Last week I showed the making of my new bed of herbaceous perennials.
This week I wanted to share a different area of the garden where I’ve sown a bed of annual flowers.
And it sits right next to my wildflower meadow that is in its second growing season.
Understanding the difference between the three is important, because although the aim of each is lots of flowers (and hence lots of bees and butterflies and other insects, and the foodchains that rely on them), each is managed in a different way and for rather different suites of wildlife.
The herbaceous perennial border I planted and sowed last week (what I call the Bee Border, below), is a grass-free bed, where groups of perennial flowers come up each spring, flower, set seed, and then the green growth dies off, leaving just standing seedheads over the winter. It is great for pollinating insects, provides seeds and insects for garden birds, and offers places for various insects to hibernate. But it is not a breeding site for butterflies, nor has grass-eating meadow insects like grasshoppers. In terms of management, it needs weeding, but once established doesn't need to be dug again.
The annual flower bed sometimes gets called a ‘wildflower meadow’ but I think that is confusing because (a) it includes things that are definitely not wildflowers and (b) it is not a meadow in that it, too, doesn’t have grass in it. This is a bed that you dig, weed and rake and then sow seed in the spring (or sometimes the autumn). The plants germinate and flower, and then they die in their first year. The ground then has to be cultivated all over again ready for the next year. An annual flower bed can be good for pollinating insects and provides food for birds, but again isn't a breeding site for butterflies, nor for grasshoppers
I’ve tried various seed mixtures over the years, and the standard ‘cornfield’ mix seeks to recreate the effect in cereal crop fields in the era before herbicides were introduced. Such a mix tends to include Common Poppy, Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Corn Marigold and Corncockle, but I like to boost it with masses of blue flowers such as Borage, Scorpionweed and Echium Blue Bedder.
Here is one of three beds I've sown this spring (below), still looking totally bare (the logs to the left are where I'm creating a scree slope for dry-loving plants (and butterflies). I'm trying some new seed mixtures this year with even more species, and will let you see how I get on. I'm hoping for an absolute kaleidoscope of colour.
The third area of flowers is the wildflower meadow, which is effectively a grassy meadow with perennial wildflowers in it. It is the easiest of all three to manage once established for it is mown just once in spring and then a couple of times in autumn.
Here is one of my flat areas of wildflower meadow this week (below). This is a fundamental part of my wildlife-friendly garden because this is where my meadow butterflies actually breed, with species whose caterpillars feed on the wild grasses and certain of the wildflower species (Common Blue on Bird's-foot Trefoil, Small Copper on Common Sorrel, and Brown Argus on Cut-leaved Speedwell). It is looking quite sparse this spring because we've had less than an inch of rain since March, but it is allowing mining bees to burrow into any bare patch.
And here is the wildflower meadow on one of my mounds, which is much further advanced than the flat meadow and already filling up with flowers, here with the pink of Red Campion and the white heads of Wild Carrot.
Any of these three types of flower planting - herbaceous perennial border, annual flower bed and wildflower meadow - can transform a garden for wildlife if the right mix of plants is used, all are cheap to create, and now is a great time to establish any or all of them. They can be done on any scale - small is fine. Oh, and all of them are a total joy to watch as they develop and bloom and begin to create a home for wildlife.
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