Blog

Thoughts, news and updates from members of the Plantlife team.

5 tasty wild plants to grow in your garden

These wildflowers will please both your palette and pollinators.

May 28 2015 - 10:24

Plants that attract pollinators are essential for any garden that aspires to be wildlife-friendly. Here's five suggestions that you might also find tasty...

 

1) Blaeberry 

 Above: Blaeberry © S. Rae

Widespread in the hills and glens of the north of Scotland, blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, known as bilberry in other parts of Britain) is a deciduous shrub. It will provide the allotment grower and gardener with pretty pale pink flowers in the spring, tasty berries in the summer and then lovely foliage that turns red in the autumn. This plant will also attract pollinators, especially bees – providing an early source of nectar in spring. There are some indications that blaeberry has been eaten since pre-historic times. In Scandinavia certainly, blaeberries are commonly eaten, used in preserves, pastries and flavourings. They can also be eaten raw. This medium sized plant will provide a good medium/low cover in an allotment or bed, but does demand an acidic soil. You might want to leave some berries for the birds who adore them too!

 

2) Ramsons

 Above: Ramsons (Allium ursinum) on a roadside © Joe Costley/Plantlife

This "wild garlic" will do well in any damp, shady border. In the wild it grows in deciduous woodland and can be an indicator of ancient woodland. Many Scottish woodlands are known for their carpets of ramsons and bluebells in the spring. Large clumps of ramsons can smell very garlicky but with their fluffy white flower heads and bright green foliage are attractive and delicious - every part of the plant is edible except for the roots. The leaves can be crushed to make an excellent wild garlic pesto! A 17th Century saying runs, “Eat leekes in Lide and ramsins in May, And all the yeare after physitians may play.”

 

3) Sea Kale

 Above: Sea kale at Dungeness © Pauline Fletcher/Plantlife

Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is one of the few vegetables we really can call our own in the UK. Unlike potatoes and carrots, it is indigenous to the UK. In fact, so popular was it with our ancestors, that at one stage it became difficult to find. Traditionally sea kale was found - and cultivated - on sandy and shingle beaches, above the high tide mark. Now, however, it is making a comeback with foragers and allotment growers. In summer it blooms with white, honey-scented flowers. As well reproducing by seed, sea kale can also grow from detached pieces of its root. It can be found growing wild in the extreme south-west of Scotland. It is thought that the construction of sea defences may have possibly caused the decline of this maritime flower in some areas, by destroying the shingle habitat on which it thrives. In other areas, however, it is on the increase - maybe because it is no longer as popular a foodstuff as it was in days gone by! It flowers in June and July. Plant in a moist, well prepared soil in a sunny spot ready for harvesting from March onwards.

 

4) Chickweed

 Above: Common chickweed (Stellaria media) © Stavros Markopoulos

This plant loves allotments, in fact it grows everywhere; but it is also incredibly tasty, hardy and useful to have in the garden. As it will produce new growth several times throughout the year, take advantage by only picking the new tips - these young tips like in most salad greens, are the tender sweeter part of the plant - older chickweed can be a bit tough and chewy. This can be eaten raw and added to a salad or can be put into soups, sauces and pestos. The yellow shell moth feeds off chickweed and can be a frequent visitor to gardens.

 

5) Water mint 

 Above: Bumblebee Mimic Hoverfly on Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) © Allan Hopkins

One of the UK's very few native culinary herbs. This perennial has attractive dark-green stems and leaves, sometimes tinged purple, and pink flowers from July into October that are loved by bees and hoverflies. Like all mints it is easy to grow and like all mints, it is recommended growing it in a pot in your pond to keep it in check. Unlike other mints though this one prefers to have damp feet – it often grows in standing water beside rivers, ponds and canals. It makes delicious mint tea!

Plantlife Scotland will be helping promote wildlife-friendly gardening ideas via a series of workshops at this year's Gardening Scotland 2015. Click below to find out more.

Why you should vote Fritillary

May 27 2015 - 10:41

The tale of why I’m not a botanist is summarised as:

Start Polytechnic botany module, lecturer advises we draw plant bits every week, end Botany module as I can’t draw. 

From then on plants remained a mystery even though my ecologist mind knew they were extremely important. 

The tale of why I regained an interest in plants, though I’m very far from being a good botanist, was due to a trip with a friend to a field (but not a ‘field trip – that’s far to naturalist) near Wolverhampton to seek them out. 

Me – very dubious.

Friend – very excited. 

Suddenly, not out of the mist as it was a sunny day (isn’t that disappointing?) there they rose. Masses of Snakes head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). Even I could tell what they were. Anyone can. No specialist ID skills required.

 Above: Fritillaries in a field © Bob Gibbons

And what a plant! A beautiful checkerboard purple flower hanging from a fragile stem. It looks like its about to topple even if it doesn’t break. Surely this shouldn’t exist. On it own it’s fantastic, in masses it’s absolutely stunning. And that’s why it beats other wildflowers. A bluebell, primrose, poppy, snowdrop, cowslip, cornflower, foxglove (all above Snake Head Fritillary’s 8th ranking at the time of writing) on their own are lovely flowers but need to be in large groups to be truly fantastic and stunning. The Snakes Head Fritillary achieves this distinction on its own or in masses.

