Go Wild with Flowers
By photographer and artist HEATHER BENNETT
One of my pleasures in being a photographer has been taking people on wild flower walks in Pembrokeshire, helping them to compose a ‘good’ picture and also to see the variety and beauty of the plants here. Researching the subject increased my awareness of the changing face of nature: This quote from Countryfile on 29 September 2012, “90% of our wild flower meadows have disappeared since the thirties”, really made me think. Such enormous changes are hard to realise. Bees, butterflies and other insects (our main pollinators and food for our birds) are deprived of much of their natural habitat: numbers are dropping – they need help.
Many gardeners desiring to redress this have a growing determination to create an area of wild flowers on their own patch. There are problems; one being that wild flowers thrive in poor soil – the opposite to usual gardening practice. Often too there are unrealistic expectations: seeing stunning banks of early summer flowers like those in this picture of Abereiddy or the Bluebell woods in Solva it is easy to forget that these beautiful swathes of blossoms are seasonal. They will go over and go to seed; some, like hogweed, retain an architectural beauty but the glorious abundance of colour is over. It is part of nature’s rhythm and the inevitable cycle of the seasons.
Before starting on such a project it is important to remember that uprooting wild flowers in the UK is illegal and can carry a fine of up to £1,000. Most garden centres now sell wild flower seeds and plants. If you are unsure which plants grow in Pembrokeshire then check the Postcode Plants Database site (www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/plants-fungi/postode-plants/tech.htm). Better still walk the footpaths or cliff paths during the different seasons of the year, taking photos and checking them against a good pictorial reference book.
Here is a quick guide to creating a wildflower garden:
- Prepare the soil by removing all existing vegetation particularly perennial weeds. Dig the soil to a depth of three inches raking the surface well. Leave for a month and weed again.
- Scatter the seed directly onto the raked soil from March to June. Sowing density three grams/square metre (much higher than ordinary sowing). Plant perennials such as foxgloves in among the annual seed.
- Keep the area weed-free. Mow at end of year leaving the cuttings as mulch. Some annuals will self-seed and will flower among the perennials during the second year. Fill the gaps with further sowings.
Wild flowers are increasing in popularity; a native foxglove crossed with an exotic has won the RHS Plant of the Year (digitalis illumination pink).
Useful websites for advice and information are easy to find on the net, and most gardening magazines now have a web presence where past articles can be read. Remember too that creating even a small area or planting up large pots is becoming vital to our ecosystem, so why not try it and encourage the bees and butterflies back?
Born in Southend and educated in Middlesex and Cambridge, Heather has followed a wandering and satisfying career path throughout her life but has always spent time writing. Her work sometimes accompanies her photographic images (usually in poetry form) but also forms part of the books she produces for the gallery she and her husband, Raul Speek, run in Solva. She is currently working on a new images book, A Cuban Diary, which covers three separate trips to Raul’s birth country, and a novel called Chapel Cat written from the perspective of their big black cat!
They moved to Pembrokeshire in 1995 and it continues to be their home, both physically and in their hearts. Heather wrote articles for Pembrokeshire Life, which sadly no longer exists, because she wanted people from outside the county to come to love it as she does. Travelling extensively over the years, she always feels a lift of her heart as she comes over the hill above Newgale and sees it spread out below her. Every day, as the weather changes, it looks different and it emphasises the fact she is nearly home.