Garden Wildplants
             Garden Wildplants
       Garden Wildplants
             Garden Wildplants
Introduction to wildplants in the garden
 
 
Wild flowers have been grown in gardens since Neolithic times when humans first started to cultivate land for food, medicine, dyeing and household uses, and later for pure enjoyment and to benefit other wildlife.  For the earliest background see our page History of gardens and wildlife, and for the later history of wild plants in gardens see our page here.
 
What is a wild flower?
 
As we use the term, wild flowers are plants growing naturally and self-perpetuating - as annuals, biennials or perennials - in the wild regardless of their origins.
 
About 1,625  plants growing wild in this country are indigenous to Britain and Ireland, arriving before they became separated from mainland Europe around 6,000 BC. These plants are called natives and they established themselves in the British Isles naturally before the arrival of settlers and farming and received no helping-hand from us in in getting here. The key thing here is that arrived without help - there are still species newly arriving unassisted today, (perhaps as the result of climate change) - and these are true natives too.
 
Also considered as wild flowers are those that arrived because humans brought them in accidentally or deliberately, and which have now taken off on their own, surviving independently in the wild.  Many ecologists consider these as second-class citizens and there is great debate about the benefits or dangers such non-natives can present to the “natural” native flora and fauna.  Probably because of this uncertainty, we now divide these newcomers into two groups.
 
About 217 species arrived in Britain and Ireland as the result of early human activity from the Neolithic period through the Roman occupation and into the middle ages.  We call these species archaeophytes (“old-plants”), and have chosen a cut-off date of 1500 AD, after which new arrivals are classed as neophytes (new-plants). Many of the archaeophytes are arable ‘weeds’ such as poppy Papaver rhoeas, that arrived from the near East as contaminants with early arable crops of wheat and barley (also archaeophytes themselves) cultivated by incoming Neolithic farmers.  Many other plants were brought in deliberately by the Romans during their occupation of Britain between 43 to 410 AD, such as the Mediterranean plant alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, thought to have been introduced as a pot herb.  In general ecologists feel comfy with archaeophytes – they have been here long enough to be trustworthy.  Many are very attractive and some such as snakes-head fritillary, common poppy and autumn crocus are County Flowers in England.1. 
 
 
The cut-off of 1500 is arbitrary, but based on the tremendous opening-up of trade routes to Asia, Africa and the Americas from this time on, bringing in an accelerating flood of newcomers.  These included food species such as the potato plant, and other useful plants and crops as well as wild flowers, shrubs and trees from other parts of the world introduced as garden plants.  Many of these garden introductions ‘escaped’ the garden habitat and settled into the countryside. We count about 1865 naturalised neophytes in the British flora.  They include plants such as snowdrops Galanthus nivalis introduced to gardens in around 1597 and first found growing in the wild in 1778.
 
To illustrate these terms here are four species from the daisy family:
 
 
Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, introduced to Britain by the Romans from its origin in southern Europe.  Another, and less popular introduction of theirs was ground elder Aegopodium podagaria.
Corn chamomile Anthemis arvensis – formerly a weed of arable crops thought to have been introduced in Neolithic times, grows along field edges and wasteland in south and central Britain and naturalised since early farming is an archaeophyte.
 
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For further discussion on use of the term ‘wild flowers’ see our leaflet here.
 
We have selected shortlists of several “Top wildflowers” and other types of plants as examples of interesting and garden-worthy species to add to gardens – and some other worthwhile species that are very likely to arrive without any help!  - there are of course many others you could choose. Please let us know which ones we should add!
 
 
Why grow wild flowers in the garden? 
 
British and Irish gardens are rich with plants from all over the world, our garden flora reflecting a diverse and cosmopolitan population of gardeners, and yet our own wild flowers are usually left out of our gardens or promptly removed if they come in uninvited. So why grow them?  In 1870, the great garden designer William Robinson wrote:
 
"We search the world over for flowering shrubs – not one of which is prettier than the Water Elder (Viburnum opulus), common in Sussex woods and often seen near the water-side in Surrey…………." 2.
 
Wild flowers are beautiful and are a reminder of the seasons as well as the habitats and fauna of this country. To grow a few in the garden provides a living link to our natural history.
 
Natural history   Wild flowers are an important part of our natural history – our native flora and fauna have evolved over millions of years.
 
