How to grow flowers the organic way
Flowers are often referred to as ‘ornamentals’. But they don’t just look good, they can be an essential part of your organic growing. They attract beneficial insects such as pollinators or aphid eaters, they can be used in companion planting in your veg patch – and some you can even eat. See The Joy of Edible Flowers.
You won't need to use artificial fertilisers to help them thrive – as with all organic growing it is a matter of getting the soil well prepared. Choose plants that are suited to your soil type and locality, and you can enjoy their visual beauty and colour all year round.
As always, the best place to start is by downloading the Principles of Organic Gardening. These explain the thinking behind organic growing. Designed with a helpful traffic light system, they help you on your organic growing journey - whether you are a complete beginner, want to convert to organic, or be reminded of good organic practice.
Preparing your growing area
Wherever and whatever you are growing, you need to prepare the soil first. Soil provides life for your plants, and in turn you need to provide nutrients for your soil. See Managing your soil. On a new allotment or garden, your first battle might be with weeds. These compete with other plants for light, nutrition and water, so you need to clear them before you start growing. If your growing area is large, decide which part of the ground you want to use to start growing immediately, and which part you can leave for later. We suggest the following way to help you prepare the ground the organic way - without chemicals and weed killers.
For immediate use, dig the ground over to take out tough and woody weeds like docks, thistles, nettles and brambles, removing as much root as possible. See FAQs for how to deal with bindweed or brambles. Then add as much compost as you can - one big wheelbarrow, or 5 large buckets, for every 5 square metres of ground. Dig this compost into the top 10 cms of soil, and your bed is ready for planting. If you want to sow seeds, use a rake to break down and gently flatten the topsoil into a fine texture (known as tilth) so the seeds can access soil and water to germinate.
You can take your time preparing the remaining growing area. A light-excluding membrane (which is often made of plastic, and can be bought in rolls in garden centres or on-line) will suppress and eventually kill the weeds. However, it can take up to 6 months to 2 years. (We do not recommend using carpet. Many carpets use harmful chemicals in their construction and moth proofing which can leach into the ground.)
Another way to clear weeds on your new beds is the No Dig method. This uses a thick (over 15cms) mulch of manure or compost, often used in conjunction with a plastic membrane, which not only suppresses the weeds but also feeds the soil. However, persistent weeds such as docks and bindweed will not be eradicated for many years.
If you are growing in containers, prepare your organic growing medium according to the plants you plan to grow. See Container growing.
How to create a Wild Flower area
You don’t need a large meadow to grow wild flowers. A corner of your lawn, a patch between your beds or on the edge of your allotment can all be converted to wild flower growing. However, the important thing is not to enrich the soil. Fertile soils in flower beds, with nutrients such as phosphates, will allow weeds such as nettles and docks to take over. A poor, well-drained, sunny patch is ideal.
Preparation – first dig out perennial weeds. If your soil is nutrient rich, take off the top 20 cms to expose a poorer subsoil. Then prepare a firm, level seedbed a month before you plan to sow. This allows the weed seeds to establish and you to hoe them off!
Sowing – the best time to sow is September, when the soil is still warm, this allows a cold period before germination in the spring. Sow sparingly. It helps to mix the seed thoroughly with sawdust or silver sand, so you can see where you have broadcast it. Then gently rake and firm the surface. Water if conditions are very dry.
Cutting – allow your flowers to set seed before mowing. Spring flowering meadows can be cut from late June onwards, a summer flowering meadow from September onwards. Do not cut the grass too short ie a minimum of 5 cms. Leaving the hay for a couple of weeks allows it to shed its seed, and then it must be removed to keep the soil fertility low.
An elusive, but helpful plant in creating a wildflower meadow, is the attractive annual Yellow rattle. In the past this plant was a serious pest for farmers as it weakens grasses and as a result can reduce hay yields. In a planned wildflower meadow, however, this suppression of grass growth is welcomed. At the end of each growing season as the annual yellow rattle plants die away they leave behind gaps into which new wild flowers can establish.
Wildflower meadow seeds are available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue. Garden Organic members get a discount. Why not become a Garden Organic member? Membership costs as little as £2.75 a month, and you get free or discounted entry to many gardens throughout the UK. Phone 02476 303517 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a list of flowers and herbs to attract beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies
See also The British Bee Keepers’ Association list of pollen and nectar-rich plants by season and this friendly little poster to encourage us to Bee Friendly!
Flowers for Honey Bees
Rock cress (Arabis, brassicoideae); Borage (Borago officinalis); Blackberry, raspberry and hybrid berries; Candytuft (Iberis); Dog rose (Rosa canina); Heather (Erica); Mignonette (Reseda oderata); Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa); Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia); Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis); Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium); Verbascums; Vervain (Verbena officinalis); Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia); Wallflowers (Erysimum); Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
Flowers for bumble bees
Anise hyssop (Agastache anisata); Bergamot (Monarda); Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus); Clover, red and white (Trifolium); Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus); Dhalia; Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus); Goldenrod (Solidago); Geranium (Geranium species); Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens); Horehound (Marrubium vulgare); Honeysickle (Lonicera); Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa); Marjoram (Origanum); Lobelia cardinalis; Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata); Perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana); Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia); Poppy (Papaver species); Red valerian (Centranthus ruber); Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum); Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum); Sage (Salvia officinalis); Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare); Yarrow (Achillea vulgaris)
Flowers for hoverflies and other beneficial insects
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa); Brambles (Rubus fructicosus); Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum); California poppy (Eschscholzia californica); Carrots and carrot family (Apiaciae); Convolvulus annual (Convolvulus tricolor); Corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum); Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus); Coriander (Coriandrum sativum); Cosmos; Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris); Dog rose (Rosa canina); Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare); Figwort (Scrophularia); Hawthorn (Cretaegus monogyna); Ivy (Hedera helix); Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia); Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima); Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Flowers for adult butterflies
Aubretia; Buddleja; Candytuft (Iberis umbellata); Hebe; Field scabious (Knautia arvensis); Honesty (Lunaria annua); Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis); Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum); Ice plant (Sedum spectabile); Irish heath (Erica erigena); Ivy (Hedera helix); Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis); Lavender; Marjoram (Origanum); Mint (Mentha); Michelmas daisy (Aster x frikartii); Small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria); Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis); Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)