Bee’s Favourites and other Native Wildflowers

web - bumblebee on alkanet


web - bumblebee on hedge woundwort

Hedge Woundwort

Scabious with Bumblebee

Small Scabious

WPL1 -  Purple Loosestrife with Bumblebee, Hedge Woundwort seed stalks

Purple Loosestrife

Wildflowers may be known by several names, some acquired over centuries. Plants’ names may differ from one part of the country to another; a British wildflower growing abroad may have  another name. Learning the plant’s Latin name helps to avoid confusion.

Part of the pleasure of growing a native wildflower is knowing it has lived a life and earned itself a reputation, and perhaps a folkname or two. When someone asks you, ‘What’s this one, then?’ you can answer ‘Kiss Me Quick’, or ‘Viper’s Bugloss’. ‘Mind Your Own Business’ (Soleirolia soleirolii), a carpeting plant from the Mediterranean, grows in many of our gardens. Some prefer to call it by one of its other names, ‘Baby’s Tears’ or ‘Paddy’s Wig’, to avoid misunderstandings.

These native wildflowers, with a few exceptions, have attracted the insects to our garden: honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies and others. Bees are having a desperately hard time right now, and anything we can do to encourage them is worth doing. Because of the cold winter and wet spring, bee numbers were down in 2013, with some wildflower favourites not visited by bees at all.


P1030162ALKANET (Pentaglottis sempervirens) Europe, Africa and W. Asia.

Bees are irresistably drawn to Alkanet’s small, intensely BLUE flowers, which appear in May and can last well into summer. When small, the plant is soft, fuzzy and easily handled. WAlkanet, blue egg, webpix As it grows, each leaf becomes a large, bristly green paddle, painful to the touch and good protection against being eaten by wildlife; humans working near the plant should wear gloves.

Alkanet is self-seeding, with long taproots which yield a reddish dye. It likes sunshine and has no problems growing in London Clay. When space is at a premium, as here in Highbury, the largest, lowest leaves can be removed; aim to leave every last blue flower for the bees, then cut the plant down at the base.

As a conservation volunteer, you learn that ordinary gardening gloves are inadequate for dealing with some wildflowers. At the Ecology Centre we are provided with gauntlets – tough, rugged gloves reaching almost to the elbow – for tasks involving prickly plants. My top four wildflowers, rated for bristles, prickles and thorns, are: 1. Bramble 2. Dog Rose 3. Teasel and 4. Alkanet. Every one of them worth growing if you have the space and can deal with the prickles.

WBetony and yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil 2009

BETONY (Stachys officinalis)

Betony’s LAVENDER flowers bloom from June till September; they are visited for their nectar by bees and other insects, including the Brimstone butterfly.

Also known as Bishopswort, Betony’s properties are both medicinal and magical. Used in herbal teas and herbal tobacco, a poultice of its leaves was used on wounds, bites and poisonous stings, and it was inhaled to treat bronchitis.

“A religious herb of the Celts, also native to temperate Europe and Algeria, and known to the ancient Egyptians…” Grown in physic gardens of apothecaries and monasteries for medicinal purposes as well as churchyards to foil evil spirits who might be hanging around. …also worn about the neck as an amulet or charm to drive away devils and despair (probably quite common in the bleak Middle Ages.)”

Italian proverb: ‘Sell your coat and buy Betony’.

Website: ( cop, 2006 by Ernestina Parziale, CH…

XBirdsfoot Trefoil

BIRDSFOOT TREFOIL (Lotus corniculatus)

Birdsfoot Trefoil Birdsfoot Trefoil’s YELLOW flowers  bloom from June to September over a mat of small, dark green leaves. Black pods appear after the flowers have finished, each one containing many kidney-shaped seeds.

This wildflower is a member of the pea family and an important plant for wildlife. Its flowers are visited by many insects for pollen and nectar; its leaves are foodplants for the Silver-studded Blue Butterfly and the Six-spot Burnet Moth.

Planted for erosion control, Birdsfoot Trefoil has acquired many folknames: Boots-and-Shoes, Cat cluke, Cat-poddish, Cheesecake, Crow-foot, Crowtaes, Cuckoo’s Stockings, Devil’s Claws, Eggs-and-Bacon, God Almighty’s Thumbs-and-Fingers, Ground Honeysuckle, Lady’s Glove, Lamb’s Sucklings, Milkmaid, Patten and Clogs, Pig’s Pettitoes, Sheepfoot and Venus’s Shoe.

