Local plants (for local people)

by Kate Bradbury

In last week's Observer Magazine, Dan Pearson wrote about collecting berries from hedgerows near him, so he could grow plants with local provenance.

Hips of the field rose, Rosa arvensis, photo taken by Julie WatsonIn last week's Observer Magazine, Dan Pearson wrote about collecting berries from hedgerows near him, so he could grow plants with local provenance. This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot recently, so I read on with interest.

Put simply, a plant of local provenance has grown in its locality for a long time. By definition, it's a wild, native plant and has evolved over hundreds, even thousands of years in tune with its local environment. Self-seeded by wind, or spread by birds or mammals, each local strain of any species will be better suited to growing in its immediate environment than any other. A dog rose, Rosa canina growing in mainland Scotland, for example, will be better suited to a shorter growing season and lower temperatures, while the same species in Cornwall will have adapted to salty air and a longer growing season. What's more, these important genetic differences can determine when the plants come into leaf, flower and fruit, so the same species imported from elsewhere could upset the fine balance between local plants and the wildlife they support (which will also have evolved with their local environment).

It's not just wildlife that benefits from locally grown plants. Many gardens will now be looking a little bare, after last month's cold weather wiped out many of our plants used to milder conditions. Planted in a garden setting, local, native plants are almost guaranteed to thrive, because they have been growing in exactly the same enviornment for many years. They are much better placed to deal with a gradually changing climate, be it that of London or the Lake District.

I've been keen on growing local, wild plants in my garden for a while. So, inspired by Dan Pearson, I set off on Monday morning and gathered fruit from the local wild plants. We don't have hedgerows in Hackney, but we do have a canal, besides which grows the field rose, Rosa arvensis, common honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, and ivy, Hedera helix.

I gathered a few hips from the rose (leaving plenty for the birds), took them home and dropped them in a glass of water. According to Dan, this simulates the process of the rosehip passing through a bird's stomach. (Honeysuckle berries are best sown fresh in autumn and the ivy berries were unripe, so I'll go back for them another time.)

I can't wait to get sowing on the weekend. I'll remove the seeds from their (now swollen) hips and sow them in a pot of fresh compost. As the seeds require a good dose of cold, followed by a warm spell to germinate, I'll put the pot straight outside and leave it be. Who knows, in spring I could go out and find my own Hackney field rose growing in the garden.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Local plants (for local people)
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 07/01/2011 at 13:30

lovely idea, let us know how it goes

Gardeners' World Web User 07/01/2011 at 14:53

I love this locally grown plants shrubs and tree's lets hope more people love our native species, shame we haven't our native squirrels instead of these North American grey intelopers that destroy everything in site.My garden is too wet to be able to make a start, my heavy clay like a quagmire, slipped over several times already, so folks be careful out there.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/01/2011 at 18:53

Collecting seed of local provenance ticks all the boxes. Not only does it guarantee growing tough, locally sourced plants but it provides us, the gardeners with that indefinable sense of satisfaction that only growing your own can provide! I too have combed the Chalk Downs above my house, collecting seed of native plants there for some of my gardening projects. My biggest success was with the Yellow Horned Poppy, Glaucium flavum. Here on the West Wight chalk cliffs they cling to life precariously, whilst cliff falls regularly occur,plunging whole colonies of plants into the sea below. So, I figure that it is really a duty to collect and grow plants that are rarely grown and could also be in danger.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/01/2011 at 09:41

This is the problem with guerilla gardening - it spreads plants which contaminate local provenance. How to be 'sound' then??? Brighten derelict places up - but at that cost to the local environment. Hmmm.... Did dan address that issue?

Gardeners' World Web User 08/01/2011 at 11:02

Anne, this has been a problem in Bristol since Victorian times when people with gardens used to throw their spent biennials like wallflowers over the seawall into the gorge, unaware of the endemic rarities they were endangering. They have had to be weeded out ever since. I do agree local plants do well in gardens - the Bristol onion, Allium sphaerocephalon, which grows on the Downs and in the Avon gorge does very well in our gardens. Another allium - Allium vineale or Crow garlic grows everywhere around Bristol in the grass verges and on the Downs and is an unwelcome visitor in people's lawns in the spring when they first cut it if they do not like the smell of garlic. This one is endemic to the Midlands and my research into when it first arrived pinpointed the filling in of Charleton village to make the Brabazon runway by topsoil brought from Birmingham to Filton Station. As my garden is very near that runway crow garlic is with me for ever. It is fascinating to find out which of your "weeds" are truly local and which are not.

See more comments...