Growing wildflowers in the kids’ garden can be educational and great fun, as well as giving your children the chance to see some of our native plants which have all but disappeared from the British countryside, along with the wildlife they also attract. However, although many wildflowers are often looked down on as ‘weeds’, getting them to thrive is not an easy task – and it certainly doesn’t simply involve allowing a patch of garden to go wild!
In many ways, success with wildflowers turns almost all of the normal gardening rules on their heads – which can be a bit of a challenge – but if you do meet their needs and end up with your own successful wildflower garden, the rewards more than make up for the effort involved.
What is the Best Soil for Wildflowers?
Odd though it may seem, wildflowers tend to do best in poor soils – ones with very little natural fertility, since these are the conditions they have evolved to live in. In a typical rich, well-fertilised garden soil, they are out-competed by our cultivated plants – but it’s not just garden flowers that will outdo them, since they do very badly in competition with grasses and the various kinds of more aggressive typical lawn and garden weeds.
The best soil for wildflowers is well drained and nutrient poor – making them ideal candidates for newly cleared sites and especially areas where the topsoil has been removed, exposing the less fertile subsoil. However, there are some wildflower mixes which thrive on more normal soils, so whatever your conditions, there should be something to suit.
How do I Decide Where to Plant?
Choosing where to establish your wildflower area is one of those things which turns the conventional gardening approach upside down. Normally you’d pick the spot to fit in with your design and then, if necessary, alter conditions to suit the plant – digging in ericaceous compost, for example, to make an ideal growing environment for heathers or azaleas.
With wildflowers, once you’ve decided where you want to have wildflowers, you need to consider the natural character of the soil and then select a wildflower mix which is the most suitable for those conditions.
What Wildflowers Can You Grow?
A good general mix would include some or all of these old favourites: Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Cowslip (Primula veris), Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), Meadow Buttercup, (Ranunculus acris) Ox-Eye-Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Red and White Campions (Silene dioica and S. alba), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris).
For marshy conditions, especially around a wildlife pond, the likes of Meadowsweet ( Filipendula ulmaria), Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) or Water betony ( Scrophularia auriculata) make good additions to the mix. Teasel ( Dispascus fullonum) is a striking plant which will do well alongside water, but its spectacular seed-heads are covered in sharp hooks – so it’s probably one best avoided around young children.
Where Can I Buy Them?
Wildflower seeds have become very readily available over recent years and as well as specialist seed merchants, many of the big garden seed companies offer wildflowers in their range too, which means that most garden centres have them for sale.
If you do want something a little unusual or need a particular mix to accommodate your soil type and you can’t find it locally, you’ll probably be able to get what you’re after either online or by mail order from one of the many companies that specialise in wildflower seeds.
What About Weeding?
It can seem a bit odd to talk about weeding when you’re growing wildflowers, which many traditional gardeners would consider to be ‘weeds’ themselves. Despite the apparent irony, if your wildflower garden is going to stand a good chance of success, then some weeding is essential.
With these plants being competitively inferior to most others, it’s important to make sure that grasses and persistent garden weeds are thoroughly removed from the area before sowing, or your emerging wildflowers will soon be swamped. It will also be necessary to keep an eye on things over the season and remove any returning grass or weeds as they appear; many of the wildflowers are annuals, so by keeping the soil clear, you’ll be improving the chances of them self-seeding for next year.
Wildflowers have a lot going for them in the kids’ garden; although they can take a year or two to become properly established, they’re fairly easy to sow and few things beat them for turning an uninspiring part of the garden into an attractive and low-maintenance feature.