Botanical painting by J.N.Fitch, Horwood’s British Wildflowers in their Favourite Haunts

BITTERSWEET (Solanum dulcamara)

Bittersweet flowers 1BITTERSWEET BERRIES 2013Small PURPLE and YELLOW flowers dangle from this climber, a relative of the potato and the tomato… In a sunny corner against the house, it is now two metres tall and quite woody. Bees pay it constant attention over its long flowering season.

The pollinated flowers become RED berries, which are poisonous. In some of the nearby Highbury gardens, it makes a handsome free-standing shrub. One of its other names is Woody Nightshade.

WBorage budsBORAGE (Borago officinalis)

Borage in wildlife squareKnown as ‘Bees-Bread‘, Borage blooms from midsummer to autumn. When its soft, fuzzy buds open, each BLUE flower hangs face down, so visiting bees must dangle beneath it to reach its pollen and nectar.

Friends Andy and Jean bought a beekeeper’s house; in the bee-friendly garden, Borage had been allowed to grow anywhere it liked.

John Gerard, in The Herbell, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597): “Those of our time do use the floures in sallads to exhilerate and make the minde glad. There be also many things made of them, used for the comfort of the heart, to drive away sorrow, & increase the joy of the minde. The leaves and floures of Borrage put into wine make men and women glad and merry, driving away all sadnesse, dulnesse, and melancholy, as Dioscorides and Pliny affirme. Syrrup made of the floures of Borrage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy, and quieteth the phreneticke or lunaticke person.”

RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses, Demi Bown

WRC1 Red Campion croppedCAMPION – Red (Silene dioica)

The MAGENTA flowers of Red Campion are much visited by bees and hoverflies. This plant of woodlands, hedgerows and limestone-rich soil is in bloom from May to June. Our Red Campion, brought to the garden from a wildflower sale at the Ecology  Centre, comes back year on year in the shady border.

“Red Campion, it seems, was known as a ‘snake plant’ and ‘of the devil’ or a goblin. Apparently, according to one ancient source, ‘wanton maids’ wore it under their bodice to entice young men!”

Nature’s Forgotten Folklore: Myths and Magic in Islington, Richard Meyers

CAMPION – White (Silene alba)White Campion

A perennial which grows in both cultivated ground and poor soil, White Campion’s large, fragrant WHITE flowers open at dusk. Insects such as the Elephant Hawkmoth visit the flowers by day for their pollen, while nectar as well as pollen are available for night-flying moths.

The flowering season for White Campion, according to Horwood, was from June to July in 1919; it now blooms from May to September. Its folknames include Grandmother’s Nightcap, Plum-puddings, White Robin and Thunderbolts.

Botanical painting by J.N.Fitch, Horwood’s British Wildflowers in Their Favourite Haunts, 1919

CLOVER – Dutch or White  (Trifolium repens)

clover 54Attempts at growing a clover patch are ongoing here. In its glory days, five plants from a wildflower sale at the Ecology Centre provided many blooms for bees. Since then, other plants have invaded the clover patch, which cats have chosen to mark with their scent; squirrels have been seen digging into it.

Years ago, clover planted in a windowbox, on the top floor of the house, was found by mice, who may have been driven out of the little woodland at the back when a developer chopped it down…  every last morsel of it was eaten. This, our current clover patch, grows in a ceramic pot.

WCornflowerCORNFLOWER (Centaurea Cyanus)

Loved by gardeners, painters of medieval manuscripts, bees and other insects, the Cornflower’s deep BLUE flowers bloom from June to midsummer. It dislikes chalky ground, but will grow in soils that are sandy, gravelly, or poor.

It was unwelcome in the cornfields, where its tough stems blunted farmers’ scythes, earning it the name ‘Hurt-sickle’. Other folknames : Break-Your-Spectacles, Blue-blaw, Blue bonnets, Brushes, Corn-binks, and Loggerheads (some said it resembles a weapon of that name, an iron ball at the end of a stick…)

Cornflower was given the name centaurea “from the legend of the centaur Chiron, who was wounded by an arrow poisoned with the blood of the Hydra. He covered his wound with its blue flowers, which have retained their healing properties.”

