Updated: Sep 3
Exhibition of my watercolour paintings 'Joy of wildflowers' - appreciating their wonder (with a dash of charcoal, pastels and ink) at St. George's Church in Kemptown, Brighton, UK, August 21st - 26th 2023, along with 24 other eclectic creatives.
Bootiful buttercups and wild strawberries
I have an old pair of Dr Martens which I wore for many years, I couldn’t let them go, so they now act as plant pots, in the painting they are holding buttercups and wild strawberries. The wild strawberries have a lovely flavour and can grow in a range of habitats, they like a woodland edge, but can also grow in grasslands and even a rocky environment. The white open flowers are visited by many pollinating insects and bees love them as do small mammals and via their runners are easy to propagate.
Bug bouquet – cinnabar moth Tyria jacobaeae. The Cinnabar Moth was originally given this name because of the deep red colour running the length of its wings, which are striking with a wingspan that can reach over 4cms in length. Their name comes from the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’ which was used as a pigment by artists. The pigment like these beautiful moths is toxic (due to the mercury content), while the moths aren’t palatable because of their main diet as caterpillars, the ragwort plant Senecio jacobaea, which contains an alkaloid that is toxic to animals.
In the bug bouquet I have featured the beautiful dainty flowers of the Mexican fleabane, a daisy like flower (part of the aster family) which is great for pollinators and although it seeds easily and can flower in little soil on a wall it does not have harmful deep roots. I saw a beautiful ‘bouquet’ just like this one in June, on the wall of St Thomas’ hospital in London, nestling into the bright harsh surface as if a fine florist had placed it there. The flowers were a busy refuge as wasps, bees, butterflies and other small insects stopped by to feed on the nectar provided by the small white, pink through to purple flowers.
Dandylicious - Dandelions Taraxacum officinale, please leave them be. I know it is tempting to pull them up from every patch in your garden, but dandelions are a wonderful resource, both their pollen and nectar is beneficial for many types of pollinators, especially very early in the year when the dandelion's flowers are blooming before many other plants. The dandelion is great for many types of bee and other pollinators such as the peacock and holly blue butterflies, the leaves are also tasty for us and little visitors.
Deer and the honeysuckle (bottom left), forgot to take a separate photo. Honeysuckle, is a very comfy hotel for wildlife, it is loved by many moths (especially the Elephant Hawk-moth) and other pollinators, birds and small mammals can nest in its stems and bark and along with other creatures from blackbirds to squirrels the berries are a useful snack. Deer will snack on honeysuckle too, so if you have a garden susceptible to deer damage look for a cultivar that is more deer resistant.
Forget-me-not Dormice not only do little mammals sometimes raid the bird feeder, they also enjoy the smallest of wildflowers such as the dainty multicoloured forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis). These tenacious flowers that usually begin blooming early in the summer are valuable food source for butterflies and bees and they are also host plants for the larvae of some moth species.
Flutter-by the Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris), Oxeye daisy and Herb Robert. There are wooden building boards painted black near us which have wildflowers growing next to them, against the dark paint the oxeye daisies, yellow Hawksbeard flowers and the delicate pinks of the small Herb Robert flowers with their fern-type green and burnished magenta leaves look wonderful. Bees, butterflies and moths love this selection too. Herb Robert flowers may appear too small to provide a pollinator snack, but these flowers are a good nectar source for many invertebrates. Oxeye daisy has been found to be a very popular flower for many species, in a survey along a road network in 2016¹, the Oxeye daisy was the most visited flower.
Fox and Blackberries, foxes are opportunistic feeders and are omnivorous so when fruits are ripe, they like to snack on blackberries. If you have ever caught sight of them snuffling for the berries in your local hedge they are adept at picking them, we have a local fox who is now regularly checking the brambles as they ripen. Foxes also use overgrown brambles to protect a buried a cache of food.
Summer Siesta – little honey bee taking a flower nap in a meadow buttercup, also surrounded by Oxeye daisies. Buttercups, can flower for a couple of months and are visited by many pollinating insects. When the seeds have ripened they provide a snack for birds and mice, then the plant will die back during the winter leaving only a basal ring of leaves before powering up again the following spring. Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) has a beautiful deep yellow centre, made up of many small flowers, providing nectar for pollinators, including butterflies, bees and hoverflies. I love seeing this resilient daisy, standing tall and cheering patches on waste ground, roadside verges, and meadows especially when we don’t mow too often!
Squirreling - Squirrels are also omnivores and if like us you have a regular opportunity to observe their antics their inquisitive and resourceful search for food can have them hanging from a window box feeder or wildflower-tasting the red and white clover coming up in the verge near us.
Clovers are part of the bean family Fabaceae, these legumes have nodules and root bacteria which help fix nitrogen in the soil. The flowers supply food for many pollinators, bees love them and the trifoliate leaves are collected by dormice, birds love the seeds roo.
