A lesson from nature

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Living in rural Herefordshire I have the privilege of being within easy reach of country lanes flanked on either side by grassy banks decorated with wildflowers.

An evening walk with my Border terrier is an opportunity to admire nature's garden. I’m convinced that if gardeners take time out to marvel at how plants grow in their natural setting it helps with plant placement and sympathetic design when creating their own plot.

You might also discover problem-solving plants. For me it’s a chance to watch how these plants behave and assess how much of a free reign I’m going to give them in my garden.

In some cases, they convince me to weed around them and encourage them to multiply. I’m all for controlling invasive weeds but there are wildflowers that add nothing but joy to the plot.

May is the month when I’m most often stopped in my tracks by wildflowers. With the cooler weather and shortage of rain they have been slow to appear this year, but in recent days they’ve started to pick up the pace after the generous downpours.

Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) has easily grown over a foot in the last week and is now decorated with umbels made up of tiny white flowers.

This biennial or short-lived perennial seems to thrive on roadside verges and under hedgerows. Finding an ornamental plant that does so well at the foot of a deciduous hedge isn’t easy – this is why I have actively been encouraging cow parsley to grow in my garden.

Its light and airy look is certain to add a relaxed country garden feel to a planting.

A wildflower that has given me weeks of colour and grows in the most unhospitable places is the cowslip (Primula veris).

Through spring the nodding, yolk yellow flowers have provided me with colour in my front garden. Although this plant is well known to flourish in meadows fertilized by cow pats (cowslip means cow pat!) it has made a home between paving slabs and in the lawn.

Leaving it to self-seed over the years has resulted in over 50 plants this spring.

Another wildflower that is more than welcome in my borders is Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum).

It is yet to flower but its attractive foliage is now evident. The tiny pink/purple flowers and long, spikey seed heads offer months of interest.

Scarlet pimpernel (Amagallis arvensis) is a low growing wildflower that I’m also keen to encourage. It thrives in a sunny spot and often makes its home in a gravel path.

Its salmon pink/orange blooms are held on ground trailing stems and it’s a complete delight. I recently discovered that in the distant past scarlet pimpernel a plant that was used to treat sadness.

I’m not quite sure how it was administered but I love the idea and as a result it is often commonly called the laughter bringer. Another wildflower that makes me happy is the yellow corydalis (Pseudofumaria lutea). This short-lived perennial is prefect for growing in cracks in a wall or paving.

The red campion (Silene dioica) in my opinion should never be weeded out of a garden. Its pink flowers are held on stems that can reach an impressive 80cm.

Pollinated by bees and butterflies this is a plant that will entice these flying beauties to your plot. Flowering from May into July this wildflower is often a good partner for the white dead-nettle (Lamium album).

The flowers of the nettle are designed perfectly for bees. Another stunning white perennial that leaps along the verges with finesse is the common mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum).

Flowering from April until early September how could you refuse it room in your garden?

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Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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