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  • Writer's pictureHazel Manley

Weeds or Wildflowers?

If you’ve seen my social media over the last few months, you’ll have seen lots of wild flowers. Although I’ve no intention of limiting myself by becoming a flower painter, I find myself continually drawn to flowers, and especially wild flowers. Many are so beautiful that it’s hard to see why we call them weeds.

Weed or wildflower?

It’s often said that a weed is a flower in the wrong place, but that oversimplifies the issue.

In a piece of legislation from 1959, some plants are listed as ‘injurious plants'! There’s a list of 5 on the website.

These are plants that, if you have them in your garden, you have to stop them spread spreading to the land around yours because of the problems they can cause. They include the cheerful yellow ragwort and two varieties of thistle

Click on the links if you want to see how pretty they are.

Welcomed or unwanted?

Even many of the wildflowers not on the list are hated by gardeners. As a child, our lawn regularly had scatterings of speedwell and scarlet pimpernel. Both were low growing plants bearing tiny, pretty flowers. Both were regularly removed by my father who regarded them as weeds much to the indignation of my sister and I!

Many wildflowers are unwanted in gardens because they can out compete their more showy cousins, especially in soils that are too poor, or too dry, or too damp for the picky plants we’ve often paid a fortune for. Sometimes it’s because they don’t fit in with our ideas of what a garden should look like. (Apparently, a lawn shouldn’t be full of bright yellow dandelions, but no-one seems to have told mine so a few more appear each year.)

Prize Winners

Despite this, wildflowers are becoming trendy. In 2021, the RHS gave an award to a wildflower garden sparking a number of articles about their benefits and beauties.

In part, this is a response to a growing awareness of their benefits to other wildlife and particularly to insects such as bees and butterflies. This is one reason I have an ambition to have wildflower meadow instead of a lawn. (The other being that maintaining a lawn is about as exciting as watching paint dry and a great deal more tiring!)

Heritage and hidden beauty

It’s not their ecological benefits or their refusal to be replaced by expensive garden plants that draws me to paint them.

In part, it’s my heritage. As a child on long (often unwelcome) walks, my mum pointed out wildflowers and taught (or tried to teach) me their names. I noted my finds in my spotter book – so much easier than bird spotting because they couldn’t fly off.

Now, many of the once common varieties have become rare, vanishing along with their habitats, and poisoned by generous doses of herbicides. This makes the sight of some of my childhood finds a kind of triumph in the face of unwelcome changes.

I love the way their beauty is often hidden because they are tiny. By enlarging them, I get to celebrate and display this beauty. Even those that can hardly be called small often have hidden gems. No-one could ignore the scarlet petals of the common poppy, but how often do we notice the intricate details of their seed heads?

I’ve painted garden roses and there’s no doubt they bring the same technical challenges and colour ranges, but there’s something very special about using paint to introduce someone to a flower they’ve never stopped to consider, which is probably why I shall continue to be drawn to create joyful celebrations of these too often neglected beauties.

If you’d like to know more about British wildflowers, there’s a guide here with some beautiful photographs.

When painting wildflowers, I enjoy looking up their uses and stories that have grown up around them. The National Trust has some interesting stories here

You can watch me painting several on my YouTube channel

Wildflowers feature in paintings, prints, cards and scarves available from my shop


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