Go Wild with Native Plants

Contributed by Sarah Heaton:

SOW TOGETHER, GROW TOGETHER

I recently started a small gardening project with my daughter which has been a most enjoyable, outward focus,  simple and pleasurable pastime we can dip into now and again.

Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei struck a cord with me when he explained about the making of his zillion sunflower seeds from porcelain.  It was the fact that families, grandparents or students could dip in and out of painting each seed while attending to other duties whether domestic, work or study that made the project entwine into the tapestry of their lives.  Gardening is similar.  A little pottering now and again brings results and this many little lots of ten minutes here or there make it especially easy for children.

MIX IT UP

My children are quite long suffering about my garden exploits.  But my daughter and I were inspired by the wildflowers at the Olympics and decided together to colonise a small shady area with wildflowers.  We were given some clumps of viola, alpine strawberries (tiny delicious bursts of joy) and ox-eye daisy plants from my step-mother, scattered woodland wildflower mix and added some scavenged forget-me-not, comfrey and scabious to our potage.  So a mixture of plants and seeds gave us something instant and something to come.

Last year’s long wet summer produced at few flowers and this year’s looks really promising.  I see forget-me-not, calendula, poppies, vetch and verbascum slowly emerging.  Many have self-seeded from last year, perfect for the lazy gardener.  What I find so appealing about wildflowers are that they are pretty robust flowering plants, needing not too much attention but a bit of jollying along and delightful when they blossom, rather like my children.

As a child, I loved to pick hedgerow wild flowers and put them in a jar at home.  Also pressing them and making cards or a nature note-book amused me and as well as finding poems to accompany them.  I still find The Flower Fairy Books by Cicely Mary Barker quite charming.

THE LEARNING GARDEN

For our west London children though, there are still many wildflowers to discover.  Our school allotment is filled with buttercups, dandelions and a few nettles.  I like to keep some to attract pollinators, insects and butterflies — although I do sometimes feel conflicted as to whether they are weeds or wildflowers.

But the wildflowers win.  Who can resist a buttercup?  We all need to know who likes butter by lifting the shiny yellow petals to our chins.  And when we wander into a stinging nettle,  the medicinal dock leaves take the pain away.

A mixture of wildflower seeds and plants is an easy way to involve children in nature and gardening, especially with their own patch, either as part of a bed or a large terracotta pot in which they can choose to plant what they want.  Have the children cut out pictures to create a scrapbook of images of the flowers they have planted to encourage a deeper understanding of gardening and it’s importance in our eco- system.

About the writer:
Sarah Heaton is a community gardener and garden designer based in West London. She writes about gardening, city gardens and gardening with young people, families and children.  She runs a school gardening club in Hammersmith and designs city gardens.  She trained at Capel Manor College, Gunnersbury Park, and qualified with a RHS certificate in the Principles of Horticulture.  She is married with three children. Sarah can be reached at: sarahheaton@btinternet.com | 07946 352 732 or follow her on Twitter

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