bursting with the riotous colour of wildflowers. Birmingham City Council, steered by Sarah Raven's campaign to encourage and preserve our wildlife by planting indigenous wildflowers, experimented with the inclusion of meadow planting in this year's 'Birmingham in Bloom', display. I hope they decide to persevere with using wildflowers, as I find them a welcome change to the omnipresent and over-showy bedding plants.
Then there were the Olympics! Never mind the lightning displays of the likes of Usain Bolt, and the mighty achievements of Team GB. What about the Olympic Park itself where the area equivalent to more than ten football fields have been planted with wildflowers from Norfolk. It took two years of experimentation to ensure the best display possible and timed to the minute to produce a ribbon of gold around the stadium. This shows true innovation and showcases the creator’s sustainability and ecology policy while forming the future legacy of the site. This to me is a true British achievement!

 Read more about the Olympic planting to encourage wildlife here in an article from the London News 

On holiday in the Gower Peninsular, earlier this year, I was astounded to see the rich variety and the sheer numbers of wildflowers that this area enjoys. I was to be truly inspired by the plant combinations in terms of colour and form. Pyramid Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), in carpets of wild thyme, greeted me on the beach by a caravan park, not realising how beautiful and elegant they were. Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paraliasis) and Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella) clung to the seemingly inhospitable sand dunes. The bright cerise pink of the Bloody Crane’s-bill (Geranium sanguineum) and the intense yellow of the Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil were an eye catching duo, one example of the many pink/purple and yellow plant combinations that I was to see on the Gower. On the coastal hills there were Spikes of Foxgloves (Digitalis) towering above the Bracken and numerous plants, including species of wild orchids that I had never seen before soaking up in the boggy conditions of the Whitford Nature Reserve.
 A field encountered on a walk bore a sign that declared it was 'Nitten Field', a planting experiment to determine what types of plants attracted which specific birds and insects. This experiment had been running for ten years and its 110 plant species attracts over 400 types of insects and is regularly visited by greenfinch, yellowhammer, linnet, pipit, goldfinch, skylark, chaffinch, reed buntings, bramblings and house sparrows and other winter visitors. It is proving to be a very worthwhile experiment.Read more about Nitten field here;

And finally a field in Barlow, the next village to where I was brought up, a meadow which has been planted with wildflowers, causing quite a stir, with local people talking about it and flocking to see it. Local artist Diane Gilder had wondered what to do with the land next to her studio 'The Art Room'. Her artistic interest in flowers lead her to work with a local farmer to trial a wildflower meadow and the results have been stunning, with each year bringing a host of different flowers and colour combinations. I look forward to seeing what next year brings and congratulate Diane on bringing the beauty of a wildflower meadow back to the Derbyshire countryside.

When you think about it this is a reflection of the rarity of such a feature. In a rural setting wildflower fields are as much a novelty as roadside verges in the urban setting of Birmingham.
See more pictures http://www.dianegilder.co.uk/photogallery.htm click Art Room Meadow Barlow Field and click Art Room Meadow Barlow

Since the Second World War more than 97% of our wildflower meadows have disappeared and along with it so has much of our wildlife. Wild flowers are vitally important to pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
A wildflower meadow is also a great way to encourage biodiversity in the garden. It will attract; insects, birds, moths, frogs, and small mammals,. I will certainly be encouraging my customers ,wherever possible, to dedicate some of their garden to growing wildflowers.

Useful links
How to grow a wildflower meadow
Wildflower and grass seed mixes sold by Hillier Nurseries http://meadowanywhere.com/

Author Melanie Smith - Gardenplan Design 

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