Seeding Wildflowers Into An Edible Forest Garden
I want to share a garden. A garden that mimics natural plant communities, including a diverse range of useful plants and sown with a flower rich meadow.
Often new permaculture gardens are created using bark, woodchip and organic mulches. This is great for the gardener as it reduces maintenance and gives many other benefits. However, it is not great for wildlife, without dense vegetation there is very little habitat and feed for wildlife. Gardeners are rarely able to create a dense herbaceous layer because of the cost or time it takes to grow such a large quantity of plants. For example, In professional landscape design, when designers create ecological plantings they often plant at a density over 9 herbaceous perennials per square meter. This is un- realistic for most gardeners. Creating herbaceous vegetation from seed is a cost effective, high biodiversity and beautiful technique to create thriving garden ecosystems. When I create plantings from seed, I regularly receive comments on how mature, and abundant with life the plantings are in the first year. It goes from bare ground to diverse plant community within a few months. When we couple the high diversity and abundant flowering of seeded plantings with edible forest gardens, we have a receipt for thriving ecosystems that support people and wildlife. Flower meadows are the rain forests of temperate climates, with some meadows supporting over 50 different species per square meter. This diversity supports a vast number of birds, butterflies and bees.
Lessons From The Garden The space was an old, over grown ornamental garden with low diversity and dense shrubs. I cleared un-wanted plants, moved some to better locations and pruned existing shrubs and trees to have an open canopy, allowing light to reach the ground and support diverse ground vegetation. This is a small garden so I selected tree species that are small and can easily be managed to have an open branch structure. Amelanchier, Cornelian Cherry, Apple and Pear fit well. I selected a variety of useful shrubs that will also be pruned to have thin, open branch structures. The site was cleared, ground dug over and trees and shrubs planted. I then sowed my meadow seed throughout the garden. Perennial vegetables were planted once the meadow was establishing. Plugging in gaps that were not properly covered by seed. I plan to keep on plugging in perennial vegetables over time, managing the development of the garden into a diverse and abundant edible ecosystem.
Key Tips There are great guides on the Pictorial Meadows website that give clear instruction on how to create a meadow. So I am going to just outline some key lessons I have learnt: • Remove All “Weeds”. I dig over the area and remove all ‘weeds’ and un-wanted vegetation. You need to remove competition with other plants if you want your seedlings to survive.
Use a sterile Mulch. Plantings from seed do best if established in a sterile mulch of green waste compost. A layer 5cm is suitable. The mulch covers weed seeds and reduces their germination, at the same time creating a great seed bed. I did not use this method on this project but I have had great experience with it on other projects. In some cases it has meant almost no weeds have establishing, leaving only the seeded plant.
Seed quality. Make sure to buy good quality seed. Often when people create meadows at home they fail because of poor quality seed. I recommend using Pictorial Meadows or Emorsgate.
Use 100% flower seed. In a garden setting unless its a huge country garden use mixtures with 100% flower seed. Usually meadow mixture contain 80% grass and 20% wildflowers. In an edible forest garden this is unlikely to do well because grasses are hungry feeders, impeding the growth of other species.
Light. There must be adequate light for the seedlings to establish. Thinning tree branches and removing lower branches will allow light to the ground. This needs to be monitored throughout the growing season to make sure plants do not get to shaded. If its not in full sun make sure to select a seed mixture suitable for semi- shade.
Add Annuals. In my seed mix used Pictorial Meadows woodland edge and mixed 15% Classic Annuals to give flowering in the first year without being to dominant and outcompeting the perennials.
Mix Seed With Sand. I always mix seed with a sharp sand as a bulking material. It is incredibly difficult to spread 100g’s of seed across 50 square meters evenly without bulking it up. I use sharp sand, mixing seed into multiple buckets and going over the site multiple times. It also allows you to see where you have already sown.
My Experience Maintenance has been crucial in the first year. Weeding out any undesirable plants while they are young. As the ecological gardener, it is my role to remove plants before they set seed. Reducing the ‘weed’ seedbank and favouring our self-seeding plants. Then when a plant dies, or cows trample the planting, rather than weeds emerging from the disturbance, plants we wish to grow will sprout. The garden has gained a lot of attention from family and friends wanting to visit, sit in the garden, enjoying the plants and wildlife. I regularly have clients commenting on how seeded flower gardens improve their social life. As all their family and friends want to visit to see and garden.
It is such a pleasure to be the gardener. When you are down in the planting, weeding out plants and appreciating the thriving life, you forget about all else. Then, you come across a tasty strawberry. The yields have not been large in the first year. A bowl of blackcurrent and one of gooseberries, lots of wild strawberries, salad leaves, likely a good harvest of Yacon tubers and perennial Kale leaves for the winter. There is a diverse range of delicious fresh tea ingredients. It will take a few years to properly start producing. Like any garden, it takes time to establish. We will carry on playing the role of the ecological gardener, creating disturbances and filling those gaps with edible or useful plants. One yield has been the huge amount of biomass. Bare ground to vegetation 5ft high in just a few months. This biomass is perfect for adding to compost or using as a mulch. Such a large amount of biomass will quickly build soil organic matter, storing carbon and improving soil health. Using 100% flower seed it has produced a wash of flowers all summer and it is still going in October. For floristry business’s, flower gardens created from seed is a great opportunity. A constantly changing diverse tapestry of plants to play with! Diverse flowers lead to abundant seeds that could be stored, used to create new plantings or swapped for new seed.
Whats Next The idea of edible forest gardening is evolving. My own work and the work of others is looking at edible ecosystems. Edible plant communities chosen for their suitability to specific habitats. With climate change and more extreme weather events, I think edible plant community’s designed for there specific habitat type are an opportunity to help us adapt and thrive. One habitat type I am developing is the concept of edible meadows. Edible plantings created from seed. There is currently academic research developing seed mixes of species from around the world to create beautiful, low maintenance, ecological planting. I am using this research but selecting edible plants found in meadow habitats. The idea is to create edible plantings from seed that are beautiful, low cost to establish, biodiverse with edible and useful plants. Design intent is to create an adaptable plant community, that is managed as a whole. Cutting back once a year, tweaking to reduce dominant species and playing the role as the ecological gardener. Growing plants from seed in-situ is an opportunity to create ecological gardens. Horticultural meadows adapted to your preferred size, colours or flavours. Experiment with herbs, flowers and vegetable seeds and share your experiences for other people to learn. It a concept that needs experimentation.