•   We may enjoy wild flowers when out walking in fields, woods, along river banks, heathland and moors, although these opportunities do not occur to all, or as often as we may wish. But we can also enjoy some of our favourite wild flowers closer to home by growing them in gardens, school grounds and parks. There are many species we may not have the opportunity to see in the wild but by sowing their seeds or planting pots or plugs of wild flowers, we have the opportunity to get to know some of our native flora.
 
•   Benefit to wildlife - Local populations of invertebrates, birds and small mammals will benefit from wild flowers in gardens. Whilst pollinators benefit from nectar from a variety of garden plants as well as wild flowers, and likewise many herbivorous insects, some herbivorous insects  depend on particular species of native plants.  The main larval food plant of the common blue butterfly Polyommatus icarus and the 6-spot burnet moth Zygaena filipendulae  is wild bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus. Many species of moth including the straw dot Rivula sericealis and common rustic Mesapamea secalis and butterflies such as small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris and meadow brown Maniola jurtina lay their eggs on specific native grass species.
 
Daisy Bellis perennis – the common daisy found growing in lawns and pasture throughout the UK is a native species.                 
Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare common in meadows and roadside grassland throughout the UK, is also a native species.
Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus  - found on walls, street corners, waste ground and gardens, is a neophyte introduced this country as a garden plant, around 1836 and first recorded in the wild in 1860.
     Common blue butterfly on birds-foot trefoil                First instar caterpillar of meadow brown on a grass leaf.
 
•   Understanding wild flowers and insect associations
Growing wild flowers is an opportunity to study both the plants, the type of habitat they are adapted to (e.g., woodland shade, grassland, wetland, sand and shingle), and the insects that depend on them.
 
  
Cultural history   Getting to know wild flowers by growing them in our gardens is an opportunity to learn about the history and importance of plants in our diet, health and culture.
 
•   Early diets included wild flowers such as Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, wild marjoram Oregano vulgare and fat hen Chenopodium album. Others, including comfrey Symphytum officinalis, cowslip Primula veris and common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica were used as medicinal remedies and cures.
 
•   A few plants, such as flax Linum usitatissimum and hemp Cannabis sativa, were the source of fibre and plants such as lady’s bedstraw Galium verum and woad Isatis tinctoria were important dye plants.
 
•   Our wild flowers have been referenced or celebrated in literature and songs since Chaucer. Homage was and still is paid to our native flowers through drama and poetry, such as William Wordsworth’s The Small Celandine.
 
Horticulture
 
•   In early gardens from Elizabethan times to the present, many of the cultivars we see in today’s gardens have their origins in our wild flowers. For example, some varieties of primrose and polyanthus derive from our native primrose and cowslip. Many vegetables have evolved from wild flowers in this country: wild celery Apium graveolens, a coastal plant of brackish creeks, is the ancestor of the cultivated celery.
 
Education   Charles Darwin famously demonstrated the value of gardens as mini nature reserves to learn about nature. He used his own garden at Down House in Kent as an outdoor laboratory to observe nature including fertilisation of plants and the interactions between native plants and insects.
 
•   As well as home study in the garden, wild flowers in school gardens provide an opportunity for practical study of natural history. With the forthcoming GCSE in natural history a school garden with wild flowers, as well as cultivated flowers and vegetables, provides a vital and living classroom in which to study plant-animal associations, soil diversity, and the variety of species for all types and conditions of soil.
 
•   Exhibitions - Some botanic gardens, notably Edinburgh, Dundee, Kew,  and museums including the Natural History Museum, have living exhibitions of natural habitats showing native plants– and information about associated wildlife and former uses of plants.
 
The trend in gardening with wild flowers is nothing new, it is, however more significant today with the loss of so many plant and invertebrate species in this country3. and continuing threats to wildlife and habitats from intensive agriculture and pesticides, industry, urban development and global climate change. We need to protect our wild flowers and the insects they attract and depend on them. Growing wild flowers in gardens and parks is an opportunity to study both the plants and associated insects.
 
In summary wildplants may be grown for their intrinsic beauty, and in so doing we are benefitting the insects that need these species to survive, and getting to know some of the plants humans once depended on for food, medicine, materials and horticulture.
 
