Re-born to be wild

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The British are doing their bit for wildlife – particularly smaller things like bees and butterflies.

But it’s been a bit of a learning curve persuading gardeners to sow wild flower seeds instead of the run-of-the-mill bedding and hanging-basket varieties.

Thirty-odd years ago, many gardeners still regarded wild flowers as weeds, but a small revolutionary seed company helped change all that.

When Mr Fothergill’s was established, in 1978, as the first major new retail seed company in decades, it was its range of wild flower seeds which made it stand out from the crowd.

And when native plants such as primrose, foxglove and cowslip proved incredibly popular, it came as no surprise that wild flowers figured prominently when the company launched its first mail-order catalogue, in 1984.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, and mail-order sales of its wild flower seeds have soared by more than 50 per cent in the last two seasons – and the trend is set to continue. “Wild flowers are now part of mainstream gardening,” says the company’s John Fothergill.

“When my father, Jeff, first offered seed of wild species, eyebrows were raised, but he saw their beauty and wanted to popularise them.

“Today, we are much more environmentally aware and with the threats to bees and other insects, gardeners appreciate that wild flowers have an important role to play in maintaining eco-systems. They can be grown in a ‘wild’ garden or interspersed in borders with cultivated flowers.”

John reports that during the 2011-12 season the most popular single species is the field poppy (Papaver rhoeas), with its striking scarlet, single flowers, each petal often marked at its base with a black blotch, with the Cornfield Mixture being the best selling blend of wild flower seeds.

Back in the1984 catalogue, a packet of wild primrose seed was priced at 69p; now it costs £2.49, but many gardeners still consider that to be a bit of a bargain for the colourful results produced. And, of course, there’s the benefit to all those bugs and helpful insects.

All Mr Fothergill’s wild flower seeds are grown from originally native stocks, but none is sourced from the wild.

For a free copy of the latest catalogue, telephone 0845 371 0518, go online at www.mr-fothergills.co.uk or write to Mr Fothergill’s, Kentford, Suffolk CB8 7QB.

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