Louise Curley

13 Apr 2023 08:12

Garden-worthy Wildflowers


I’ve been reading lots of books about the environment, biodiversity and rewilding recently, and it’s got me thinking about what I can do in my garden to help wildlife, and one of my plans for this year is to plant more wildflowers.

Wildflowers in my garden

I already grow some – I have primroses (Primula vulgaris), snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and there are some English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) around the base of the birch tree. Underneath a section of newly planted hedging I planted some wildflower plug plants a few years ago to cover up the bare soil. On walks in the surrounding countryside I noted the plants I’d see in the hedgerows, plants such as greater stitchwort, selfheal and tufted vetch, and found a company online that sold these as baby plants. But other than this the flowers in my garden are all non-native plants that are generally from Europe, Asia and North America.


Native v Non-native

These non-native plants are beautiful and many are great source of pollen, nectar and seeds for insects and birds, but the key thing about native plants is that the wildlife has evolved alongside them. That might mean an insect times its emergence in spring with the opening of a particular flower or a bird raises its young when it knows the leaves of a tree will have unfurled and that the caterpillars it needs to feed its chicks will be feeding on those leaves.

I love tobacco plants (Nicotiana), particularly those with the long, tubular flowers but here in the UK we don’t have any wildlife that can take advantage of the nectar inside the flower trumpet. In their native South America these plants are pollinated by hummingbirds whose long beaks are adapted to drink up the nectar. The interconnectedness of it all is mind-boggling.

This is not to say non-native plants are bad, many are wonderful for our wildlife, but in some cases our native plants are relied on by some of our wildlife. And because wildflowers are not as abundant in the countryside as they used to be or present at all in our urban areas, gardens can be a great place to grow them.

More wildflowers

So that’s why I’ve decided to make space for more native wildflowers this year. I’m going to weave some in among other plants, for instance a birch tree casts dappled shade over the back of the garden. I’ve already planted lots of ferns and plants such as epimediums there to enhance the woodland feel, but I’m going to add alkanet, a pretty plant with forget-me-not-like flowers; wood vetch; and honesty, which develops magical moon-like seed pods when the flowers have faded.

In the beds where I would normally grow annual flowers for cutting I’m instead going to grow a mix of perennial wildflowers and a few annuals that I know are good for insects. So far I’ve planted ox-eye daisies, red campion, a tall, wafty buttercup and wild carrot. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like and what creatures will visit.