12 EASY WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY PLANTS

The following article and plant list has been created by Suzanne Stanley of Plant Heritage North East as a contribution to the 12 Ways You Can Help Wildlife free leaflet which will be available during Where Did All the Animals Go? exhibition:

Gardens and public spaces can be great for wildlife the insects, birds, small mammals and amphibians that all depend on one another, and on which we depend as long as there is a variety of plants, places to hide and hunt, and ideally some water. Though the aim of Plant Heritage is to conserve valuable varieties of garden plants, we’re aware that the more British native plants you also have in your garden, the more beneficial to wildlife it will be. So if you have a grassy area, dare to be untidy; let some of it grow so that daisies, buttercups, clover - and who knows what else? can flourish and supply nectar for insects, who in turn act as pollinators for our benefit and are also food for birds and small mammals. Don’t deadhead everything let some seed heads mature for the birds to feed on, and leave some nice cluttered corners, full of dead leaves, twigs and stones as hidey holes or hunting grounds for a range of small creatures.

Buttercups, Herb Robert and grass growing in set aside wild area Photo credit: Jane Lee McCracken

Here are 12 plants, easy to grow and inexpensive to buy in garden centres and even supermarkets together this mix of annuals and perennials should keep you in flowers from late February / March until early November. Beware double-flowered varieties they can look pretty, but insects can’t get at the vital parts for nectar and pollination.

Early flowerers, February / March till May

1. Christmas or Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis): Lovely cup-shaped flowers on leafy plants that are happy in shade and sun.

2. Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum): These little bulbs will form bigger clumps year on year.

3. Borage (Borago officinalis): An annual plant, but it readily self-seeds, and unwanted seedlings are easy to remove. Beautiful blue flowers. A good alternative is Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

4. Honesty (Lunaria annua): Biennial (seedlings flower in their 2nd year), but once established it readily self-seeds for an annual succession of flowers.

Borage, self seeds easily, year after year Photo credit: Jane Lee McCracken

Midsummer: May – August

5. Yarrow (Achillea varieties): The native form is white, but coloured varieties are just as attractive to insects with their flat landing stages of flowers. Leave some seedheads for birds.

6. Geranium species: not the scarlet-flowered felty-leaf Pelargoniums, but our native Cranesbill, G. pratense, and related species; there’s a size and colour for every garden.

7. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): Add height to your planting; big tubular flowers that bees climb into.

8. Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria and S. caucasica) Nectar-rich pincushions mostly in shades of soft lavender, blue, lilac or creamy white.

9. Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) or Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) are both covered in tiny nectar-rich flowers and love full sun and well-drained soil in borders or pots.

10. Globethistle (Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ is a smaller variety): blue balls on straight stems, and happy in poor soils, Echinops is loved by bees and butterflies.

Scabious growing in a pot; plants listed can be grown in pots if you don't have a garden. Photo credit: Jane Lee McCracken

Late summer: August / September and beyond

11. Michaelmas daisies (known as Asters but now officially mostly called Symphyotrichum): buy different shades and heights to suit your planting space to flower from late summer to late autumn.

12. Ice plant (Known as Sedum spectabile but now officially Hylotelephium spectabile): wonderfully fleshy leaves and flat clusters of long-lasting bright pink flowers. Leave seedheads overwinter.

If you have room for a shrub, purple Buddleia (the Butterfly Bush) is a great option, particularly as every spring you can cut it back hard, which means you can control its size. Buddleia globosa with its golden honey-scented spherical flowers self-seeds less prolifically, but all seedlings are easy to remove when young. If you can accommodate a small tree, go for a native Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) which supports over 90 species of insect, or a native Wild Cherry (Prunus avium); Japanese flowering cherries in comparison support very little wildlife. And remember to check that plants have been grown in the UK to minimise the spread of devastating plant diseases.

After that, add whatever other annuals and perennials you fancy! Fill all the gaps for a mass of colour for you, and ground cover, perching places, hidey-holes and food for wildlife. 

Suzanne Stanley
Plant Heritage North East

Plant Heritage (Charity nos. 1004009 / SC041785) www.plantheritage.org.uk

“Plant Heritage seeks to conserve, document, promote and make available Britain and Ireland’s rich diversity of garden plants for the benefit of everyone through horticulture, education and science.”