Isn’t Britain great? Didn’t we do a good job with those Olympics? Weren’t our paralympic athletes an inspiration? Haven’t we had a lovely summer? Er, well, scratch that last one and let’s continue on a Rule Britannia theme.
One much mentioned aspect of the events down in Stratford was the magnificent job which had been done in landscaping the Olympic Park. Hats off to all involved. Combined with Danny Boyle’s vision of the English countryside portrayed at the Opening Ceremony, we have been reminded of what a beautiful country we could live in of only a little more effort was put into maintaining what we have got… Except many of those plants at the Olympic Park aren’t British. They are aliens. They are the result of the research done by those modern day plant hunters at the University of Sheffield, Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough. Nothing wrong with that. However, I thought that it may be interesting to take a look at a few of our own native plants – beauties all of them.
Let’s pick a tree. In my native North East where the wind whips off the North Sea and wearing a coat is seen as a sign of weakness, you have to be hardy to make it through the winter – and that is why in many gardens of the North East you see varieties of Rowan or Mountain Ash planted. Our native Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, has a small form, delicate, divided leaves and berries every year to keep the birds happy. If you are looking for a recommended variety, you may want to try Sorbus aucuparia ‘Joseph Rock’.
Now we have a tree, let’s look closer to the ground. What would we plant in that dry shady spot by the wall? Well, how about our native Hart’s Tongue Fern, Asplenium scolopendrium? Happier in alkaline soil, I’ve even seen it growing very happily in cracks in the mortar of a wall in Woolwich. Nothing against Woolwich you understand.
How about a hedge? Please don’t plant a Laurel, they are thugs. I know they grow quickly, but then you spend all your time cutting them back to stop them taking over. How about a native hedge? One of my particular favourites is Hawthorn, or Crataegus monogyna. Beautiful green leaves in early spring are followed by delicious white flowers and red berries. They are a haven for wildlife and for those who welcome a bit of security, no would-be burglar would like to tackle those thorns.
How about some colour? Anyone who has seen Cornish verges in late Spring, or show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show, couldn’t fail to spot one of the most beautiful of our native plants. A rampant self seeder, but none the worse for that, our native foxglove is a beauty to behold. This spire-like plant is a treat for bees that love climbing into those trumpet-like, soft, purple flowers.
There we go – a very brief introduction to what a horticultural bounty Britain has to offer. Remember, it’s always great to experience the delights that other countries have to offer, but sometimes going native is the best way to go!
Nigel is an award winning garden designer with studios in London and North Yorkshire. As founder of Medlar & Cob he uses modern, intelligent design to create timeless British gardens rooted in tradition. Take a look at his blog here here - medlarandcob.com/m. You can follow Nigel on twitter @medlarandcob. Read more posts by Nigel.