LJN Blog Posts

Planting trends: using natives (part 2)

In this second part of this blog I want to give a few examples of how native plants can be used in a garden to great effect.

First I shall look briefly at growing perennials in meadows. Prairie planting has become increasingly popular and there are a few opportunities if you wish to stick only with native plants (although this is definitely an area where using non-native plants can add to the overall design). 

The key to inter-planting amoung grass is providing the right grasses for the flowering plants to grow through. I would suggest one of the forms of Purple Moor Grass - Molinia caerulea - which is of a fairly light and open habit. However other possibilities, depending on the situation and desired effect could be Quaking Grass (Briza media) or Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa). Suitable native plantings amongst these grasses could then be:

  • Field Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
  • Opium Poppy (P. somniferum)
  • Perennial Flax (Linum perenne)
  • Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata)

Another alternative would be to create a wildflower meadow - but maybe this can form the subject of a future blog.

By far my favourite native plantings for any garden though are trees - although I know this is a personal bias. Native trees can be as impressive as many ornamentals and for me trees form the backbone of any design.

Native evergreens have been used for centuries to form a strong garden structure, often trimmed to attain the correct form; suitable for most gardens would be:

  • Yew (Taxus baccata)
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Box (Buxus sempervirens) - although care should be taken with too much Box due to Box blight

Native deciduous trees will also bring from, colour and wildlife to your garden:

  • Field maple (Acer campestre) - these small trees deliver rich autumn colour and have a superb form
  • Silver birch (Betula pendula) - perhaps over-used by some garden designers, but there is no denying that they can look excellent in the right place and cast only light shade
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) - can grow to a huge size; however it can also be pruned to keep it manageable, with the added bonus that pruning will keep the autumn leaves on the tree well into winter
  • Beech (Fagus sylvatica) - again a huge tree but careful selection of upright forms could make them fit perfectly into a scheme - use either ‘Dawyck Gold’ or, for a purple-leaved form, ‘Dawyck Purple’
  • English oak (Quercus robur) - quintessentially part of the British countryside, it can again be somewhat contained by selecting the upright form, ‘Fastigiata’

The choice of native trees is large, but native trees can also be used cleverly in a ‘forest garden’. This is not quite how it sounds (you do not need to make a clearing in a forest first)! Instead it represents a planting style: a layering of plant communities to maximise the available space in a productive garden, with each plant filling its respective niche - and this is something which should become ever more popular as resurgence in grow-your-own continues.

Therefore, starting with native trees, and choosing fruiting specimens, you need to make up the canopy layer for the garden:

  • Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
  • Pear (Pyrus communis)
  • Cherry (Prunus cerasifera or P. avium)
  • Medlar (Mespilis germanica)

Next comes the shrubs and the cane fruits which form the underplanting below the trees:

  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
  • Dog Rose (Rosa canina)
  • Blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum)
  • Raspberries (Rubus idaeus)
  • Brambles (Rubus fruticosus)

And finally the vegetables and salads - many of which were eaten in by our ancestors but have since fallen out of fashion; they are not always the perfect choice on their own (although this is a matter of taste), but they can be used to complement your meals nicely:

  • Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) - a member of the spinach family
  • ‘Nine Star’ Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) - a type of cabbage
  • Salad Burnett (Sanguisorba minor) - can be used as salad leaves
  • Ramsons (Allium ursinum) - wild garlic
  • Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

And there are other edible plants, which you may not always want in your garden!

  • Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) - can be used as greens, although before they toughen up in early summer
  • Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) - leaves are mild enough for salads from autumn to spring

Personally I would then sneak in a few Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), not edible but a draw for the bumblebees!

matt haddon - garden designer based in East Yorkshire


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