Sowing seeds of love for wildlife
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Want to attract pollinators and other wildlife to a natural setting? Now’s the time to sow a wildflower meadow, discovers Hannah Stephenson.
Fancy sowing a mini- meadow in your garden? If you want pretty early summer blooms that will attract pollinators and other wildlife, you could be sowing the seeds now.
Scientists at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW, botanicgarden.wales) have combined their know-how of plants that attract the most pollinators, with practical experience of which native wildflowers and grasses grow best in meadows and why.
Autumn months are the ideal time to get sowing and growing a meadow at home, as some perennial wildflower seeds need a colder spell to kick-start germination. Sowing seeds towards the end of the year can also give you the best chance of an early flower display the following summer.
The botanic garden’s team – world-renowned for its work
in using DNA barcoding science to track which plants pollinators are drawn to – can analyse pollen from the bodies of pollinating insects, and assess which plants they’ve actually foraged from, and so are able to advise on which species to grow to boost the buzz in your own back garden.
The research work underpins the NBGW’s recently-launched Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme, which guarantees eligible plants are loved by bees and other pollinating insects, don’t contain synthetic insecticides and are grown in peat-free compost. It aims to prevent pollinator
decline and benefit other wildlife such as hedgehogs, sparrows and frogs.
What should you plant in your mini-meadow?
Here are the NBGW team’s six favourite wildflowers, available in seed mixes or in individual packets:
Meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris
Who doesn’t adore a bright yellow buttercup? Pollinating insects love them too, almost as much as children, who still enjoy testing their love of butter by seeing if the petals reflect under their chins.
Cat’s ear / Hypochaeris radicata
This looks very like a dandelion, but it’s not. Another favourite with pollinating insects, its deep tap roots not only help to bind the soil, but they draw up water during really dry spells and help it drain away when wet.
Eyebright (Euphrasia sp)
A small, pretty annual flower with eyelash-like petals, eyebrights take nutrients from surrounding grasses and help create space for other wildflowers to set seed and thrive.
Yellow Rattle / Rhinanthus minor
The vampire of the plant world, this annual sucks the life out of tall, bulky grasses, again allowing other flowers to bloom and improving biodiversity. When their seeds are ripe, the seed capsule inflates and the seeds inside rattle if shaken like maracas.
Black knapweed / Centaurea nigra
This tough, thistle-like meadow plant gives a late season surge of colour and a rich larder of food for pollinating insects.
Great burnet / Sanguisorba officinalis
Unfortunately now an increasingly rare sight in UK meadows, this wonderful plant has bobbly red heads which provide a late-season source of nectar, and the perfect perching spot for orb spiders.