Make a Sunny Wildflower Border

A hint of sunshine, a breath of spring air and suddenly the garden is full of endless possibilities.  With the whole of the year stretching out before us, this could be the time to embark on a special project. Perhaps your existing borders are in need of a makeover, or finding the space for a new flower border could be an ambitious start to the gardening year.

Creating a sunny wildflower border is something even the most novice gardener can turn their skills to Ė many wildflowers are easy to grow and those that prefer sunny conditions are generally very adaptable and easy going.  The result will be satisfying whatever you plant as the informal nature of these plants always produces a pleasing effect.   The only potential pitfall to avoid is over planting, as some wildflowers will quickly use up their allotted space and make their way into other plantsí territories.  Choosing your wildflowers with care, and omitting a few that spread rather more quickly than you would wish, should mean that you avoid too much work later on. Because of their versatility, there is a wildflower plant for every situation, so wherever your new border is to be sited, there will be species that will love that location.  A sunny border will inevitably attract more insects, so if you can spare even the smallest open spot you will guarantee visits from a good number of native pollinators and birds.   The smallest area can look attractive and benefit wildlife, so donít overlook that tiny patch of lawn that is never sat upon or used in any way Ė it would be of much more interest planted with small scabious, marjoram and wild rockrose.

And there are plenty of reasons to keep all your wildflowers in one area.  Firstly it is possible to create an absolute haven for invertebrates Ė many of our native species have pollen and nectar galore, enabling the creative gardener to choose from flowers that provide almost all-year-round interest, for the gardener as well as bees and butterflies.  Another advantage is that a designated wildflower border may be allowed to become a little overgrown with a clear conscience Ė after all it is an area where inevitably nature will take its course, plants will happily seed and the whole will become pleasantly relaxed and blurred around the edges. (You can of course be as tidy as you wish with a wildflower border, but the excuse to be a little less conscientious with its upkeep is there if you need it.)  Wildflower borders are also perfect for providing a theme for an area.  A border of white flowers perhaps, or a bumblebee, butterfly or moth area; there are so many possibilities.  Or simply grow the native plants you especially love.  The wildlife will come to them anyway. 

Most wildflowers benefit from establishing in relatively poor soils.  Often the area beneath a lawn is ideal (unless you are an avid lawn feeder) as this generally will be fairly starved of nutrients.  If you only have a redundant area of border, where organic compost has been liberally applied in the past, donít despair.  Your wild species will still grow, but will tend to be rather larger than in the wild and more leafy.  As long as they get a start, you can cut the leafier parts back when necessary.  Donít be tempted to mulch or fertilise with anything rich in nitrogen and they will settle happily in a season or two when nutrients have been used up.

Begin your ground preparation by removing turf if it exists and lightly dig over the soil beneath.  Deep digging or other preparation really isnít necessary especially if you are planning to use small plants or plugs.  If you hope to establish your border with native seed, a finer tilth will be required.  Ensure that all perennial weeds such as couch grass and docks removed.  It will make maintenance easier in the future.  Your only other consideration should be to take a look at your soil type.  Although many wildflowers are very adaptable there are plenty that will languish if your soil is damp clay and they prefer a dry sand.  Have a wildflower gardening book, or even a wildflower field guide on hand.  These should give you an idea of where your preferred plants grow in the wild, indicating the sorts of conditions they thrive in.

Your next pleasant task, if you havenít already done so, is to choose your species.  If you are planning your wildflower border in a sunny spot, you are fairly spoiled for choice.  There is a great variety of native plants that will establish in a warm dry place, from small species such as thrift, pasque flower, heartsease and wild thyme, to the larger back-of-the-border plants including musk mallow, mullein and the stunning viperís bugloss.  For the very back try any of the Verbascums or mulleins, with their huge woolly leaves and yellow flowers.  These flowers, which are slightly scented at night, are especially attractive to moths, and one moth species (the aptly named mullein moth) lays her eggs on the grey-green felted leaves.  Teasels can also be included in a sunny border, although some people prefer to keep these prolific seeders to a wilder spot.  Viperís bugloss, which buzzes with bees of all kinds in mid summer, is also suitable for the back or mid border.  The bright blue of chicory complements the pale pink of musk mallow Ė these two plants make a stunning combination and both cope well with a dry sunny location. 

For the mid-border plants of less stature are required.  Dropwort, the dry soil equivalent of meadowsweet, is a must and will grow in just about any soil, except wet.  Attractive seed heads follow its frothy white, but sadly unscented, flowers.  If you have clay, meadowsweet will do well here.  Other white wildflowers for the mid-border could include wild carrot, with its interesting basket-shaped seed heads, and white campion, a long flowering species.  Avoid Queen Anneís lace (cow parsley) in this type of border, in spite of its beauty.  It seeds very quickly and takes over before you know it.  Jacobís ladder will also be happy here, as will wild mignonette (an annual or biennial).  Towards the front of the border more dainty flowers can find a home.  Wild pansy, with yellow and purple flowers will seed profusely, and ladyís bedstraw, wild rockrose and birdís foot trefoil all add a splash of yellow from late May onwards.  There are of course many others that might appeal to you, so scour your books and list those you like the look of.  For an extra splash of colour scatter in a little seed of the annuals corn poppy, cornflower or corn marigold onto the soil surface after your perennials have been planted.  They will seed a little over time and establish themselves without any further help from you.

Sourcing your wildflowers may present a problem.  Although the number of species now available as plug plants has increased considerably, many are only available as seeds.  Try your luck with seed, either sowing very thinly into spaces in your new border and gently firming in, or play safe and sow into pots, planting your seedlings out when they have established a good root system.

However you create a border of this type, have fun, mix and match and let your creativity loose!  There is no doubt that it will enhance the beauty of your garden as well as increasing the variety of insects and birds that visit it.


© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017