I am privileged to be involved in two community group projects at the moment. For the first project, I am devising a planting plan and approach to populating the two wildlife pond in Duchess Wood with plant . The second project is the renovation of James Street park for which I have been commissioned to design a new community garden for the space. This design will go out to consultation on Saturday 23 April. Though I cannot say too much at present, the design for the park aims for an attractive, slightly wild space that can be enjoyed by all whilst being low maintenance. Two very different projects with a common thread - wildlife.
For both projects, I am considering native versus non-native plants. Putting the overall aim of Duchess Wood to return it to it’s native state aside, I feel it would be inappropriate to introduce non-natives into Duchess Wood given it’s position in the landscape. The wood is adjacent to regenerating woodland and links to other broadleaved woodland on Glenoran Road to the west and to the north. It would not take much for vigorous plant species to widen their reach. We already see Japanese knotweed on the outer-reaches of the wood that was until recently threatening to encroach this local nature reserve. So I turn to the natives here.
The new ponds in Duchess Wood would support native plants such as the yellow-flowered Iris pseudoacorus, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet), and Juncus sp. - three plant species already found in damper areas of the wood. These native species would be right at home around the margins of the pond along with Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Valeriana officinalis (valerian), and Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) . The pretty sky-blue, though sometimes pink flowered Myosotis scorpioides (water-forget-me-not) would grow well at the edge of the ponds or in shallow water. Whereas, the white water lily, Nymphaeus alba, with its large flowers and leaves, Mentha aquatica (water mint), which has spherical lilac flowers that are loved by pollinators, and Potamogeton natans, with floating leaves that are appreciated by insects, would be happier in the water. Together, these native plants would provide habitat for wildlife in and out of the pond and the oxygenating plants within the pond, such as Potamogeton natans and Myriophyllum spicatum increasing pond biodiversity.
On the other hand, non-natives combined with natives would be far less controversial for James Street community garden. This green space is in the centre of town and bounded by gardens and buildings. In fact, non-natives would be welcome here as they would extend the season. For us, we can enjoy the later flowering plants, such as Helenium, Anemone x hybrida, Eupatorium maculatum, Ageratina altissima, and Aster sp. that give such a wonderful autumnal display. And for the wildlife, the food that some at least of these plants provide long after many of our native plants have finished flowering. I say some - those that are considered near-natives (i.e., those naturally occurring in the northern hemisphere, but not native nor naturalised in the British Isles, and from at least the same family if not the same genus) are better for our pollinators than exotics according to an extensive study carried out at RHS Wisley (1). Though even exotics have their place in providing food for our pollinators.
So in short, my answer to that question - native or not-native - is yes to both, but (and it is a very large but) it very much depends on the context and the wider landscape. These really need to be considered - carefully.
Reference: (1) Salisbury et al (2015). Journal of Applied Ecology 52: p.1156 to 1164
For more information, visit:
RHS website: plants for pollinators
Butterfly conservation: plants for butterflies
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.