So, vote for Snakes head fritillary. It’s the only sensible choice.

By the way, does anyone think of dragons when they see this plant? Now that would be a great rebranding exercise.

The difference a day makes?

You’ve voted... now what? Yes, the election is over, but casting your vote is just the beginning of getting change to happen. Now more than ever, we need to get our voices heard.

May 22 2015 - 13:08

On June 17th, I'll be representing Plantlife as part of the Climate Coalition's rally at Westminster where we are hoping to be joined by 10,000 people. We will be speaking up for all the things we love and that could be affected by climate change - from our tiny gems (aka our lichens, liverworts and mosses!) to the vast wilderness that is Plantlife's peatland reserve in Munsary.

Can you join me and meet your MP to talk face-to-face about what really matters to you? You can find out how to sign up and email your local MP on the 'Speak up for the love of' coalition website and from the lobby guide. It's going to be enjoyable day out with music, activities and famous faces, right in the heart of London so please join us if you can. 

 Above: Plantlife at the Copenhagen Climate Summit rally in 2009

Here’s an idea of what to expect from the day...

We will be meeting at Westminster from 12pm-5:30pm and, while we get ready to meet our local MPs, there will be entertainment by artists, street-performers, face-painters and more. Having emailed your local MP, both you and your MP will be given a place and time to meet, and along with others from your constituency, you will have the option to talk to your MP, highlight what you love that will be affected by Climate Change and ask them what they are going to do about Climate Change. The main aim is that we want our MPs to be champions on climate change – and to stand up for what matters to their constituents. You can even ask your MP to add his or her message to your bunting if you like – and take a photo of them doing so.  And after you’ve spoken with your MP there will be a star-studded line-up of speakers, entertainers and musicians as a rousing finale to the day.  

Why now?

In December there will be a United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris where a new a legally binding and universal agreement on taking climate action, from all the nations of the world is going to be struck. We want to put Climate Change at the front of the political agenda and ensure the Government knows they have a strong mandate from the public in pushing for a meaningful climate change agreement. 

Only 267 MPs who were around when the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 are still in Parliament. That means 59% of MPs (383) have never been lobbied in a big way on climate change and we want our elected leaders to be reminded that this is something which we, their constituents, care about. 

We want the rally to have as much impact as possible so please do join us, and bring your family and friends too. This guide should give you all the information you need but please drop me a line if you would like more information.  

Orchids galore!

Great news from our Joan's Hill reserve.

May 08 2015 - 11:12

Here's something to cheer the heart - record numbers of green-winged orchids (Orchis morio) have been flowering at our Joan's Hill Farm reserve this year! Perhaps our careful management involving grazing is paying off. 

These wildflowers are often thought of as the harlequins of the meadow. Certainly the botanist that gave them their scientific name noticed their green and purple motley: morio, is Latin for 'fool'. It can sometimes be confused with the early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula) but - aside from their green-veined "wings" - a good way to tell is to look at the leaves. Early-purple's are spotted. Green-winged's are not.

This discovery is particularly heart-warming. Although green-winged orchids are widespread in much of England, they have become scarce in the south-west. Let's hope we see even more of their merry flowers next year. You can help by becoming a Plantlife Member and supporting our nature reserves.

My favourite wild flower

May 07 2015 - 11:10

Lesser celandines © Sophia Evans/Plantlife

Lesser celandines © Sophia Evans/Plantlife

My Favourite Wildflower would be considered by some as left-field, underwhelming or even far too common to be deserving of such an accolade as the ‘Nation’s Favourite’. In fact, looking down the current ‘Top 25 Flowers’ in Plantlife’s poll, it’s currently at a very underwhelming 16; but bear with me while I present my case.

The lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), is not just my favourite flower, but it was also none other than Wordsworth’s too. For him this blazing, splash of gold blew away the possibly more celebrated “host of golden Daffodils” he famously waxed so lyrically about. One of the reasons I love this flower so much is that it represents a wonderful signpost, for me it is simply the gateway to spring - the time of blackbirds singing, leaves unfurling from the trees and an end to the days where you don’t need to wear four layers outside anymore. Another facet I adore about this much underrated flower is that it’s a fair weather plant. It only deigns to unfurl its petals on the ‘best’ days, in other words those days with plenty of blue sky. In fact it is such a dedicated sun-seeker that if you sit and watch them for long enough, you can observe their flowers tracking the sun across the sky like mini-satellite dishes!

I admit I’m also rather fond of its old name of ‘Pilewort’ too, because according to the ancient ‘Doctrine of Signatures’, it’s knobbly tubers were supposed to resemble and therefore be a cure of haemorrhoids! But I think the main reason why this plant should be higher on the list is that its an every man’s plant. We can’t be voting for an an overly tarty plant like Bee Orchid, or a vanishingly rare plant like Pasqueflower or Cornflower either, because the humble old Pilewort can be seen brightening up people’s days in meadows, hedgerows, woodlands and wastelands the length and breadth of Britain. Now that is a plant to vote for!