Managing the Wildflowers

Sowing wildflower seed is full of interest and delight, but also of the unexpected. We sowed our “scruffy triangle” with seeds from the “Grow Wild” initiative in May 2014 and were rewarded that summer with a good show of Poppy, Cornflower and Corn Marigold, along with plenty of plants emerging from the seed bank in the soil. Along with the usual Broad-leaved Docks, common on all waste ground, and Charlock, which always emerges when soil is disturbed, there was also White Dead-nettle, an important early flower for emerging bumblebee queens. A surprise however was the emergence in the second year of Weld, or Dyer’s Rocket. This was used in the past as an important source of a bright yellow dye for wool, and its presence may be an indication that, while from the late 1700s this area was part of the estate of the Earls of Moray surrounding Donibristle House, and cleared of any cottages, (none are marked on the 6” OS map of 1856) there may well have been a settlement of cottars with wool spinners and weavers in earlier times in this location.

By this, the third year, the triangle was almost completely taken over by Oxeye Daisy, a perennial that had been slowly gaining ground after germinating from the initial “Grow Wild” seed mix, and this plant, that grows very well in our soils, and produced a splendid show of white flowers this summer, was almost completely swamping all the other plants. Although an attractive flower and of great value to some of the insect pollinators, it was decided we needed to take a hand in managing this vigorous plant and try to restore some balance and diversity to this important site. It is after all just where the Coastal Path leaves the pavement and starts to head along for Hopeward Wood and so is passed every day by locals and tourists alike.

By mid-August flowering had all but finished and it was decided to begin some selective clearing work. With ‘work parties’ on Thursday and Sunday we had 6 of our regular volunteers working away. Fortunately the soil was dry and the Oxeye Daisy roots are fairly shallow, so removing some of the clumps was not too hard. Not all have been removed, those at the back have simply been cut back to help give a general tidy-up to the site. It still looks rather messy as we have tried to leave other plants that are still in flower, but a more complete cutting back will be done at the end of September to tidy it up for the winter. At this time the opportunity will also be taken to sow some of the seed collected from elsewhere in our wildflower area to increase plant diversity and bring back some colour. Disturbing the soil as the Oxeye Daisies are removed should also stimulate germination of buried seed of the cornfield annuals such as Poppies and Corn Marigold which will have been shed from the initial flowering of these species.

Oxeye Daisy had also begun to dominate the grass bank opposite to the triangle; this area was also sown in 2014 with wildflower seed mixes that had been bought from Scotia Seeds, so work was also begun there with the same objective. The aim being to clear these plants from the areas near to the pathways but allow them to continue to flower further in. As with the triangle, the idea is to have a greater diversity of flowers, especially where people get an opportunity for a closer view and can see not just a colourful display but also some of the pollinators that are benefitting from our wild flower planting initiatives.

It will not just be our efforts that we will harness to control over-vigorous plants. Among the seeds sown were those of Yellow Rattle, a plant that draws some of its nutrients from the roots of nearby plants and in so doing, reduces their growth potential. We already have one extensive patch and seed from there has been spread over more of the other areas to harness this feature and encourage a plant that has elsewhere been called “nature’s lawn mower”.

Maintaining wildflower areas to achieve plant diversity for the range of wildlife that uses them, while also providing an attractive spectacle for passers-by, is not as simple as it might seem in the first flush of enthusiasm for wild flower seed sowing, but as we learn more about how to manage these areas we hope that these twin objectives will continue to be met.

Dick Alderson 23 August 2016

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