Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Listening to the Locals

Wall to wall foxgloves - Harlech June 2008

Has anyone else noticed how much more prolific wildflowers appear to be this year? Could it be the result of last year's wet summer? Wales was awash with foxgloves on holiday - woodland, hillsides, you name it and very beautiful they looked too. A lot of the roadside verges around here are so covered with cow parsley and oxeye daisies at the moment, I need sunglasses - even on a rainy day. I've always loved how the 'Donkey Field' on my walk to the station looks at this time of year as it's blue with thousands of meadow cranesbill flowers.

It's made me ponder my garden and guerilla gardening habits lately. Here in the UK we're blessed with a temperate climate which gives us an opportunity to pick plants from the widest of palettes, from alpine through to tropical. Our history of plant hunters exploring the four corners of the earth, bringing home fresh specimens and seeds has also expanded our choice, although sometimes with disastrous results - take Japanese Knotweed for example. Both help to define what we are as a 'nation of gardeners'. But have we made things more difficult for ourselves? Think back to when you were a beginning gardening - did you feel overwhelmed with the choice? How did you decide what to plant? Of course there's a variety of ways, but 'listening to the locals' i.e. finding out which flowers, trees and shrubs grow well in your area could be a good place to start. I'm always amazed how many people buy Rhododendrons at Franks Plants - we're in a limestone area, so most of the specimens purchased won't thrive unless they're put in pot with ericaceous soil or some extra time is spent at regular intervals adding acidic materials to that part of the garden. I've spoken to people there sometimes (for some reason, complete strangers come up to me out of the blue and start asking me gardening questions) and most of them have no idea of the implications of what they're buying - they just like the look of the plant.

So do spend some time 'just looking' before buying and planting - look at what works well in your neighbours' gardens. See which wildflowers are growing locally. These all will give you clues and ideas for your own garden. Roy Lancaster's What Plant Where is a brilliant guide as is The Natural History Museum's postcode database - put in your postcode and out pops a list of native plants for your consideration. Use these tools and it'll help your garden to thrive, look good and take less time to look after. However I don't slavishly follow this guidance - after all I do have many favourites originating from all over the world plus some pots in my garden for acid lovers. But then gardening is my passion and I don't mind the extra work I'm giving myself!

Where does this fit with my guerilla gardening activities? Gardening Tips 'n' Ideas had a rant recently about guerilla gardeners replacing the local native plants of his neighbourhood. I can understand his disquiet, after all the Australian flora is very precious and increasingly under threat. Here in the UK it's not so much of an issue as most guerilla gardening is in a very urban environment where little or no native flora is being replaced by their activities - and we could have a massive debate about which of our habitats are 'natural' anyway, but not today. However, as far as my own guerilla gardening is concerned, I've realised that on the whole (apart from daffodils) I've applied the principles I'm advocating here to what I've planted so far. Snowdrops and bluebells are everywhere in this county in woodland areas - that's what I've planted. Cowslips are in the reedbed area at the entrance to our estate - I've planted those too. Banks of primroses abound locally - I'm just about to plant some on the steeper public land next to the house. Everything will thrive without any further help from me - along with the foxglove seeds I'm about to collect and scatter in the woodland across the way. So I'm going to resist the tempatation to replant the non-native shrubs I'll be ripping out of the garden later on in the year. I'd been thinking it'll be a shame to waste good plants just because I no longer want them - but am I going to continue to look after them? No, so I'll make them into a nice mulch for the allotment instead.


  1. That's a smashing post VP and I can vouch for the effectiveness and harmony of your guerilla gardening habits.
    As for growing plants-as well as soil considerations I am a great advocate of the "Slug Munch" barometer.If it survives slug attack pretty well, then I will grow it.So no delphiniums for me.

  2. For a basic topiary design to add to your formal garden, try using techniques to coax smooth curves in your hedges, helping the shape of your garden to flow. Or, if you still have something that's got a lot of right angles and corners, start growing shapes at the corners to add decoration; think of the ornaments you see at the corners on fancy staircases and molding in structural Garden design.
    By incorporating topiary into your formal garden design, you can take basic lines and create art, all adding up to a good-looking, green space in your home.
    If you are looking for more info then consider the following:

    1) The Bookstore - there are books on every topic, and they are typically more complete than the internet

    2) Search Engines - Don't forget your search engines

    3) Local stores - employees at specialty stores can be very helpful

  3. I love your guerilla gardening blogs. I wish I had the guts to do it

  4. I found this to be a most interesting, and informative, entry indeed!
    I've now got the list according to my postcode and will have a good look at it.
    Thanks! xx

  5. It's great that you can pop in your postal code and up comes a list of native plants. I wish that was the case here.

    So true about being overwhelmed with choice. Takes me back to reading a book about William Morris' gardens and how he advocated growing native plants and lamented the trend to planting newer cultivars and exotic species. I sometimes wonder what he'd think of the garden world now.

    With our harsh winter climate, we don't have much of a problem with invasive species ... most can't survive or gain a toehold. Slugs, thankfully, have the same problem, so it's rare to have much slug damage here (or those dratted earwigs).

  6. TS - that gives me an idea...

    Michael - I think you're spam as what you're saying is out of context with this post. However, you are saying some useful things, so I won't delete you

    SOL - just do it - have a look at the Guerilla Gardening website

    Flighty - it's a great resource

    Kate - I wonder if William Morris was ridiculed for what he said? And as for not having slugs - must think about emigrating!


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