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Take a walk on the wild side and save the planet; Garden Life.

Byline: JANET WHEATCROFT

LAST week I got a letter that made me want to cheer. A reader wrote in with a query about a wildlife area he had made.

He'd very sensibly planted perennial British native plants that birds, butterflies and other insects could use.

And it's just one of many letters I've received on the same subject. It seems that folk want to do their bit to help our environment.

They're not scared to turn their backs on the school of gardening that suggests a dowse of chemicals as a cure for every horticultural ill.

There are more than a million acres of private gardens in the UK. Waste ground, farmland and wild woodland have disappeared at an alarming rate because of modern farming, commercial forestry and the demand for building land.

Our gardens, and the way we use them, could be a fantastic way to claw back some of the natural resources we've lost.

It doesn't necessarily mean going organic - just treating garden chemicals with caution and responsibility. And it doesn't mean living with a messy plot full of weeds. Don't be put off by the literature on the subject. The first thing you must do, the experts say, is scrape off the topsoil to reduce fertility. It's the only way to please native wildflowers that enjoy meadow conditions. That's just not true.

I reckon that half this advice is written for those who garden on the limestone downs or low-rainfall arable land of the south and east of England.

It makes very little sense in Scottish conditions. Take a look at the wildflowers in your nearest bit of real countryside.

I'll bet that there are primroses, foxgloves, Herb Robert, Welsh poppies, and, perhaps red campion.

These are the plants of the woodland edge and of damp roadside ditches. They're absolutely typical of the Scottish countryside.

All adjust happily in gardens, needing only dampish conditions and whatever soil is on offer. All are trouble-free and decorative enough to win a place in any garden.

Some folk like the idea of wildlife support, but still want a tidy and attractive garden. Can you really have both? Of course you can. Butterflies and bees don't care whether their food plants are in an untidy hedgerow or arranged neatly in a border.

And they're not bothered about whether plants are genuine wildlings or forms selected for gardens.

Take cow parsley, or Queen Anne's Lace. The purple-leaved variety, Anthriscus Raven's Wing is pretty and unusual. It attracts hoverflies and bees as well as its plain green cousins.

Welsh poppies come in orange and red, as well as the lemon-peel yellow of the wild plant. As for foxgloves, there's one for every situation.

Sow them two years running to cover their two-year life cycle, and they'll reward you by self-seeding. Best of all, bumble bees love them.

Look out for varieties of native cranebills like Geranium sanguineum 'Glenluce', originally found in Galloway. Then there are many good forms of Geranium sylvaticum.

With these, as with all your wildlings, leave on the seed heads to encourage self-seedling.

There's one vital point Never, never take plants from the wild. It's now illegal. Anyway, more and more nurseries are stocking native plants.

For wildflower seeds, try John Chambers, 15 Westleigh Road, Barton Seagrave, Kettering, Northants NN15 5AJ.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 23, 2002
Words:551
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