Some of the information below is courtesy of Victoria Harvey (South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth) from an event I attended this year. She has been working with the local authority and community groups in her region and has provided this information based on her experiences. I appreciate everyone may have different views, this is just Victoria’s rather helpful tips to a group of the Friends of the Earth volunteers.
A really good suggestion was to appreciate some areas may be near peoples home, so it may be important to have tidy mowed strips at the front of any wilder looking areas, and to ensure that front rows of any borders have a selection of plants that will flower throughout the year, so that they always looks attractive.
She suggests a good information board can make all the difference to public acceptance. These can explain what is trying to be achieved in the area, they can be changed with each season to help explain what is happening and why an area may look messy at certain points.
Preparing the soil in the autumn
I know from the Chester Bee Summit event we had some different opinions, below is Victoria’s from her work.
“The real challenge with wildflowers is making sure that they don’t get choked out by nettles and grass. Wildflowers thrive on poor soil, and most urban areas through continued grass cutting have quite rich soil in which grass thrives and can easily choke off your wildflowers. You need to turf strip the ground and then dig / rotavate it. But don’t just rotavate it. Remove as much topsoil as possible. Autumn is much the best to plant, although you can do a spring sowing of cornflower annuals.”
There are 2 types of wildflowers: Cornflower annuals and Perennials.
Cornflower annuals – The really pretty summer displays such as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, are the cornflower annuals. Victoria feels the best of these are from British Flora.
“In my experience it is important to have the 100% wildflower mix as the other mixes are 80% grass and although good for butterflies they do not look good in an urban area. However, although these cornflower areas can look fantastic in the summer they do need to be re-sown every year for success and they do not provide the early flowers needed for bumble bees when they emerge from over-wintering. They also do not create an ongoing habitat where bees and butterflies can hibernate, build nest etc., and places for caterpillars
Perennials – Perennials provide both shelter and nectar throughout the year and you can draw on the advice of gardeners and you can always add in some garden plants that are very good for bees such as wall flowers etc. so that it looks good in a small very tidy urban area. But perennials tend not to have the “wow factor” of cornflower annuals with the red poppies and blue cornflowers.
A good compromise – my recommendation Victoria
“My advice on planting is to have a small strip of cornflower annuals for the “wow factor“ – you have to be prepared to dig this small area over every year as they don’t look good in the second year if you leave them to reseed. But then also plant the rest with perennials avoiding grass among the flowering perennials but ensuring you have an area at the back of the flowering area that has long tussocky grass and taller, large stemmed plants”
At the front of the border / area have a neatly mowed straight edge, an interpretation board / signage and then a range of small perennials that will ensure flowers from early spring till autumn, then some larger perennials and the area for cornflower annuals, and then the larger perennials and biennials such as Comfrey, Burdock and Teasel and long grass and, if you have spaces shrubs.
Among the perennials you can add in some very bee friendly garden flowers as long as they don’t spread too much.
I recommend doing a smaller area and planting pot plants rather than growing from seed or using plug plants as they have a better chance of success. You can source plants from Flora Locale
Perennial wildflower seed mixes can take a while to establish, sometimes several sowings. These are on offer from British Flora but it is suggested to avoid the grass mixtures.
Plug plants can work but they need a lot of watering. We introduced some plug plants into a small area of Chester Zoo as part of the Wildlife Connections events.
“My experience is that the best success is with a strip of cornflower annuals and the rest planted with plants grown peat- and pesticide-free”
Cheshire and Flintshire – Get your garden buzzing this summer
Some flowers you can plant for the bees
March – April
Apple Dead nettle Erica carnea Pussy willow
Bluebell Flowering Currant Purple deadnettle
Broom Lungwort Rosemary
Bugle Pear Cherry Plum
Bluebell winter flowering heather Pussy willow
Aquilegia Comfrey Raspberries
Bugle Honeysuckle Roses
Chives Lupin Sage
Campanula Monkshood Thyme
Ceanothos Monkshood White clover
Catmint Meadow Laburnum
Cotoneaster Poppies Vipers bugloss
July – September
Black horehound Lavender Rock rose
Bramble Lesser burdock Scabious
Centaurea Marjorum Sea holly
Cornflower Mint Snapdragons
Heathers Purple loosestrife St. Johns Wort
Hollyhock Red bartsia Sunflower
Best links for plants
Butterfly Conservation Trust covers best flowers as well as food for caterpillars
The Wildlife Trusts best plants for bees
Royal Horticultural Society
RHS Perfect for pollinators
Garden habitats for wildlife and the need for long grass, compost heaps, etc for wildlife
The Wildlife Trusts
Wildlife Gardening Forum