Sowing wild!

Words by:
Barbara Young
Featured in:
May 2022

Barbara Young finds out how the local specialists at Pogle’s Seeds are helping to spread the word about the many ecological benefits of growing wildflowers.

When you picture the perfect countryside you may have fond memories of meadows full of colourful natural grasses and flowers. However, according to research, this is becoming an increasingly rare sight as the UK is estimated to have lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s.

Experts agree that creating a wildflower meadow is a fantastic way to increase the biodiversity of your garden and more recently there has been a surge in popularity due to the far-ranging benefits which wildflowers offer.

Not only do these areas of natural species of flora help insects such as bees, butterflies and other pollinators thrive with a source of food throughout the seasons, but they also provide a sustainable and colourful landscape attracting wildlife while also providing nesting ground for birds.

Will Poole and his father Garry, a qualified horticulturist with more than 35 years’ experience, own and run Pogle’s Seeds, which offers personalised advice to customers alongside a full range of bespoke wildflower and grass seed mix products which are sold online through their website.

“We launched Pogle’s Seeds during the start of the first lockdown in conjunction with my father’s business, Turf Amenity Supplies, which has been established since 2013 supplying seed and fertilisers for professional and domestic purposes,” explains Will.

“We wanted Pogle’s Seeds to be an online platform for customers to buy wildflower seeds so more people could enjoy the benefits that wildflowers bring, making their gardens and surrounding areas look bright and cheerful while also helping to improve people’s sense of wellbeing.

“We recognised the demand for wildflower seeds; they’re simple and easy for customers to use and fantastic for the environment. If done correctly, the results are amazing.”

Benefits of nature
Based within Woodhall Spa, the father and son team say they have noted a growing interest and upward trend in wildflower gardening since the pandemic, with customers also becoming increasingly ecologically aware.

“People understand the benefits of getting outside much more, as well as the benefits of self-accomplishment in the garden and being at one with nature, which of course massively improves the environment as well,” says Will.

“Particularly during the spring, people love to get their gardens into shape for the following months and they also like to do what they can to help bees as they provide a natural source of nutrients for us as consumers.

“Wildflower seeds are highly beneficial for bees and pollinators, to enhance nature and the environment. They play a crucial role in the production of the food that we eat and are beneficial to the ecosystem as they create eco-corridors which allow insects (invertebrates) to pass through different areas of land safely and easily.”

According to Will, creating a wildflower meadow area in your garden is not only a satisfying way of attracting wildlife and beautiful to look at, but also fairly straightforward to achieve.

While you don’t necessarily need huge amounts of space, it helps if the area is sunny and open.

However, before getting started, it’s important to know your soil and prepare the area accordingly.

“We have mixes for all soil types, most wildflowers like impoverished soils and do not like competition with other plants and grasses, so it is important to scarify any grass areas and send it back to bare soil before sowing wildflower seed. You can sow wildflower seed in a planter, a lawn space or in a border; you can even create your own miniature meadow, just make sure that the seed is not in competition with grasses.”

Choosing varieties
When it comes to choosing the variety of meadow flowers best suited to your garden, there are lots of intriguingly named varieties, including grasses such as crested dog’s-tail, sweet vernal grass and Yorkshire fog; daisies such as greater knapweed, oxeye and cat’s-ear; pea and vetch, including red clover, bird’s-foot trefoil, bush vetch and sainfoin; as well as buttercups, meadow crane’s-bill, lady’s bedstraw, cowslips and wild carrot.

The advice is that perennial meadows thrive best on poor soils as the grasses compete less with the wildflowers; so if you have rich soil, it’s worth removing the top layer and sowing directly into dug or rotovated sub-soil, whereas annual meadows, usually of cornfield annuals, need rich soils and are a good choice if you are converting an existing border.

“Gardeners need to identify what type of soil they have, such as light sandy soil, silty soil or heavy clay soil and then select which wildflower mix best complements the soil type,” explains Will. “Some wildflowers are perennial so they come back in the same place every year, but will multiple with seeds that they make; however others are annuals and disperse seeds to multiple in other areas of the garden so there needs to be a certain level of control and management.

“Our Bees Knees product range (a mixture of perennial and annual flowers) is particularly good for attracting bees and other pollinators, while our Cornflower and AP3 Colour Bright mixtures offer fantastic splashes of colour and are long lasting – and all our perennial mixes offer length in maintenance and life.”

The Pogle’s Seeds team, who are often approached about their products by local schools and churches, have also created a Facebook and Instagram page with the aim of reaching out to the younger generation to help get them involved and experience the benefits of wildflower seed.

“We care greatly about maintaining a ‘green’ environment and know the benefits that the outdoors can bring!”

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Site preparation
Firstly, remove all weeds and plants such as nettles, thistles, docks, grass etc; this can be done by spraying the area with a glyphosate weed killer. For best results, you may have to spray the area more than once.

The aim is to reduce a firm weed-free tilth to promote healthy germination. The lower the amount of nutrients, the better the results you will have.

Try to achieve a moderate to low fertility within the top 15cm of the soil. Weeds and grasses grow faster than wildflowers and will therefore compete and eventually take over. (If the top soil is extremely fertile, remove it to subsoil prior to sowing.)

Cultivate the site to a depth of around 10cm (on badly drained or compacted soils -25cm). This can be done with a fork, petrol tiller or on large areas a plough. The site should be cultivated as early as possible. Measure the area, so you can work out how much seed is required in the next stage.

Sowing can take place throughout most of the year, providing a good tilth can be prepared.

However, the months of March, April, August and September are generally most suited.

There are some wildflowers that will only grow in certain soils, so make sure you choose the mix for your soils. We have mixtures for standard, calcareous, acidic and heavy soils.

Ensure all the seed is mixed to ensure an evenly spread broadcast. Seed can be sown by hand for smaller areas, or with a spreader for larger areas. The seed can be mixed with sand to bulk it up and this helps to get an even spread.

The general sowing rates for wildflowers are:
5g/m² – Mixtures containing grass (80% grass 20% wildflower)
2g/m² – Pure 100% wildflower mixtures.

Once sown, rake or harrow the area to mix the seed in the soil, approximately 0.5cm depth. Afterwards, it’s best to roll the area to compact the soil slightly. If you’re sowing a small area, it can be trodden on to compact the soil.

Future maintenance
In the first year after sowing, weed control is a priority. If weeds are present, they can be controlled by mowing, pulling the weeds out by hand or spraying (however please be careful if spraying). You will only see the annual wildflowers in the first year.

In the second year after sowing, the grass and wildflowers will be established and annual weeds will be less of a threat, meaning less maintenance. Perennial and biennial plants will be seen flowering in the second year. The perennials will then flower every year after, and the annual/biennial plants will be seen if the seeds are distributed before removing the clippings.

Wildflowers should be cut twice a year, once in the spring and once in late autumn after the plants produce seed. Cutting helps eliminate any weeds and tidies the area up. The late autumn cut will distribute seeds produced by the wildflowers. The clippings should then be removed from the site to reduce fertility.

Annual – these perform their entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed within a single growing season (mainly cornfield wildflowers are annual).

Perennial – these persist for many growing seasons, but you will not see them flower in the first season (most wildflowers are perennial).

Biennial – these require two years to complete their life cycle. They flower in the second year only, for example foxglove.

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