Wild flower experiment started

Brookdale Park chosen as first site in Manchester project that aims to cut maintenance costs.

Harkin: trust’s urban gardener
Harkin: trust’s urban gardener

A park in Manchester has become the site of a wild flower meadow experiment after collaboration between Manchester City Council and the National Trust.

The Manchester Meadows project aims to find spaces across the city where turf can be replaced by annual and perennial wild flowers, and whether money can be saved on maintenance.

Brookdale Park in Newton Heath is the first site chosen. The city had already experimented with differential mowing regimes but had too many complaints from the public, according to the UK's first and only National Trust urban gardener Sean Harkin, who leads the project alongside Manchester City Council neighbourhood manager Dave Ludlam.

Now he hopes to win over the public with displays of colour from 12 different seed mixes. Work started last week on killing off the existing grass with glyphosate prior to the first phase of sowing, which will run until mid April. There will be a second round of sowing and turfing in the autumn.

"There have been some wild flower meadows tried in Manchester that haven't been successful," said Harkin. "Other people have not necessarily used the right technique and ended up turfing it over. We need to demonstrate with this that we are going to do it all properly and it's going to be very successful. It's very important to have annuals in the first year to bulk it up, so the first year will be the most spectacular."

Harkin and Ludlam are working with the National Wildflower Centre in Knowsley, with seed from trading arm Landlife Wildflowers, based in nearby Merseyside. Seeded areas will be boosted by areas of wild flower turf "to speed things along".

Harkin hopes to develop different models of wild flower conversion for different types of land. This will hopefully include working with the University of Sheffield using a wild flower plug system being developed by Boningale-sponsored PhD student Michael Livingstone and Olympic Park wild flower co-creator Professor James Hitchmough.

The project fits well into Harkin's remit - to find new ways of working that will deliver quality horticulture at a lower cost, working with community groups and promoting nature, horticulture and the National Trust within the city.

In all, approximately six of the park's 20ha will be converted - around half the currently turfed space. Football pitches, a picnic area and a lawn used for community gatherings will stay grassed.

The project is costing £75,000, from the city council's Clean City fund and £15,000 on seed and turf.

Harkin said: "The council's really excited about it. We're lucky with Manchester we've got this fund. The reality is local authorities will not have as much money for maintenance in the future."

Landlife Wildflowers - Catalogue published

Landlife Wildflowers, a supplier and promoter of wild flower habitats and biodiversity, has launched its new catalogue (www.wildflower.org.uk/catalogue.html).

The organisation is a social enterprise and the trading arm of environment charity Landlife, based at the National Wildflower Centre in Knowsley.

It sees itself as a "wild flower farmer" and grows most of its seeds and plants on the 30ha National Wildflower Farm in St Helens, aiming to encourage people to plant more wild flower seed to create wildlife areas.

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