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Native wild plants to fill those difficult garden spaces

Even in a small space it’s possible to create your own tiny patchwork of meadow, mountain, moorland and woodland. Plantlife's Dr Deborah Long tells us more..

June 06 2016

To celebrate Gardening Scotland weekend, we have been looking at difficult wild plants to grow in your own garden...

Meadow loving plants:

Life for plants is quite gentle in the meadow. Cutting the grass later in the year or keeping grazing at the right level is however important. If the nutrients are increased with artificial fertilisers most of these plants will disappear – out competed by more vigorous grasses. For these reasons around 90% of our wildflower rich meadows have been lost, so if you can plant native wildflowers in your garden grown from Scottish seed, it’s a great thing for wildlife.

Ideal garden conditions: low fertility, sunny / light conditions. Cutting essential in September.

Species you could use:

  • Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare : Our largest-flowered native daisy, and common throughout Scotland,  this perennial will happily seed itself around, especially in a wildflower meadow or sunny border.
  • Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii: If you are lucky this plant may seed itself in your garden. Orchids produce millions of dust like seeds so nearby wild populations may seed in your garden if conditions are right.
  • Yarrow Achillea millefolium: Yarrow, in its wild white form is a commonly seen plant, often on road verges and grassland. It is drought resistant and grows on acid or alkaline soils.

Upland loving plants:

Plants adapted to grow in the Scottish uplands are tough survivors. They need to withstand cold temperatures and strong winds.

Ideal garden conditions: well drained, rocky, thin soils. High light levels. Can cope with exposure.

Species you could use:

  • Alpine Lady’s-Mantle Alchemilla alpina: A mountain specialist – its leaves have silky white hairs underneath which help to reduce evaporation. This plant only grows high up in Scottish mountains and is a useful plant for rock gardens for its long lived and attractive leaves.
  • Juniper Juniperus communis: Scotland is the main stronghold for juniper, one of Scotland’s three conifers. It grows in pinewoods, on sand dune systems and in birch woodland.  Juniper displays several different growth forms, Both are very good garden plants

Woodland or hedge loving plants

Scotland has internationally important and distinctive types of woodland: our Caledonian pinewoods and our Atlantic woodland, also known as the Celtic rainforest are very special and internationally important for the plants, mosses, liverworts and lichens and fungi they house. Many of our best loved wild flowers grow in woodland and many of them feature in gardens such as those below.

Ideal garden conditions: partial to full shade, rich soil. Damp or well drained – different plants will cope with either. This includes orchards, hedges or even single trees. Trees add structure to the garden and create conditions beneath then for plants that tolerate varying levels of shade. From bulbs in Spring through to ferns all year round, a woodland or shady patch in the garden can be tricky but also very rewarding.

Species you could use:

  • Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum: This is our native honeysuckle with beautiful yellow and cream flowers and a strong scent. In autumn it produces lots of red berries.
  • Foxglove Digitalis purpurea: One of our most distinctive woodland plants, foxgloves in the wild are naturally bright pink, although white forms also occur. It grows in woodland throughout Scotland, on acid soils. 
  • Red Campion Silene dioica:  Brightens up lightly-shaded borders from late spring until autumn. The displays begin in late spring and continue on and off through the year until the frosts. It is common throughout Scotland except in the Highlands or the Outer Hebrides. Red Campion will seed itself around so you’ll never be without it.

Wall and Edge loving plants:

Walls and path edges are where the garden surprises spring up. Pick and choose the ones you like to make sure your edges are full of colour.

Ideal garden conditions: Any plant that can survive in dry, rocky places will be at home here.

Species you could use:

  • Harebell Campanula rotundifolia or bluebell in Scotland: This plant likes open conditions, nutrient poor and relatively undisturbed. Unlikely to grow in a lawn, it is more likely to feel at home on an edge somewhere where the soil is poor and well drained.
  • Herb Robert Geranium robertianum: This will grow almost anywhere. It has bright pink through to almost white flowers at almost any time of year; this plant will grows in walls and along path edges.
  • Hart’s tongue fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium: This evergreen plant likes damp, shady places such as borders and beds and can form large 'drifts' under trees. It grows slowly and needs little attention.


Why Grow Wild?

Britain is famous for its wild flowers and landscapes. But many counties across the UK are losing their native plants. In 2012, in Scotland, and across the rest of Britain, wild native flowers are being lost at a rate of nearly one species per county per year. In total over the last 60 years, Scotland lost 97 species – 53 flowering plants, 28 mosses and liverworts and 16 lichens.

Many wild plants grow happily in our gardens. They're hardy, resilient and well adapted to our climate and soils. They're also incredibly beautiful and an essential part of our lives. In our gardens, wild plants help support bees, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

To find out more about growing wild you can: