Growing wldflowers is not as easy as you think … when thistles, dock leaf and nettles decide to colonise your planting area. These are big brutish plants and while all of them have wildlife value, they’re not exactly er … eye-catching.
Back in 2016, we applied to the wonderful Grow Wild project for packs of wildflower seeds to bring some colour into Brighton Greenway. We sowed several packs along the strip above Isetta Square and in that wonderfully random mannner that seeds have a habit of adopting, some came up in 2016, some came up in 2017 (above) and some just didn’t.
We had some packs of seeds left over, so in 2017, with the help of volunteers from Network Rail, we cleared a small but significant patch from thistles, dock, nettles, brambles and buddleja. It was hard physical work. We were able to rake the soil to a ‘fine tilth’ (the gardener’s dream) and sowed our seed. But then we did’t have much rain between April and June. We had some show from poppies, cornflowers and field marigolds but they were quickly trampled by thistles, dock, nettles and brambles. Dogs had also loved the ‘fine tilth’.
In 2018, with a few packs of seeds left, we decided to try the labour intensive approach to seeding: sow in compost in seed trays, cosseting in a greenhouse, careful transplanting and potting on of seedlings. We worked out this would be the only way the wildflowers would have a chance against the dogs, thistles, docks, nettles and brambles. The seeds came up quickly in early March and survived our sudden very cold spells. They grew on well in a cold frame in April. We worked again on clearing the perennial thugs and preparing the soil at our April work day and finally the seedlings were ready for planting out in early May.
Several of us kept an eye on them in May, watering as often as we could. We don’t have water immediately on site. We have to trundle watering cans to and from a water source several minutes away. I call it working with weights – far more productive than the similar exercise in a gym. The seedlings held their own …
And then Brighton turned into the Mediterranean for June and much of July. We had little rain for three months. Everything grew very fast initially and then ran out of steam, parched, dried. Everything, that is, except the thistles, dock, nettles and brambles. By mid July, you could just about spot some bedraggled cornflowers, poppies and marigolds.
Thankfully, someone had taken lovely photos back in early June when our little wildflower bed was at its best. Looking at them in August, as we yet again cut back thistles, dock, nettles and brambles, restored some optimism … Nature does what nature will, and I have faith that the plants from our Grow Wild seeds will have themselves seeded, and somewhere in the soil are the little time-bombs for colourful cornflowers, daisies, poppies and marigolds. Next year, the year after … Meanwhile, we try various tactics to discourage the thistles, dock, nettles and brambles from taking over, but they are after all wildflowers too.