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A wildflower meadow needs to be planned

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A showy, so-called ‘wildflower meadow’ created from a seed packet containing mainly non-native species.

A showy, so-called ‘wildflower meadow’ created from a seed packet containing mainly non-native species.

A showy, so-called ‘wildflower meadow’ created from a seed packet containing mainly non-native species.

Wildflower meadows are popular at present and a perception has been created that everyone who cares for the future of the planet should have one.

The traditional understanding of a meadow in Ireland is a piece of agricultural grassland managed for making hay. Instead of letting animals into the field to graze, animals were kept out, the grass was allowed to grow and mature, was cut, was allowed to dry naturally in the sun, and was saved as hay to be fed to animals.

Meadows were often subject to low-level management, were not fertilised or treated with any herbicides or chemicals, and supported a rich diversity of native wild plants and several species of grasses. Such traditional hay meadows are now very rare. Modern meadows are now actively managed, are fertilised, and are often support species-poor.

If the ‘don’t mow, let it grow’ maxim of wildlife gardening is followed, many of the wildflowers that spring up naturally will be weeds like Ragwort that need to be pulled out by hand to stop them seeding and to encourage Dandelions that many people regard as weeds but are native wildflowers and are an excellent source of food for many insects.

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An alternative is to buy a bag of wildflower seed mix. However, many wildflower seed mixes focus on flamboyance, are sourced from abroad and may contain foreign plants and noxious weeds that have no place in our countryside and are likely to pollute our native gene bank.

To date, there are no regulations covering the contents of wildflower packets on sale here in Ireland. Many mixes are marketed on the basis that they provide a great show of colour. While they may very well do so, and are fine in a garden setting, they bear no resemblance to the traditional Irish wildflower meadow and may be of little or no use to our native insects.

Those planning a wildflower mini-meadow need to proceed with caution. A good starting point is to download “The case against ‘wildflower’ seed mixtures” by the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club at https://dnfc.net/wildflower-seed-mixtures/.

Seeds mixtures should be of Irish origin and sourced from a supplier registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

 


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