Horticulture has its roots in wild flora

Beauty in the hedgerow.
Beauty in the hedgerow.

As greater tracts of the countryside are gobbled-up in the name of development, it becomes increasingly important to protect our wild flora.

They were, after all, the base from which the diversity of modern ornamental plants arose.

Foreign introductions aside, take any of the popular border favourites and the chances are it can be traced back to a wild relative.

A summer visit to the margin of a nearby stream will always find water avens (geum rivale), marsh marigold (caltha palustris) and forget-me-not (myosotis).

When August Bank Holiday Monday comes around and I’m crossing a bridge over the stream which leads to the main show area, another moisture-loving plant will be seen in bloom. This is the monkey flower (mimulus lutens) which is a popular summer bedding plant.

Gardeners’ favourites such as primrose, cowslip, heartsease, violet and orchid are all to be seen and enjoyed by everyone locally. But none are for picking. The only way to introduce them to your garden is via plugs or seeds bought from a legitimate firm.

My favourite in this respect is Chiltern Seeds, www.chilternseeds.co.uk, who list well over 200 varieties. These are helpfully listed alphabetically using their botanical and common names.

Perhaps the conservation movement has encouraged us to look more closely at the simple charm of wild flowers, and see something that is missing in big, blousy border hybrids.

There has always been a patch of greater celandine (chelidonium majus) in this garden because it is one of the lady of the house’s favourites. Red campions (melandrium rubrum) and cowslips (primula veris) are there for a similar reason.

God grant we can always get down to the level of a tiny wild pansy (viola tricolor) that must be viewed eye-to-eye. Like the violet, it self-sows quite freely, and all we need do is round the young plants up into groups for effect.

The countryside is coming alive with wild flowers, including that of the hawthorn (crataegus), whose blossom is named after this month. For me there is no better way of taking a break from the garden than to travel local bridleways and see this process unfold.

Stars of the moment on a favourite track are stitchwort (stellaria hollostea) and germander speedwell (veronica chamaedrys). The combination of blue and white swathes, set against the background of a yellow oilseed rape crop, tends to be quite eye-catching.

No wonder there’s a growing appreciation of our native wild flora, and desire to bring some of it a bit closer to home. Gardeners with a small semi-wild patch have the opportunity to indulge in a mini-meadow. Mine has a little gem of a plant (lady’s smock) whose botanical name simply trots off the tongue – cardamine pratensis.

I stopped using selective weed killers on the lawns years ago when a crop of field mushrooms mysteriously appeared. This action encouraged much more than daisies. Self-heal (prunella vulgaris), pink and white clover (trifolium) and several others turn it into a bumblebee haven for several weeks over summer.

Of bowling green standard it is not, but the area always looks respectably green and is never allowed to grow out of control. The only downside is that high-season mowing is a two-person job. Whilst I concentrate on steering the petrol-driven machine, her ladyship walks ahead shooing bees!