Kent Wildflower Seeds
Kent Wildflower Seeds, a recently launched offshoot of T. Denne & Sons, the largest processors of grass seed in the country has caught the zeitgeist and responds to the rapidly changing face of agriculture.
Innovation, and no doubt a canny business acumen, has ensured the survival of T. Denne & Sons for nearly 150 years. Originally founded by Thomas Denne in 1879, it supplied Canterbury’s large army garrison with horse feed. Over the years the firm acquired several other mills in East Kent and diversified into small seeds sales, and production, fertiliser distribution, animal feed, grain trading and wharfage.
‘My father was nearing retirement age and wanted something new to do. Four years ago, he started Kent Wildflower Seeds,’ says his son, Fred Denne, the fifth generation of T. Denne & Sons. But ‘having spent all his career working with agricultural chemicals in the mind set ‘must kill off everything to allow the crop to flourish’ astonishingly my father has made a 100% volte face and is now enthusiastically proselytising to support the insect population by growing wildflowers in tandem with traditional crops.’
Fred and his wife Charlotte met on a plane to the Caribbean, where she was living at the time. Fortuitously she is a skilled social media expert as well as a travel journalist. She is rapidly building up the business via online platforms such as Instagram. @KentWildflowerseeds.
The Dennes are working in partnership with farmers and landowners across the county harvesting about 300 acres of established and new mixed meadows for wildflower seeds. ‘There are hundreds and hundreds of dormant seeds in the soil which have been left undisturbed for many years because of 20th century agricultural practice.’
Mixed meadows typically have multiple species flowering at different times, so that they have to be harvested several times throughout the summer as each flower goes to seed. It is a labour of love. ‘There may come a point when we have to grow straight strips of the different species which would greatly facilitate the seed collection,’ says Fred.
In a vast barn, Fred shows me an old mobile grain cleaner which he dismantled last year, refashioning it to separate the different flower seeds by size and shape using a series of different sieves. It is surrounded by towers of tubs of all the different seeds that make up the three mixtures on offer. Naturally there is no guarantee that the contents are always identical due to the vagaries of weather and growing conditions each season.
The Dennes work with specialist contractors preparing the ground – for example planting yellow rattle to reduce ground grasses, freeing up land for wildflowers. Fred is happy to make site visits to advise potential customers on the best way to proceed, as well as follow up visits. The ‘management is key,’ says Fred.
‘We recommend sowing the seed mixtures at a rate of 3 grams per sq. metre. For more densely populated growth this can be increased to 5 grams per sq. metre. To encourage even distribution when scattering, the seeds can be mixed with dry sand and sawdust, or flour, at a weight ratio of 1:4 (seed to spreader). All mixes are available in 5g, 10g, 25g, 100g, 500g & 1kg. Fred advises 100 kilos for a hectare of meadow.
The seeds are best sown between April and September. For optimum results sowing needs to be when the ground temperature is above 12 degrees, and the conditions are warm and wet. The seeds should lie just below the surface of the soil.
North Downs Wildflower Mixture – grown and harvested on the North Downs, the mixture includes, sanfoin, St. John’s Wort, selfheal and bird’s foot trefoil and black medick. Ideal for environmental stewardship schemes and as low maintenance or conservation garden planning.
Cornfields Annuals Wildflower Mixture – Best sown in conjunction with a perennial wildflower mix.
Species list: corncockle, scented mayweed, corn chamomile, field forget-me-not, cornflower, corn poppy, corn marigold, opium poppy, wild mustard, night-flowering catchfly and field pansy. Suitable for most soil types, do not add compost or fertiliser when sowing.
Pollinator Wildflower Mixture – designed to attract garden pollinators, the nectar-rich blooms include kidney vetch, oxeye daisy, corn chamomile and tufted vetch.
Individual packets of Common Knapweed, Oxeye Daisy, Wild White Clover and Yellow Rattle, Cornflower, Corn Poppy, Cowslip, Meadow Buttercup, Selfheal, Common Sorrel seeds are also available. And will soon have Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Lady’s Bedstraw available.