How is the seed harvested?
Under guidance from Defra the wildflower meadows are cut for hay later in the year than traditional hay meadows, but this can also have its downside. Orchids flourish - there are hundreds of thousands of them - but some flowers arrive later and therefore some species struggle. Although a perennial will keep coming back, they still have a life span so will disappear within about five years if they’re not allowed to set seed. For this reason the later flowering species are sometimes hand-harvested and sown into intensive beds in the walled garden.
An antique grass seed winnowing machine is used to sift the seeds which have been gathered or, more accurately, brushed off the meadows with a soft brush harvester and then spread out gently on massive, snag free sheets to dry. This gives time for any trapped insects to escape and then can easily be gathered and dragged in and under cover when the weather is inclement. The harvester can be set at different heights to harvest different species as it passes over the meadow at different times of the year.
Once sifted the seeds are kept chilled and stored in containers. Orders for the seeds come from county wildlife trusts, the National Trust, city and county councils and highways agencies, as well as private businesses and individuals. Julian is often called upon to give help and advice. Growing a wildflower meadow isn’t easy and it will easily take four to five years to establish.