Garden Blog - Blog Post

Fire and Ice


There’s a tiny border at the very front of the front garden that’s a four foot thin strip. It’s where the young clematis that I’ve got an insurance policy on has been planted and where the left-over lily bulbs from last year ended up.

Earlier this year, I threw on some wildflower seed from a seed packet. At least in the UK, wildflower meadows, planting and gardening in general is being pushed hard and is slowly becoming fashionable (probably through brain-washing), so I thought I would have a small trial patch to see what all the fuss is about.

There was a pause of a about two or three months between sowing and anything exciting happening. It may have been because of the appalling weather but it did take a very long time for the seeds to germinate and get started. We spotted Spurge in the mix, it’s a small, leafy, innocent looking plant with unusual flowers but if you let it grow for the first year, you’ll be bulldozing them out of your whole garden by the third – it’s incredibly invasive – so out it came. There were also a couple of other unpleasant weedy-looking plants that I didn’t like the look of so out those went too.

Overall, I’m not really won over by the results apart from two plants that have combined very well. The first is the cornflower, which is an arresting ice-blue.

Close-by but on the complete opposite end of the colour scale is the fiery-orange california poppy.

These two together actually aren’t as gaudy as I had first feared (although this is probably more to do with my ageing sense of taste). I think having these two intermingling on the drive will look really good.

I’ll be sure to collect the seeds from both of these plants and sow them into the drive next year. The plan is that they will eventually germinate and grow and self-seed themselves in subsequent years.

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Sunil Patel

I'm Sunil Patel, this is me. I created the Garden at 13 Broom Acres and I open it to visitors. I also bake and write blog posts giving a "behind the scenes" look into what it's like to maintain such a garden.

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Jason 29/07/2012 - 5:59 pm

Both the cornflower and the California poppy are lovely. Would the poppy be hardy where you are? Anyhow, in the USA seeds sown as “wildflower mixes” usually contain lots of invasives and/or create a lot of fast color and then die away. You’d be better off ordering a seed mix from a reputable retailer that specializes in wildflowers. There are several such in the USA, not sure about the UK. An alternative would be just to order the seeds of individual species you pick yourself.

Sunil 29/07/2012 - 8:07 pm

Hi Jason, I’m normally very wary of “mixes” because that usually means the left-overs of unpopular varieties and colours so you could end up with something pretty awful. I’ll try collecting the seed from the current cornflower and california poppy (which grows as an annual here). It’s funny that the combination of blue and orange I want is exactly what has been planted at the London Olympic park – and I’ve only just found out!

Mrs Mac 29/07/2012 - 11:00 pm

The californian poppy is a favourite in our garden – it just seeds itself and comes again next year. Such a bright lady, loves showing her frock off as soon as the sun appears. I see you have chickweed amongst the cornflower (the tiny yellow flower). Although I’d class it as a weed, It looks good amongst the blue and you can always pull it out when it’s over flowering.

Sunil 31/07/2012 - 8:43 pm

Hi Mrs Mac, thanks for the tip about the chickweed, I had no idea what it was, it grows pretty vigorously too and looks like it wouldn’t take much for it to cover the drive. We’re already reversing over some of it when coming in and out of the drive.

Lynn Hunt 30/07/2012 - 8:44 pm

Sunil, love your cornflowers! What a beautiful shade of blue. I’ve found it takes two years for most of the wildflower packet seeds to grow. Next summer you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Cheers!

Sunil 31/07/2012 - 8:46 pm

Hi Lynn, thanks for the tip about the wildflower seeds. I don’t think I’ll be buying more wildflower mixes if I can collect enough seeds from the poppies and the cornflowers. I suspect the chickweed (thank’s Mrs Mac) isn’t going to need any help coming back next year. I could be having to mow along the tyre marks if it all takes off on the drive!

Stacy 30/07/2012 - 9:28 pm

Sunil, the cornflower and poppies are beautiful together! I find that once I’m in the “wildflower” mindset all kinds of unexpected color combinations work, I suppose because if you saw them in the wild you’d ooh and aah and never dream of tsk-ing at nature for its color sense. I’m trying a slightly “wild” bed, too, and have mixed feelings about it. It just looks a bit of a mess, frankly.

Sunil 31/07/2012 - 8:41 pm

Hi Stacy, thanks, I like the contrast too. Unfortunately they don’t seem to last for very long as both the cornflower and the poppy are starting to fade a bit now. With these wild seed mixes I’ve found that you sow them, nothing happens for ages then you suddenly get a mass of green growth, much of which is weeds that need pulling out. What’s left all flower en-masse and give a stunning show for a few weeks, then they all set seed and die and that’s your lot until next year.

Claire 31/07/2012 - 10:59 pm

Hi Sunil

I also like the blue and orange colour combination. I had my soil analysed by the RHS this year who made a comment in the report about a bed with a hign nutrient content being less suitable for wildflowers. Apparently they need slightly harsher growing conditions. I haven’t tried it myself as I don’t have a suitable area.

Looking at your other post on losing plants, I don’t know if this will make you feel better but the garden designer Piet Oudolf said ‘plants die’! I guess we just have to deal with it but if it is a much loved specimen then it still hurts!

Sunil 02/08/2012 - 9:19 pm

Hello! Yes, wildflowers generally need poor soils so they can compete with other plants that would otherwise grow right over the top of them in richer conditions. This is why the gravel drive is a good place to sow them as it’s never been dug or fed and the top layers are gravel and grit. This should be ideal conditions for them, hopefully.


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