Green Magic – Flowers, Plants and Herbs in Lore and Legend, Lesley Gordon, p.162

Corn Marigold finito on Sunday w points and croppedThis former cornfield ‘weed’, with its lemon YELLOW flowers and blue-green foliage, is now listed as ‘vulnerable’…  It is visited by bees, hoverflies, and butterflies such as the Gatekeeper and the Small Tortoiseshell.

Introduced to the UK before the Iron Age, its petals were churned into butter and added to cheese to intensify the yellow colour. We have had it here in the wildlife garden; it glows in the sunshine. marigold

P1030161Dandelion crop2Blank_-_Spacer16th century Herbalist Matthiolus: “Magicians say that if a person rubs himself all over with (the decoction of the whole plant), he will everywhere be welcome and obtain what he wishes” (!)

Nature’s Forgotten Folklore: Myths and Magic in Islington, Richard Meyers

“The ingratitude shown to the dandelion is almost unbelievable. We should be inviting it in to our gardens with low bows, rather than uprooting it with imprecations. Few gardeners take note of that word officinale, which points to the fact that the dandelion should be treated with respect as a herb used in medicine. Perhaps if we mentioned in passing to our neighbours that our Taraxacums were doing well this year, we might do a little to reinstate what is, after all, quite a handsome flower. But no, its old-fashioned names of Piss-a-bed in the United States and England, and Pissenlit in France, would rise, a guilty secret from the past, to SMIRCH its already tarnished good name…”

“Dandelion wine is famous for its potency, but dandelion coffee is, well, dandelion coffee.”

Green Magic – Flowers, Plants and Herbs in Lore and Legend, Lesley Gordon

Butterflies (Peacock, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip and Brimstone) visit the Dandelion for its nectar, as do other insects. The flowers close overnight, or during rain.

WEBSITE - ivy leavesENGLISH IVY (Hedera helix)

Our native Ivy offers an evergreen backdrop for other plants, while providing shelter for insects. Chris Baines, in ‘How to Make a Wildlife Garden‘, reckons that this is the essential plant for a wildlife-friendly garden. Its WHITE flowers provide autumn nectar for insects, including the Red Admiral and Comma butterflies; its BLACK berries are an important food source for birds in winter.

Easy to grow, all year round, English Ivy can reach 10m x 5m, in sun or shade. But you can control it, shaping its size to suit your own garden, patio, or windowbox. In our garden, wrens especially like diving into the Ivy for spiders and small insects.

Our Ivy wall had a run-in with builders in 2012, and half of it was killed. Plume Moths and Pug Moths living in the affected area suffered; Plume Moths made a comeback this summer, but we seem to have lost our Pug Moths.

WEBSITE - Foxglove cropBlank_-_SpacerDoctor Foxglove… they will improve the storage qualities of such things as potatoes, tomatoes and apples grown near them.” THE COMPLETE OLD WIVES’ LORE FOR GARDENERS Maureen and Bridget Boland, The Bodley Head, London 1977…

WFoxglove sharpenFoxglove four extreme closeup

garlic mustard

GARLIC MUSTARD (Alliaria petiolata)

Fresh green leaves of Garlic Mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge, give way in April and May to small WHITE flowers. These are followed by pods bearing many tiny seeds, which are easily scattered by wind.

Garlic Mustard is a food plant for the Orange Tip Butterfly. The female Orange Tip tastes the plant with her feet, then lays a single egg. The larva are carnivorous, so each is given its own plant; they feed on the flowers and seedpods.

“For those who like garlic, but only in moderation, Jack-by-the-Hedge is ideal as a flavouring. When bruised or chopped the leaves give off just a suspicion of the smell of its unrelated namesake… the leaves, finely chopped, can be added to salads.”

FOOD FOR FREE, Richard Mabey, Harper-Collins, 2004.

One Garlic Mustard plant, from a wildflower sale at the Ecology Centre, was planted in the Wildlife Garden a few years ago. The following spring three plants appeared, and we have had Jack-by-the-Hedge ever since. Be warned: the prolific supply of seeds can blanket your garden with Garlic Mustard. Here, the fresh young leaves are food for slugs and snails; frogs, thrushes or blackbirds can enjoy the subtle flavouring of garlic with their next meal of slug or snail.

