A Quick Introduction to Wildflower Seed Mixes
What sort of wildflower seed mix should I buy? You'd think this was a pretty simple question to answer, but weirdly it's not. There are all sorts of different types of "wildflower" seed mixes on the market, and it's confusing for people buying them. There doesn't seem to be any sort of regulation governing what can and can't be sold, and how it is described. I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of the different mixes here, but I think it's important that folk understand what the different sorts of mixes actually are.
There are a bunch of seed mixes out there - some from reputable seed merchants - which don't have many - if any - wildflowers at all. They might include some which are native to places like America; plants like Coreopsis and Phacelia are favourites, for example. The seed is most likely to have come abroard. They generally consist of annuals, and should grow and flower quickly in a wide range of conditions, although will have to be reseeded or managed carefully to persist.
Pictorial meadows are the brainchild of Nigel Dunnett, a botanist at Sheffield University. They're colourful and long flowering mixes of either annual flowers or perennials from around the world. No grasses. They've been very successful in urban situations and widely copied. You can chose from a range of colour palettes and mixes for different situations.
Traditional Meadows - Generic & Direct Harvest Mixes
By "traditional" I mean hay meadows, for the sake of this piece. The sort of thing commonplace in the countryside here up to the Second World War. Traditional meadow mixes need their own management regime. They're less colourful and slower to flower than Pictorial meadows, for example, but support much more wildlife. Seed should come from the UK, but always check.
There are generic meadow seed mixes available from a number of growers and resellers, made up of 20 or so species widespread across the UK. These usually have 80 or even 90% meadow grasses and only 10% - 20% wildflowers. The seed is mixed from individual species to specific %s, appropriate for different site conditions. The idea is to provide a good start to a new meadow project.
Direct Harvest Mixes
These are - sadly - few and far between. They consist of seed which has been harvested from donor meadow sites and cleaned, without any other kind of intervention. The donor sites can be very special places - meadows sometimes hundreds of years old. They can include over 70% wildflowers and over 50 wildflower species, some rare.
Wildflowers Only - Perennials
You can usually buy wildflower only mixes from the same people selling traditional meadow mixes. They can be used for overseeding existing grass, for example, and are predetermined mixes appropriate for different types of site. They can be meadow species, or wildlflowers for shade etc..
Wildflowers Only - Annuals
In the UK, these are "cornfield annuals", which came here in the iron age. They're what many of us think of when wildflowers come to mind - poppies, cornflowers, corncockle. Fast and easy to grow, pretty - but a short flowering window. As annuals they need different management to perennials, but they can be added to a traditional meadow mix to give colour in the frst year (as pictured).