GARDENING / An alphabet for beginners

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The Independent Online
W is for wild garden, which, despite its image, may well be the most labour-

intensive patch of your plot. There is a romantic notion that creating a wild garden is merely a matter of buying a packet of mixed wild flowers (usually heavy on cornflowers and poppies), scattering them to the wind and letting nature take its course.

The chief difficulty is that the showiest wild flowers (poppies, cornflowers) are flowers of the cornfields, flourishing on a regime of yearly tilling and clearing of the ground.

After a neck-and-neck race with the corn, they seed themselves, ready to bob up after the next round of ploughing. Where grass is permanently established, as it will be after the first year of a newly sown flowery mead, poppies die out. End of vision.

Fertility is another problem. The best shows of flowers in the wild are where you have poor ground - thin chalk, rocky screes. The flowers zoom up and get the essential business of setting seed over as quickly as possible in the first half of the summer, before food and drink run out.

Most garden soil is too good for wild flowers. As a result, the growth of lush grass and rank, leafy weeds such as sow thistle, nettle and dock is generally a problem.

In spring, there is a fragile truce and this is when wild gardens are at their best, the turf studded with primroses, violets and, if it is damp, fritillaries.

By mid-June, however, the battle has been lost. Tall grass has its own beauty, but all too often the whole waving mass is felled by a sudden thunderstorm.

Interest in gardening with wild flowers has increased in direct proportion to the rate at which their natural habitats are disappearing.

Instead of creating your own, however, it may be better to consider directing some of the time and money it would require to saving the rather more successful ones that still exist, although precariously, in the wild.