Thursday, June 25, 2009

Weeds or Wildflowers?











Every summer Durham University Botanic Garden hosts a wonderful display of annual cornfield weeds (or wild flowers, depending on your point of view). These are species that would have been familiar to Iron Age farmers but have now all but disappeared from the agricultural landscape, thanks to improved methods of cereal seed cleaning and decades of intensive use of systemic herbicides that wipe out weeds soon after germination and never allow them to set seed, so that the bank of seeds in the soil is finally depleted and the species become locally extinct. In Victorian times, when the main method of weed control was manual labour, all these species were serious weeds of crops that drastically reduced crop yields. The cornfield border is the most stunning exhibit in the Botanic Garden at this time of year, eclipsing even the giant Amazonian waterlilies in the glasshouses for their sheer ‘wow’ factor, and is a reminder of what has been lost from the agricultural landscape. Shown here, top to bottom, are corn poppies; corn marigold; cornflower; corn chamomile;corncockle. The whole border positively hums with bees and hoverflies. These are all easy species to grow in a wild flower garden. For more information about Durham University Botanic Garden visit http://www.dur.ac.uk/botanic.garden/

6 comments:

  1. That really is a beautiful sight to see so many wild flowers like that. Great shots of the individuals, especially the colour of the cornflower. Who needs garden centre plants?

    Checked out the link too, and it looks a really good place for a visit.

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  2. It's a very wildlife-friendly garden, Keith. Most of the grass mowing is done by rare-breed sheep. In winter waxwings quite often come for all the berries on the shrubs.

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  3. I love the patterns in the centre of the Corn Marigold and the Corn Chamomile.

    To me a weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted :)

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  4. Totally agree about those patterns, John - mathematically precise. There's a couple of intersting web sites describing how these pattern of spirals comes about at http://library.thinkquest.org/27890/applications5.html
    and
    http://mathematics-intrigue.blogspot.com/2009/04/fascinating-fibonacci-series.html

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  5. This interests me greatly because I was reading about creating a 'cornfield' floral display in a Northumberland Wildlife Trust publication. This is a beautiful selection of flowers and I think it is something I will try to grow in my garden next year.

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  6. Hello Emma,a few years ago I created a mini-cornfield in my garden by sowing a small plot of wheat and at the same time transplanting in small groups of each of these cornfield wildflowers that I'd sown earlier in seed tray modules - that gave the wild flowers a head start over the fast-growing wheat and the final result looked quite authentic. The sparrows really enjoyed the ripening wheat (seeds originally bought from a pet food shop). Germination in cornfield wild flowers can be very sporadic (espcially poppies) so the transplanting technique produced a more reliable result (transplanting the poppies needs a bit of care, though, as they don't like having their roots disturbed)

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