 
 
References
 
1.  UK County flowers list
 
2.  Robinson, W.   (1870). The Wild Garden second edition 1894. p.xiv,. John Murray. London
2019 State of Nature Report 
 
3.  GCSE Natural History proposals
 
Page written by Caroline Ware. compiled by Steve Head
 
Introduction to wildplants in the garden
 
Wild flowers have been grown in gardens since Neolithic times when humans first started to cultivate land for food, medicine, dyeing and household uses, and later for pure enjoyment and to benefit other wildlife.  For the earliest background see our page History of gardens and wildlife, and for the later history of wild plants in gardens see our page here.
 
What is a wild flower?
 
As we use the term, wild flowers are plants growing naturally and self-perpetuating - as annuals, biennials or perennials - in the wild regardless of their origins.
 
About 1,625  plants growing wild in this country are indigenous to Britain and Ireland, arriving before they became separated from mainland Europe around 6,000 BC. These plants are called natives and they established themselves in the British Isles naturally before the arrival of settlers and farming and received no helping-hand from us in in getting here. The key thing here is that arrived without help - there are still species newly arriving unassisted today, (perhaps as the result of climate change) - and these are true natives too.
 
Also considered as wild flowers are those that arrived because humans brought them in accidentally or deliberately, and which have now taken off on their own, surviving independently in the wild.  Many ecologists consider these as second-class citizens and there is great debate about the benefits or dangers such non-natives can present to the “natural” native flora and fauna.  Probably because of this uncertainty, we now divide these newcomers into two groups.
 
About 217 species arrived in Britain and Ireland as the result of early human activity from the Neolithic period through the Roman occupation and into the middle ages.  We call these species archaeophytes (“old-plants”), and have chosen a cut-off date of 1500 AD, after which new arrivals are classed as neophytes (new-plants). Many of the archaeophytes are arable ‘weeds’ such as poppy Papaver rhoeas, that arrived from the near East as contaminants with early arable crops of wheat and barley (also archaeophytes themselves) cultivated by incoming Neolithic farmers.  Many other plants were brought in deliberately by the Romans during their occupation of Britain between 43 to 410 AD, such as the Mediterranean plant alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, thought to have been introduced as a pot herb.  In general ecologists feel comfy with archaeophytes – they have been here long enough to be trustworthy.  Many are very attractive and some such as snakes-head fritillary, common poppy and autumn crocus are County Flowers in England.1. 
 
 
 
Above: Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, introduced to Britain by the Romans from its origin in southern Europe.  Another, and less popular introduction of theirs was ground elder Aegopodium podagaria.
 
The cut-off of 1500 is arbitrary, but based on the tremendous opening-up of trade routes to Asia, Africa and the Americas from this time on, bringing in an accelerating flood of newcomers.  These included food species such as the potato plant, and other useful plants and crops as well as wild flowers, shrubs and trees from other parts of the world introduced as garden plants.  Many of these garden introductions ‘escaped’ the garden habitat and settled into the countryside. We count about 1865 naturalised neophytes in the British flora.  They include plants such as snowdrops Galanthus nivalis introduced to gardens in around 1597 and first found growing in the wild in 1778.
 
To illustrate these terms here are four species from the daisy family:
 
 
Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare common in meadows and roadside grassland throughout the UK, is also a native species.
Daisy Bellis perennis – the common daisy found growing in lawns and pasture throughout the UK is a native species.                 
Corn chamomile Anthemis arvensis – formerly a weed of arable crops thought to have been introduced in Neolithic times, grows along field edges and wasteland in south and central Britain and naturalised since early farming is an archaeophyte.
 
Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus  - found on walls, street corners, waste ground and gardens, is a neophyte introduced this country as a garden plant, around 1836 and first recorded in the wild in 1860.
For further discussion on use of the term ‘wild flowers’ see our leaflet here.
 
We have selected shortlists of several “Top wildflowers” and other types of plants as examples of interesting and garden-worthy species to add to gardens – and some other worthwhile species that are very likely to arrive without any help!  - there are of course many others you could choose. Please let us know which ones we should add!
 
 
Why grow wild flowers in the garden? 
 
British and Irish gardens are rich with plants from all over the world, our garden flora reflecting a diverse and cosmopolitan population of gardeners, and yet our own wild flowers are usually left out of our gardens or promptly removed if they come in uninvited. So why grow them?  In 1870, the great garden designer William Robinson wrote:
 
"We search the world over for flowering shrubs – not one of which is prettier than the Water Elder (Viburnum opulus), common in Sussex woods and often seen near the water-side in Surrey…………." 2.
 
