Why plant wildflowers?
There has been a dramatic decline in wildflower diversity in the last century, and a corresponding decline in the insects which rely on them: we need to do whatever we can to reverse it, and just reducing mowing of our commons may not be enough. So to give nature a helping hand we have planted 42 species in total as seeds, bulbs, plugs or turf. Some will simply increase the depleted numbers of existing populations and will add to the seed bank, others are new to Shamley Green, but all will be really beneficial for insect pollinators.
We will be monitoring which species do well: we will assess whether it is worth the extra expense of turf to ensure they thrive, or if plug plants will cope adequately with the conditions here, or maybe the cheapest option of some limited scarifying and scattering of seed is sufficient.
For a full list of all the wildflower species planted click here.
You will see our stencilled posts showing where the newly planted areas are, and blue heart signs are moved from place to place seasonally to show contractors where not to mow.
Here is where we have planted so far:
What to look out for in our wildflower planting areas
We planted plug plants and sowed seeds of these 13 species in 2021, chosen to augment the existing seed bank. They are species which had already been recorded in the area by us or previously by the BSBI (Botanical Society for Britain and Ireland), and with the new mowing regime we are hoping that our additions will help the existing populations to recolonise the commons.
Prunella vulgaris Selfheal can creep through the short turf of a grassland or the uncut grass of a woodland clearing; it can even pop up in lawns that haven't been treated with chemicals. Clusters of violet flowers from June to October provide a nectar source for bees and wasps.
Betonica (Stachys) officinalis This is a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees late in the season. A plant of meadows, grassy heaths, hedge banks and open woodlands, sadly, betony has suffered from the catastrophic loss of meadows and the decline in woodland coppicing.
Centaurea nigra Knapweed is a firm favourite of our pollinating insects, being a source of good quality nectar. And as well as supporting our bees, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds.
Ranunculus acris The petals of buttercup flowers trap a thin layer of air between two layers of cells. This gives them a mirror-like quality that reflects light, making them highly visible to pollinators (and good at predicting a love of butter!).
Lathyrus pratensis Scrambling up and over other plants around it for support, the narrow green leaflets have tendrils at their tips to help them grab surrounding vegetation. Clusters of between 5 and 12 bright yellow pea-shaped flowers are produced on long, upright stems.
Leucanthemum vulgare Studies have shown the ox eye daisy to be one of the highest-ranked producers of pollen within British wildflower meadows. It is utilised by a plethora of invertebrates including beetles, bees, ants, butterflies, moths, flies and many more, all of whom can take advantage of its substantial yellow 'landing-pad.'
Papaver rhoeas Poppy seeds need disturbed earth to germinate, which is why so many grew on the battlefields of WWI. Thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean region, the poppy was probably intruduced to NW Europe in the seed-corn of early settlers. Very popular with bumblebees.
Silene dioica Just as the bluebells finish flowering in our woodlands, red campion starts to come into bloom and brighten up roadsides, woodlands and hedges throughout the summer. Red campion is a good source of food for moths, bees and butterflies.
Sanguisorba minor A low-growing herb of chalk and limestone grassland that produces rounded, reddish flower heads from May to September. Its leaves smell of cucumber if crushed or walked upon, and are a popular addition to salads and summer drinks.
Rumex acetosa Used in sauces and as a spinach or salad leaf; the sap can be used as a laundry stain-remover! The species belongs to a group of plants commonly known as docks. The leaves are acidic to taste and contain high levels of oxalic acid. The larvae of several species of butterflies and moths, including the blood-vein moth, feed on the leaves of sorrel
Plantago lanceolata This flowers between April and October. Its seed heads remain for most of the winter providing food for goldfinches and other seed-eating birds. Not so popular with slugs and snails - they find the leaves unpalatable.
Achillea millefolium A very variable species, occupying a wide range of habitats. Races have been recorded that are able to tolerate heavy metal contamination in soil. It flowers from June to August, sometimes into October, and the flowers are insect pollinated. A plant may produce up to 6,000 seeds.
Click on the individual photos for more information.
Fritillara meleagris, native, found in damp meadows esp. in the Thames valley
Camassia quamash Native to N and W America, not widely naturalised in GB but survives in the wild where planted. Many bulb species are quite particular about good soil drainage, but Camassias are quite happy growing in wet soils like we have in Lords Hill
Narcissus triandrus 'Thalia' Native to SW Europe but fairly widely naturalised in GB, this has a delicious scent and has a definite preference for damp soil.
Crocus tommassinianus Native to SE Europe but widely naturalised in grassy places in GB, particularly Shamley Green! Provides early nectar and pollen for bees emerging from hibernation on warm spring days.
Silene latifolia (or S. alba) This flowers throughout the summer, and at night the blooms produce a heady scent, attracting many feeding moths.
Rhinanthus minor The flowers are pollinated by large bees (especially bumblebees) and are followed by large, inflated seed pods. When these ripen and dry, the seed inside rattles around. Yellow-rattle lives a semi-parasitic life by feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses.
Primula veris The common name cowslip may derive from the old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures. Another source of early pollen and nectar.
Leontodon hispidus The solitary dandelion-like flowers, which appear from late May to October, are a rich golden yellow with the outer florets often reddish or orange. If you look at the hairs on the leaves with a magnifying glass you will see that they have a little fork at the tips.
Galium verum Frothy, yellow flowers scent the air with honey from June to September. Dried, the flowers have the scent of new-mown hay, and the name is probably derived from the tradition of stuffing straw mattresses with them.
Additional species planted
These bulbs and other species are either non-native to Britain or had not been previously recorded in Shamley Green either by us or BSBI. In a few cases it may be that they were here in small numbers and were missed. They will be a valuable addition to the flora for pollinating insects, particularly early in the year.
Knautia arvensis This has a very long flowering period and so is a valuable nectar source for bees and butterflies. Each plant can produce up to 50 flowers! Finches and linnets love the seeds of this plant.
Succisa pratensis This can be found in damp meadows and marshes, and along woodland rides and riverbanks. It is in bloom between July and October, its pincushion-like flower heads attracting a wide variety of bees and insects. It is also the foodplant for the declining Marsh fritillary butterfly.
Silene flos-cuculi This has suffered a decline as the wet meadows, rush-pastures and fens where it grows have been drained and improved for agriculture. The flowers are an important source of nectar for butterflies and long-tongued bees.
Malva moschata This favours dry places and may be found on roadside verges, in hedgerows, pastures and along the edges of fields. The plant gives off a delicate dusky perfume in warm weather. It is popular with bees who visit the flowers for nectar and pollen.
Scabiosa columbaria A pretty perennial native to the UK, bearing pale purple flowers on branched stems from early summer and well into autumn. The flowers are especially popular with bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
On the greens at Hullmead and by Malthouse we also laid some wildflower turf, containing a further 10 existing species: Autumn hawkbit, Bird's foot trefoil, Bladder campion, Cat's ear, Common vetch, Meadowsweet, Perforate St. John's wort, Tufted vetch, Wild marjoram, and Red clover.
It also contains Toadflax, Kidney vetch and Meadow cranesbill, previously unrecorded here, and two fine grasses , Sheep's fescue and Crested dog's tail, which won't swamp the wildflowers.