There’s big talk in the media about bringing wild flowers back to help the bees. Garden designers are doing an excellent job of using native species in their show gardens. Builders are being encouraged by the BREEAM scheme to make new developments more biodiverse. But what wild flowers do well in Scotland and how can gardeners help bring them back?
This winning show garden at Gardening Scotland in 2017 used wild flower matting to simulate a Tudor meadow. It has a relaxed, romantic feel to it (even though this particular garden was recreating the scene of a mysterious death)
Scotland has a wealth of wildflowers – not just thistles, bluebells and heather. Throughout history wildflowers plants would have been like a supermarket-come-medicine chest to our ancestors. As well as going into the cooking pot they would have been made into salves for healing wounds and potions to cure coughs.
As a nation we have largely lost the skills needed for successful foraging but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the world of wildflowers.
Wild flowers make excellent garden plants
I’ve been gardening with wild flowers for several years now. One thing I’ve noticed about them is the lack of pests and diseases. Maybe I’ve been lucky so far. But while my roses struggle to fight aphids and blackspot and my hollyhocks are covered with yellow rust; the campions, foxgloves, oxeye daisies and verbascums growing amongst them attract nothing but beneficial insects.
I have a small wildflower meadow in my garden too. Just 6 square metres beneath a young pear tree. That also enjoys rude health all year round.
I love that the wild flowers are low maintenance and don’t need chemical treatments. I also love their strength and their happy colours. Wild flowers rarely seem to look battered after heavy rain (unlike the roses), they don’t need staking and they don’t want expensive fertilisers either. What’s not to like?
Wildflowers. A beekeepers delight
My love of wildflowers has happily led me towards another hobby. One that I find frustrating and fulfilling at the same time. Beekeeping.
Bees and wildflowers evolved together and are dependent on each other. Without flowers there would be no bees. Without bees all of our food would be beige and our diets would lack some important vitamins.
Oxeye daisies and knapweed in my mini-meadow provide a convenient food outlet for the honey bees living in my garden
I’ve noticed that my honeybees – along with visiting bumblebees and solitary bees – have plant preferences. Among those preferences are some non-native plants like cosmos and lavender. But they are always pleased to see the birdsfoot trefoil, clover, vetch and other flowers in my mini-meadow. I’m a simple soul and I derive an awful lot of pleasure from seeing and hearing the bees working my wild flowers.
How to grow wild flowers
There are 3 main ways to bring wild flowers into your garden. Sowing seeds, buying plants or installing Meadowmat wild flower mat. I’ve tried all 3.
Seeds didn’t work brilliantly for me. The cat turned the seedbed into a toilet. Very few seeds actually germinated and I didn’t get the colourful mix I saw on the seed packet.
Plants? These worked well. I bought some foxglove plants from the garden centre and they flowered beautifully. At £6.99 a plant though, I wouldn’t be able to afford too many of them.
Wild flower mats? Brilliant. Not cheap, but they’ve been in place for 7 years and they’re still going strong. I chose Traditional Meadowmat but there are other varieties. Some have less grass than the Traditional mix and stronger colours too. There’s even one for dappled shade.
I’ve found my Meadowmat to be quite low maintenance. Definitely not “no maintenance”. It needs a major haircut once a year and I sometimes need to trim it in autumn too. A couple of times I’ve topped up the species mix by adding plug plants, spring bulbs and seed. This year it’s turned quite grassy so I’ve sown some yellow rattle to try and redress the balance of grasses and flowering plants.
Overall though – yes, I’m pleased with my Meadowmat.
Here’s a video showing you how to install Meadowmat and offering a glimpse of what it will look like in full bloom.
Wild Flowers for Scotland
Knapweed. Also known as Haurd-knot or hardheid because of its nobbly seed heads.
Good wildflower species to grow in Scotland include
The Meadowmat varieties I would recommend to Scotland’s gardeners are Traditional Meadowmat (All of the species are native to the UK and most are native to Scotland) and Birds and Bees (again, UK native flowers most of which grow naturally in Scotland)