Wild flowers are beautiful and are a reminder of the seasons as well as the habitats and fauna of this country. To grow a few in the garden provides a living link to our natural history.
 
Natural history   Wild flowers are an important part of our natural history – our native flora and fauna have evolved over millions of years.
 
•   We may enjoy wild flowers when out walking in fields, woods, along river banks, heathland and moors, although these opportunities do not occur to all, or as often as we may wish. But we can also enjoy some of our favourite wild flowers closer to home by growing them in gardens, school grounds and parks. There are many species we may not have the opportunity to see in the wild but by sowing their seeds or planting pots or plugs of wild flowers, we have the opportunity to get to know some of our native flora.
 
•   Benefit to wildlife - Local populations of invertebrates, birds and small mammals will benefit from wild flowers in gardens. Whilst pollinators benefit from nectar from a variety of garden plants as well as wild flowers, and likewise many herbivorous insects, some herbivorous insects  depend on particular species of native plants.  The main larval food plant of the common blue butterfly Polyommatus icarus and the 6-spot burnet moth Zygaena filipendulae  is wild bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus. Many species of moth including the straw dot Rivula sericealis and common rustic Mesapamea secalis and butterflies such as small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris and meadow brown Maniola jurtina lay their eggs on specific native grass species.
 
Common blue on birds-foot trefoil        First instar caterpillar of meadow                                                                           brown on a grass leaf.
 
•   Understanding wild flowers and insect associations
Growing wild flowers is an opportunity to study both the plants, the type of habitat they are adapted to (e.g., woodland shade, grassland, wetland, sand and shingle), and the insects that depend on them.
 
  
Cultural history   Getting to know wild flowers by growing them in our gardens is an opportunity to learn about the history and importance of plants in our diet, health and culture.
 
•   Early diets included wild flowers such as Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, wild marjoram Oregano vulgare and fat hen Chenopodium album. Others, including comfrey Symphytum officinalis, cowslip Primula veris and common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica were used as medicinal remedies and cures.
 
•   A few plants, such as flax Linum usitatissimum and hemp Cannabis sativa, were the source of fibre and plants such as lady’s bedstraw Galium verum and woad Isatis tinctoria were important dye plants.
 
•   Our wild flowers have been referenced or celebrated in literature and songs since Chaucer. Homage was and still is paid to our native flowers through drama and poetry, such as William Wordsworth’s The Small Celandine.
 
Horticulture
 
•   In early gardens from Elizabethan times to the present, many of the cultivars we see in today’s gardens have their origins in our wild flowers. For example, some varieties of primrose and polyanthus derive from our native primrose and cowslip. Many vegetables have evolved from wild flowers in this country: wild celery Apium graveolens, a coastal plant of brackish creeks, is the ancestor of the cultivated celery.
 
Education   Charles Darwin famously demonstrated the value of gardens as mini nature reserves to learn about nature. He used his own garden at Down House in Kent as an outdoor laboratory to observe nature including fertilisation of plants and the interactions between native plants and insects.
 
•   As well as home study in the garden, wild flowers in school gardens provide an opportunity for practical study of natural history. With the forthcoming GCSE in natural history a school garden with wild flowers, as well as cultivated flowers and vegetables, provides a vital and living classroom in which to study plant-animal associations, soil diversity, and the variety of species for all types and conditions of soil.
 
•   Exhibitions - Some botanic gardens, notably Edinburgh, Dundee, Kew,  and museums including the Natural History Museum, have living exhibitions of natural habitats showing native plants– and information about associated wildlife and former uses of plants.
 
The trend in gardening with wild flowers is nothing new, it is, however more significant today with the loss of so many plant and invertebrate species in this country3. and continuing threats to wildlife and habitats from intensive agriculture and pesticides, industry, urban development and global climate change. We need to protect our wild flowers and the insects they attract and depend on them. Growing wild flowers in gardens and parks is an opportunity to study both the plants and associated insects.
 
In summary wildplants may be grown for their intrinsic beauty, and in so doing we are benefitting the insects that need these species to survive, and getting to know some of the plants humans once depended on for food, medicine, materials and horticulture.
 
 
References
 
1.  UK County flowers list
 
2.  Robinson, W.   (1870). The Wild Garden second edition 1894. p.xiv,. John Murray. London
2019 State of Nature Report 
 
3.  GCSE Natural History proposals
 
Page written by Caroline Ware. compiled by Steve Head