Wild flowers in the garden

evening primrose

In July, it’s hot and dry. We have to water the vegetable garden and some of of our water hungry plants, such as dahlias. We are constantly looking for plants which cope with the cold winter and the hot dry summer. The wild flowers which grow here are perfect for coping with the climate, but they are not always garden friendly. Sometimes they are too vigorous and invasive. Others behave perfectly, but are not particularly pretty. Many if left, will seed around and take over.

However there are many which can be used and often they have the added benefit of being wildlife friendly. Violets are the food plant for the fritillary caterpillars. Pulmonaria is one of the first plants to flower so a good source of nectar for the first flying insects. Wild thyme and oregano flowers in August so are good for attracting bees and butterflies. Wild scabious continues to flower right into October and again an important source of nectar.

Sweet woodruff is an attractive plant and the perfect ground cover plant for semi shade or shade. Wild thyme and origano for sunny slopes. Pulmonaria copes with all conditions, especially dry shade. It can look tatty in April, but rip off all the flowers and foliage and new fresh leaves will give you ground cover for the rest of the year. Bugle is lovely in shade or semi shade, but it is not the most weed supressing ground cover. Wild strawberry is useful, the fruit delicious and very easy to pull out, if it gets too much

In summer, despite the hot dry weather, many of our dry slopes and walls have the pretty blue/mauve companula. I am very happy for it to seed around. The evening primrose looks best in the late evening/ early morning. so I suspect a very welcome nectar source for moths. We have planted several summer flowering heathers and over the years they have spread really well, but it is the wild heather (calluna vulgaris) which really stands out. This soil is acid so much of the surrounding dry woodland slopes has heather, but over the years the trees have grown and shaded it out. Our south facing sunny slope is well colonised by origano, thyme and scabious. Some of the sunny walls are covered in sedums.

In the shade the ferns are always welcome. They can look tatty at the end of winter, but the new fronds are so attractive as they unfurl. The walls have other types of fern. The wild euphobia pops up everywhere, but looks best in areas of semi shade. It sometimes looks tatty, but cut back the flowering stems and usually new shoots appear. The fox glove is a stunning plant, mostly it is purple, but we get the odd white or pale pink. Each plant produces masses of seed, so you only need to leave a few. Angelica has also appeared from nowhere and is quite impressive, when in flower. It seems to seed easily, so don’t leave too many.

We didn’t deliberately plant any of these wildflowers, they were here already. This garden was originally just rough grass so the seeds were either in the soil or came in from the grass that we left.This area of France is still rich in wild flowers, so why not make use of this natural resource.

The meadow and woods are full of wild flowers so often they pop up in the garden as well. I don’t mind the odd cowslip, but I’m not so keen on Achillea invading the flower beds. It looks lovely in the evenings, but I prefer to see it harmlessly flowering in the meadow. Wild flowers are an important element of our garden, but be careful who you invite in.

It is important to us to leave some the original meadow grass. Many of the butterflies depend on this for their caterpillars. We have to cut all our grass by hand, it is just too steep for any kind of tractor. It is hard work, but we cut the grass over several months, starting at the end of June. This has 2 benefits. The extra light gives a chance to other flowers which come later in the season, such as the colchicums and areas of remaining long grass continue to shelter insects and small creatures. The meadow is full of wild flowers, an area equally important as any flower bed in the garden, so if possible leave a space for them to thrive.

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