James Hutchinson: Wildflowers on a Golf Course?

As part of Turfhuggers efforts to bring articles and view points from around the world, I'd like to introduce to you one of our newest contributors, James Hutchinson. James is a 38 year old step father to James and husband to Lynsey. Since 2007 James has been the Assistant Greenskeeper/Eco-Coordinator at Fairhaven Golf CLub in Lytham where he's helped them win spots in BIGGA's Golf Ecology Competition in 07 (Best British Newcomer) and 08 (North England), and more recently in 09 (North England Winner) and 10 (Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year) within the STRI's Golf Course Environmental AwardsJames has been awarded scholarships from both BIGGA and the R&A which have helped him earn a  FdSc in Sportsturf Science degree from Myerscough, where he just started another 2 year degree.

Wildflowers on a Golf Course?

There are numerous golf courses here in the UK that embraces environmental issues and ecological projects. Most, if not all, have a membership that understands the need to promote their golf course in a different light than the age old feeling of ‘over watered, over fertilised waste of land’ references. However, there are the odd few who do not want ‘their’ golf course turning into a nature reserve.

My question to you is this: Can wild flowers and golf course rough co habit the same space without the need for controversy? I believe they can.

I have a few small ecological projects at my place of work, and one is the introduction of wild flowers into our rough grassland. It has been a three year long project and it is now producing stunning results such as the attraction of honey bees and numerous butterfly types such as this photograph of a small blue on an ox – eye daisy flower. 

The project had an initial outlay of £70 ($112 CDN or $114 USD) and is now totally sustainable. The resulting seed heads are collected and scattered elsewhere on the golf course. There is slightly more involved than this brief blog question but the outcome can help to slow down what seems to be a worldwide decline of bees, one of which is shown in this photograph!

I understand that a project such as this could not take place on the ‘in play’ areas of a golf course, but why not the ‘out of play’ areas? 

Have you implemented similar projects on your course? 
I look forward to hearing your comments.

... Once you've commented, check out some more from James including his Three Year Project on the Introduction of Wild Flowers into an Ecological Rough which James wrote during his time at Myerscough College (embedded below or go here to view in full screen) and this interview An Environmental Haven from the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association Limited.

Introduction of Wild Flowers into an Ecological Rough


I planted wildflowers on 04 and they came up in 06. It was actually rewarding to do. But it was tricky to get them to germinate and you have to have patience. They really come out with a vegence every year after 06.

I use meadow species in a buffer-zone setting mostly, but a few designs of tee complexes using herbaceous plants too. In some cases I find opportunities to select species according to a number of additional factors on-top of what James outlined, including micro climates, ecological function, playability (I like integrating gradual densities of plantings where balls tend to land), remediation function (phyto and structural), and long-term maintenance. I advocate towards harvesting local seed sources, and have a few clients who set out with baskets in the fall to collect, then cold stratify during the winter, and prepare plugs for spring plantings. This is a nice way to keep the cost of materials down, especially plugs. I would think that once a course is tapped out of new planting areas this could be a source of revenue or trade with other land owners. In some watersheds governments will pay for the planting of aquatics, or shrubs for filtration or shading projects.

James, I love that you utilized old sand heaps to condition the soil, great use of a "waste" material. I presume the compost was from your Fairhaven too?


We did struggle at first to get the wildflowers to grow, but I think this was more to do with choice of growing medium than anything else. Once we added compost to the seedbed then all hell broke loose!


The compost we used was indeed from Fairhaven. It is compromised of mainly woodchip and grass clippings and takes around ten months to a year to develop.
We have started to incorporate the compost into the newly turfed areas around the sides of bunkers and walkways. This procedure is carried out in the winter months, just to give it a head start when germination begins in spring. Fairhaven has a sand dominated rootzone so any naturally sourced nutrients are welcome.

James H.

I advocate wildflowers on the course as well, especially native varieties. I have, on occasion, strewn or planted seeds in rough areas, myself, without authorization. In an attempt to avoid self incrimination, I refuse to admit where this activity took place

The most helpful advice I had ever been given when it comes to ecological restoration is "you can't build a forest on a lawn, a forest can only survive in a forest". Obviously what this means is that you must recreate all levels and characteristics of the ecosystem or plant community your trying to re-create. For example a woodland needs the humus layer, needs decomposing materials for a healthy fungal web to develop.

A meadow stays a meadow for a number of reasons, and its successional growth needs to be curbed through the use of disturbance. Naturally meadows are disturbed by fire, flooding and in extreme cases wind. But because we're employing meadows where they will not be exposed to such disturbances we need to encourage, recreate or imitate these disturbances. This is why mowing works so well, but the more you chop and drop the more you accumulate biomass or organic matter. This is fantastic in areas where you want lush growth, but not so good close to play. Collecting cuttings works, but so do multiple mowings and scalping. Each site/course is different, but I generally tell my clients to mow high-play areas twice per season and about to mower widths in.

How do you plan to thin out the areas close to play James and Eric?


As we do not have any grazing animals on the golf course and the North West of England is rarely hit by fire or flood, we thin out the wildflower meadows by cutting down to around five cm's (in carrying out this procedure, we can mimic the maintenance of a natural Autumn wildflower meadow i.e. sheep or cow grazing). Metal rakes or spring boks are then used to loosen the upper surface of the meadow. We gently loosen the surface in mid Spring when the chance of frost has gone so as to help bring the pre emerging wildflower seeds nearer the surface.
Our wildflower meadows are all created at least 30 metres away from any playing areas so as not to attract too much controversy from the members. We have, however, recently created a new 'meadow' directly behind one of our tees. The meadow is just starting to produce a stunning array of flowers and I cannot see there being a problem unless they start to encroach onto the playing areas - So the answer to your question is: currently we do not need to thin out our wildflower areas (but watch this space)!

James H.

Grazing, of course, I missed that one.
It'll be interesting to see how it matures James.

I will keep you posted on any new developments and ideas.


This is very fascinating to me and I have an interest in taking a similar approach at my course. I am curious about the method of collecting the seedheads for dispersal throughout other areas on the properties. Would one if you please expand on that portion of the program? Thanks for the great info!

Good question Greg, I think a new post is in order to discuss it thoroughly but we did begin to cover this topic about two years ago, check it out here http://turfhugger.blogspot.com/2009/12/saving-seeds-to-meet-our-needs.html

Hi Greg. We do not have a mechanical harvester or seed head cultivator. The seeds are collected by hand and dispersed manually throughout the Summer. This is not a particularly time consuming practice; around an hour per week depending on what seed is available at any given time.
We have recently mowed and lightly scarified the wildflower meadow and collected the arisings by hand raking them up and setting them to one side. In theory, the arisings should be full of seeds and should still be viable in the Spring. This is when we shall lightly scatter them onto the weaker areas of the meadow, or even create a new meadow? It depends on how much land the powers that be let me have!
James H.

Hi all

This season's wildflowers are just starting to show which is not surprising given the mild Winter we have had over here in the UK. There is still time for a light air or ground frost but I do not think that would cause any issues to the meadows.

The past month has seen us introduce another wildflower area to the golf course and I hope that this one proves to be as much of a success as the others -  I'm sure the new seed's receptors are in overdrive and we should see new shoots over the next few weeks. I will keep you all posted and try to upload a pic or two re how they are doing.

James H.