The Little Things - Ivy Leaved Toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, loves nooks and crannies, especially in walls, as I have painted it. Toadflax likes a sunny spot, I saw it clinging like this this into a red brick wall along the north east coastline, intrepid as was its fellow brick mate, the sedum, giving shelter to the small molluscs that needed a home. The tiny toadflax has beautiful white and light purple snapdragon-like flowers, loved by bees especially the wall-nesting solitary bee which uses the small yellow markings as a nectar guide. The leaves are edible with a flavour like watercress, a creeping hardy perennial, that cleverly sets seed in your gravel, but good for containers and can also tolerate shade.
Wildflowers to encourage through the seasons
If you would like to encourage wildflowers for pollinators and other local wildlife here is a list to seed or not weed out, try leaving a few of those dandelions too!
From January in milder areas there are Dead-nettle (both white and red), Mahonia (Mahonia aquilfolium), Snowdrops (Galanthus), Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii), then in February Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) and brilliant Dandelions add to the food store. By March, Bluebells Goat Willow, also known as Pussy Willow (Salix caprea) and Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) near hedgerows and shady spots will be peeking through. In April little bright whites and yellows really begin to shine, Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Cowslip (Primula veris), Daisies (Bellis perennis), light-purple Field Woundwort (Stachys arvensis), Forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis), Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) and Primulas (Primula Vulgaris). If you have acidic soil, and even tough heathland-like conditions you could try Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), with white flowers then black fruits.
From May, nature's food store is blooming up, the wildflowers to encourage are: Alkanet (Anchusa officinalis) and Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) though both have blue flowers. Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) or the rarer harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), the bright yellow tough Broom (Cystisus scoparius) found along roads and rail embankments. Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) which like clover also fixes nitrogen in the soil and offers very nutritious pollen, it grows well in grass and can even survive in shingle, sand-dunes and cliffs as can the cheerful yellow Common Rock-Rose (Helianthum nummularium).
Back to blue with purple tinges there is Bugle (Ajuga reptans), violet-blue Pyramidal Bugle (Ajuga pyramidalis), perennial Cornflowers (Centaurea montana) and the annual Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). Then the pinks of Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) followed by Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) flowering in June and pink flowered Comfrey (Symphytum officinale).
Geranium, one of the many starting with Round-leaved-Crane's-bill (Geranium rotundifolium) in May, bravely basking on wall tops and dry hedge banks. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), the bright yellow Lesser Hawkbit (Leontodon saxatilis) and Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus), plus Kidney Vetch (Anythillis vulneraria) all from June. The intense bright reds of the Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) also shine from June, loved by hoverflies and bees - even though the bees do not detect the red colour well. For more information on how the papery thin petals of poppies attract their pollinators please see the fascinating research by Casper Van der Kooi ² Red campion (Silene dioica) from June and White campion (Silene latifolia) a little earlier from May. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) followed by White clover (Trifolium repens) and purple tinged Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) popping up on meadows, lawns and waste ground. Finally, for the early summer months, Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), especially to be encouraged if you would like to make space for other wildflowers in a lawn. Yellow Rattle is a partial parasite of nutrient-poor grasses so in slightly debilitating them, it will help other newly seeded wildflowers to rear their blooms in a lawn or grass verge.
From mid summer, Black horehound (Ballota nigra) can flower in our wasteland places (usually well-drained) with mauve flowers along with Hemp -Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) which also likes field borders or woodland clearings, Blackberry Brambles (Rubus 'fructicosus'), delicate white, sometimes pink-blush flowers. Other waste ground residents are the robust Greater and Lesser Burdocks (Arctium lappa and Arctium minus) which look like globular thistles, lilac to pink tinged, plus the Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) with light purple flowers that were found to be one of the top nectar sugar providers³, Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis) and Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
Still in July, Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), that gives a pungent punch to our recipes is also loved by pollinators, it thrives in drier soils and has self-seeded amongst the stones on our patio, as has the wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus).
Finally, the taller wildflowers make a towering appearance, such as Ragwort (Senecio jacobea), which is an important life support for caterpillars of the beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth (as are nettles), the majestic Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) and Wild Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). Happy wildflower seed sowing.
¹ Promoting pollinators along the area 9 road network (West Midlands) https://cdn.buglife.org.uk/2019/11/A rea-9-Buglife-Services-report-final-draft.pdf
² How poppy flowers get those vibrant colours that entice insects: https://www.rug.nl/sciencelinx/nieuws/2019/02/how-poppy-flowers-get-those-vibrant-colours-that-entice-insects?
³ Food for Pollinators: Quantifying the Nectar and Pollen Resources of Urban Flower Meadows: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0158117
Wildflower seeds to collect in August, advice from Matt Collins Head Gardener at the Garden Museum in London: https://amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2023/aug/25/10-wildflower-seeds-to-collect-now-from-wild-carrot-to-welsh-poppies
Natural History Museum, London, advice about better lawns for wildlife: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-to-grow-a-better-lawn-for-wildlife.html
Bee-friendly winter plants from the RHS: https://www.rhs.org.uk/garden-inspiration/seasonal/bee-friendly-winter-plants
Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Feeding Bees in Winter: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/feeding-the-bees-in-winter/
Food plants for caterpillars: https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter/about-moths/caterpillar-foodplants
Goat willow from the Woodland Trust: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/goat-willow/