This year I have set myself a casual challenge to learn to identify more wildflowers. When I say it’s a casual challenge, it’s one that has developed in part because of my natural curiosity about plants and in part through necessity. Garden visits have been almost impossible this spring and summer because of lockdown restrictions, so my focus has fallen to the flowers and plants around me – in the woods and hedgerows where we’ve walked more than ever, as well as further afield as restrictions have been eased and we’ve been able to go out for day trips.
I’ve looked out for all kinds of wildflowers since they began emerging in the spring, and have watched the forest floor and the hedgerows grow and develop through into summer. Some plants are of course common and easy to identify – wild roses, foxgloves, cowslips and primroses for example. I love the big fat red clover flowers which are a cousin of the smaller variety popping up in my lawn. It’s also fairly simple to spot ox-eye daisies and now at this time of year the statuesque rosebay willowherb is gradually turning its eye-poppingly pink flowers to fluffy seedheads.
All the pinks and purples! Rosebay willowherb, red clover, field scabious, pink yarrow, foxgloves
But there are lots of flowers which I had previously disregarded or just didn’t look closely enough to really see them, and now I find myself peering into the undergrowth when I visit a new place to see if I can find anything unusual. I use my phone to take photos of whatever I find, and anything I really can’t identify I can then look up in my handy Wild Flowers book at home. It’s a slightly old-fashioned book, with illustrations instead of photos but I’ve found it simple to identify each plant according to its kind, and I can also be slightly smug with myself about looking up an actual reference book for a change instead of relying on Google or an app!
One of my most exciting finds this summer was a Common Spotted Orchid, discovered at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and the infamous Himalyan Balsam which I found on the banks of the River North Esk. It’s not uncommon, which is part of its problem – it’s an infamously invasive non-native plant but up until recently I had read about it, but never knowingly seen it.
Common-spotted orchid, Himalayan balsam
Closer to home, I was also gifted a Seedball to trial earlier in the year, so I’ve used it to help develop a wildflower section in one of my raised beds. I’ve documented the sowing and growing on my Instagram feed, and there’s a video in my Highlights showing just how easy these are – you just scatter the little clay balls in spring around the area where you want to grow your wildflowers and they will naturally break down and germinate in time to flower for the summer. I’ve also been growing Ragged Robin from seed, a wildflower which loves damp soil around ponds, so a little group of these is now in a pot next to my tin bath pond. I would love to introduce more wildflowers to my garden – they’re tough but pretty in a natural, uncultivated way, and loved by all kinds of insects.
So it’s been a mini journey of discovery for me so far this year. I’ve really enjoyed spotting and identifying the plants I’ve seen every day but couldn’t name, such as lady’s bedstraw, field scabious, self-heal, eyebright and also looking out for the best and most beautiful specimens of some old favourites, like harebells, foxgloves and meadow cranesbill. Try it yourself – take a closer look and use a book or an app to figure out what you’ve found. The plants which grow in our home environment are so important for biodiversity, supporting pollinators, providing a healthy eco-system and help us to notice the change in seasons as early dots of colour give way to blousy, overblown hedgerows. It’s useful and enjoyable to know what’s growing just outside your garden walls.