Garden blogs

Wildflower Seeds Bring Hope for Biodiversity

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Autumn has seen a barrage of news stories about how our biodiversity is in a state of crisis.

From David Attenborough’s moving Extinction to the latest intergovernmental reports on how none of the targets for biodiversity conservation have been met. The Convention on Biological Diversity says only six of 20 goals were partially met over the last decade. Shocking.

But here in Wales, we can meaningfully do our bit to actually make real improvements to our biodiversity. Spreading wildflower seed and helping those seeds to grow is just one of several positive things that you can do. This can be in a small patch of your lawn, on the edges of your local playing field or park, the edges of your field or even, as we do here at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, transform whole fields into wildflower-rich meadows. Now bear in mind that a staggering 97% of wildflower-rich meadows across Wales and the UK have been lost over the past 100 years – yes 97% – and think about the loss not only of wildflowers but the butterflies, bees, fungi, hoverflies, beetles, birds and mammals that once thrived in these meadows. These wildflowers helped to form stable soil structures that helped to store vast amounts of rainwater and carbon – their loss have led to floods and contributed to global warming. Shocking.

For the first time this year, we have harvested seeds from five of our wildflower-rich hay meadows on our Waun Las National Nature Reserve. We’ve done this with the help of our hand-picking conservation volunteers as well as a brush harvester, a piece of machinery that is towed by a quad bike and which has rotating brushes that collects seeds from the stems of plants it moves over. We have to say a big thank you to Paul Culyer from Natural Resources Wales for lending this to us. And when I say we, I also mean the hugely enthusiastic and knowledgeable members of our Biophilic Wales and Growing the Future project teams based here at the Botanic Garden.

So what have we harvested?

We chose to hand collect seeds of species which were not only plentiful on Waun Las NNR but which should help to accelerate the transformation of your lawn, field or parkland from a patch of dense grass to a wildflower-rich, biodiverse space that you could both enjoy and feel proud of.

Eyebright Euphrasia sp. – a small, pretty flower whose petals remind me of a long eyelashed cartoon temptress. Eyebrights take nutrients from surrounding grasses and help to create space for other wildflowers to set seed and thrive.

Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor do a similar job in sucking the life out of tall, bulky grasses, but even more effectively – it’s why I call this the vampire of the plant world. When their seeds are ripe, the seed capsule inflates and the seeds inside rattle if shaken like maracas.

Cat’s ear Hypochaeris radicata – this might look like a dandelion but it’s not. Pollinating insects love it and its deep tap roots not only help to bind the soil but they draw up water into the soil during really dry spells.

The bobbly red heads of great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis are an increasingly rare sight in Welsh meadows but they provide a late season source of nectar and perching spot for extraordinary orb spiders.

The sight of a field of meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris just says it’s summertime. Pollinating insects love it too whilst children still love to test their love of butter by seeing if its petals reflect up to their chin.

Meadow Mix – we collected wildflower seed in late summer, so you could get all of the above species as well as plenty of bent and sweet vernal grass, as well as some surprises which could even be one of the four species of orchid that thrive on our meadows. A sowing rate of 4 g per m2 is a typically recommended, so:

Meadow seed bags

Cost

Coverage at a sowing rate of 4 g per m2

Package and postage cost (small parcel)

200g

£20

50 m

£3.95

50g

£6

12.5 m2

£3.95

Single species packets at £2.50

Average seed weight per £2.50 packet (g)

Average no. seeds per £2.50 pack

Yellow rattle

0.75

255

Eyebright

0.25

1351

Cat’s ear

0.75

920

Meadow buttercup

0.75

565

Great burnet

0.50

208

Package and post cost per single seed packet is £1.65 but may be higher for orders of many packets. For bulk quantities of meadow seed or single species, please get in touch with how many grams you require and we will work out a price with postage (but please note, we do not offer bulk discount.

To order your wildflower seed, please email orders@gardenofwales.org.uk and we’ll get back to you. To save on postal costs, we will be selling them from our Pot Blodyn plant sales shop at our entrance – you can just pop in there without having to pay to come into the Botanic Garden. 

When you get your seeds, cut the grass on the area you’re going to spread your seed onto, and ideally, get a rake and slightly scarify the land – this will help the seeds settle into the ground. Do all this before the end of the year – some of these seeds benefit from the effects of winter frosts.

Do let us know how you get on. This year is a bit of trial for us and we’d like to learn how to do things better. If we get good feedback, we’d like to expand the quantities and possibly, species varieties. There is far more demand for Welsh grown wildflower seed than there is supply, meaning that a lot of wildflower seed used in landscaping big developments come either from England or even from the Continent.

Maybe your patch of land could also make you a small income from wildflower seed collection in future years.