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Five of the best…British wildflowers

Jeff Holman

1st July, 2011

From Viper’s Bugloss to Field Scabious, a scattering of wildflowers can help turn your garden into a haven for wildlife, says Jeff Holman

Whether it’s blood red poppies, cobalt blue cornflowers and thick creamy sprays of cow parsley, wildflowers look just as gorgeous in your garden as they do on verges. According to Gill Watson of the National Wildflower Centre, if people put more thought into the kinds of flowers they plant in their gardens, they could provide invaluable support for their local eco-systems. In particular, Watson notes that Britain’s declining bee populations would benefit greatly from more locally grown wildflowers. Wildflowers, she says, are ‘mainly a food source for our native wildlife and we could help the declining bumblebee population by having several local wildflower gardens, which would enable bees to pollinate without having to fly long distances.’

Viper’s Bugloss
Not to be confused with the moth of the same name and also known as Devil’s Weed, Blue Weed and Snakeflower, the Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) has pretty violet flowers set on a leggy stem. Most commonly found in coastal habitats, the biennial plant thrives in any open grassland or disturbed soil where its seeds can germinate. It flowers from May to September but can be sown at any time of year, and is a favourite for bees, producing a deliciously aromatic floral honey.

Evening Primrose
A natural paracetamol, Evening Primrose contains the pain relieving compound phenylalanine along with a high concentration of an important fatty acid called GLA, which has proven healing properties. 15 species of Evening Primrose are native to the UK, but the most widely found is the Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera stricta). It’s also popular with insects thanks to a unique scent it releases in the evening. Regardless of wildlife, its delicate lemon-yellow flowers, and emerald foliage make it ideal for adding a splash of colour to your patch.

Birdsfoot Trefoil
Featuring an unusually shaped bright yellow flower, Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) spreads quickly when planted, so leave it alone unless you’re prepared to regularly prune it. A boon for wildlife watchers; the flower’s hooded petals are used as nests by butterflies and moths. Most suited to sandy soils, it flowers from June to September.

Cowslip
Cowslips (Primula veris) have little lemon yellow flowers with pointed leaves that grow in clusters at the top of the stems. According to Watson, Cowslips are particularly unusual because they need frost in order to germinate, so are a helpful nectar source for many insects when they flower in April and May. Cowslips prefer open grassland but tend to germinate more successfully in well composted (or manured) ground, hence the name which is derived from the Old English cūslyppe or ‘cow dung’.

Field Scabious
Often known as the butterfly plant, the Field Scabious or Gypsy Rose (Knautia arvensis) has a pale lavender open blossom that the butterflies can easily feed from, although it’s most commonly associated with the Bee Hawk-Moth. Flowering between July and September, it – along with other scabious species – was used to treat skin complaints, including lesions caused by the Bubonic plague, during the Middle Ages.

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