Nature’s Wild Woodland Garden

Primroses and wild daffodils, two of our most cherished spring flowers, grow in hedgerows and meadows, open clearings of woods, and also in weedy areas of gardens. Once established in the right soil conditions, they bloom in profusion and multiply, making rich, golden carpets of blooms.

Although wild daffodils – Lent lilies – are less widespread than they were, they are still prolific in the west and south of England and Wales, and some colonies persist in eastern England in old woods and churchyards. Their numbers have been much reduced not only by indiscriminate picking but also by drainage of land-daffodils do better in damp ground-and by their deliberate removal from pastures because their bulbs are slightly poisonous to grazing animals. However, where they are left undisturbed they continue to flourish, sometimes in the most unlikely places such as the banks of the M5 motorway.

The Lent lily is the only truly native type of daffodil in Britain, although some foreign species and hybrids have escaped from gardens and are now widely naturalised. It has solitary, drooping flowers with delicate pale yellow petals and a darker yellow trumpet. Possibly the Tenby daffodil, the symbolic flower of Wales, is also native; if it is a garden escape, it certainly escaped a long time ago. It differs from the Lent lily in that it has deeper yellow petals and is slightly taller.

The primrose was given the name prima rosa – first rose of the year – by medieval scholars. It is nowadays often difficult to find around towns; away from over-enthusiastic collectors, however, primroses still flourish in old grassland and hedgerows or in woods.

Like many other common and easily recognised plants, the primrose has been put to numerous uses. Its flowers and those of its cousin, the cowslip, were recommended as a flavouring in a 17th century recipe for minnows fried with egg yolks, and vast quantities of primrose and cowslip blossoms went into country wines and vinegar. Primrose leaves were boiled with lard by medieval New Forest woodmen to make an ointment for cuts.

Primrose flowers are usually pale yellow with a darker yellow eye in the centre. They have lines or honeyguides on the petals reflecting ultra violet light which, although invisible to us. Is seen by insects and directs them to the nectar in the base of the flower tube.

Some primroses in the woods of south Wales have pinkish flowers, and in some plants the flowers grow on a common stalk instead of all springing separately from the base of the plant. With such variability existing naturally in wild primroses, it is not surprising that gardeners have seized on the opportunity to single out oddities – the long stalked, or large flowered, or brightly coloured mutants which, by hybridisation with cowslips and oxlips, have given birth to the enormous range of polyanthus varieties we see in gardens today.

Escapes

While primroses and daffodils have been hybridised in gardens in seemingly endless permutations, other plants have escaped from gardens to the countryside. The spring crocus is a familiar spring flower of gardens that is occasionally found growing wild in meadows and woods.

The sand crocus, a relative of the spring crocus, is however a native plant which grows by the coast in south west England. It is uncommon probably because it is not hardy enough to withstand our winter frosts; it is much more widespread farther south in Europe. The sand crocus does not look much like its garden counterpart: its leaves are remarkable for being thin and twisted like a corkscrew, and the flowers are purple on one side and pale green on the back.

14. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Woodlands | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nature’s Wild Woodland Garden

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