Having always been a very amateur botanist, over the last few years I’ve taken a more active interest in arable plant communities in particular. This is in part due to living in an arable-dominated landscape on the mid-Hampshire chalk and the 2020 lockdown meant that local habitats were visited often. I’m in the midst of what many might justifiably describe as an archetypal agricultural desert: plenty of huge fields of cereals, legumes or maize with patchy hedgerows.

One good thing about this arable-dominated landscape is that the soils here are seriously poor: some fields are literally nothing but a thin smear of soil over baked chalk and flint shards. This all makes for an exciting substrate, a land pre-charged for arable scarcities even if they’re only found in that thin weedy strip at the edges. I’ve had some great local finds, including Dense-flowered, Fine-leaved and Few-flowered fumitories and Night-flowering catchfly amongst the more regular Dwarf spurge, Small toadflax and Sharp-leaved and Round-leaved fluellens. Every visit is like a treasure hunt and I find it hugely rewarding.

Having been using the superb online resources offered by Colour in the Margins (chiefly for Fumaria ID!) I then stumbled across the amazing Arable Seed Swap on Facebook. I’ve found this to be a fantastic resource and full of friendly, useful advice and support. And, of course, a source of seed and cultivation expertise. The group is full of experts on arable species and their cultivation: I’ve asked for and received advice on sowing times, soil mixtures and seedlings and have put this to good use.

I soon said yes please to packets of seeds from members of the group and now have a collection of some incredible species on the go. I have various seed trays (Christmas presents!) of poor chalky or gravelly soil containing mouth-watering species such as Corncockle, Corn buttercup and Spreading hedge-parsley with dozens of well-developed seedlings from December sowings. I am eagerly awaiting the first signs of growth from Red hemp-nettle, Night-flowering and Small-flowered catchflies and Weasel’s snout. In early March I even built a small bed solely for arable plant species and have already transplanted some Corncockle and Corn buttercup seedlings to their new home alongside some Keeled-fruited cornsalad I already had growing in the garden. I think my wife is wondering why I’ve never shown such enthusiasm for the vegetable beds.

Hopefully my various seeds and seedlings will provide a foundation for a persistent arable margin flora in my garden, allowing me to harvest and share seed as well as to enjoy these incredibly beautiful and scarce plants. I will continue to visit, survey and record the arable flora of my local area and very much hope to contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts for this unique suite of species.

Fumaria parviflora - July 2020

Fumaria densiflora - May 2020

Fumaria vaillantii - July 2020

Silene noctiflora - July 2020


The Arable Seed Swap Facebook group is for anyone that would like to grow cornfield flowers in their garden, vegetable patch, allotment or even window box. It is purely about the enjoyment of cornfield flowers and has the added benefit that it can increase insect visitors to your garden or allotment. To join the group and get growing head over to Facebook, search for ‘Arable Seed Swap’.


Tristan Norton

Arable Plant Enthusiast



Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

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