HEDGE BINDWEED (Convolvulus arvensis)

Hedge BindweedHedge Bindweed’s WHITE trumpet flowers, in bloom from April to July, are much favoured by bees. Its leaves  provide food for the larva of both White and Common Plume Moths.

The flowers of this vigorous climber may be handsome, but Hedge Bindweed’s habit of smothering everything in its path does not endear it to gardeners. Digging out its root system will be labour lost if any piece of it is left; a new plant will grow from that piece. Horwood says it is ’emblematic of obstinacy’, with folknames of ‘Devil’s Guts’ and ‘Devil’s Garter’.

Charlotte Voake gives one of its names as ‘Hedge-Strangler’. In our Wildlife Garden it comes through from next door’s concrete garden, where vegetation is cut back once a year. This year more of it was allowed to climb and flower on our side, to encourage the Plume Moths to reappear.

HEDGE WOUNDWORT (Stachys sylvatica)

xHedge Woundwort2 The BURGUNDY flowers of this wildflower, irresistable to many small bees and other insects, appear in June and bloom until first frosts. Caterpillars of the Emperor Hawkmoth and the Small Elephant Hawkmoth feed on its leaves, but slugs and snails leave it alone. It has its own Shieldbug, the Woundwort Shieldbug. The little instars go through four stages before becoming adults.

Hedge Woundwort has no problems with dense shade or London Clay: small plantlets are easily pulled up and replanted elsewhere. Shiny black seeds in groups of four nestle in green tufts along its stems. “Once the seed is dispersed, the plant spreads vigorously, using its underground rhizomes.”

When the flowers are done, cutting stems back by half may prolong the plant’s season, bringing on fresh leaves, further flowers, and more bees.

Hedge Woundwort has been used to control bleeding, ease fevers and mitigate intestinal complaints. The many offspring of our first Hedge Woundwort, which came from an Ecology Centre wildflower sale, reappear each spring. They bring in the bees and give the garden the feeling of a woodland glade.

P1030166HERB ROBERT (Geranium robertianum)

Herb Robert best lightenedThis wild geranium is so prolific in the area, it could easily bear the title of The Highbury Herb. It seeds itself everywhere: cracks, crevices between paving stones, concrete stairs.

The small flowers, much visited by bees,  are a bright PINK. They are set in delicate dark green foliage that turns a rusty red in dry weather.

Herb Robert was said to be protected by Robin Good-Fellow, (Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream); to harm it “is to court disaster – your house might well be struck by lightning, and if you keep a cow, its milk may be turned to blood. Not nice on your porridge!”

NATURE’S FORGOTTEN FOLKLORE: MYTHS AND MAGIC IN ISLINGTON’, Richard Meyers, available while stocks last, in person, from Islington Ecology Centre, 191 Drayton Park, London N5 1PH

HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera periclymena)

Honeysuckle oneSeveral of these climbers were put in by RF along the southern wall/fence; in good years they bring forth many fragrant, moth-enticing, creamy YELLOW flowers, followed by black berries. This wildflower has been used as an antiseptic; ‘in small doses, is a useful addition to cough mixtures.’

RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses, Demi Bown

The Honeysuckle, known as Woodbine, is enjoyed in the countryside now as it has been for centuries: ‘Oh how sweete and pleasant is Woodbinde, in Woodes or Arbours, after a tender soft rayne, and how friendly doth this herbe if I may so name it, imbrace the bodies, armes, and braunches of trees wyth his long winding stalkes and tender leaves, opening or spreading forth his sweete Lillies, like ladies fingers, among the thornes or bushes.’

Bulwarke of defence against all sicknesse, soareness, and woundes that doe dayly assault mankinde, gathered and practised by William Bullein, Doctor of Physicke, 1562, London.

Green Magic – Flowers, Plants & Herbs in Lore & Legend, Lesley Gordon

WIvy-Leaved Toadflax1 with flowers

IVY-LEAVED TOADFLAX (Linaria Cymbalaria)

Now a resident UK wildflower, this dainty plant from southern Europe was brought to the Chelsea Physic Garden over 300 years ago. It grows on old walls, in dry rocky places, between paving stones. Its glossy leaves are purple underneath; in full sun, stem, stalks and flower bases are tinged with purple. The flowers, tiny LILAC snapdragons, bloom from May to September.

In The Secret Life of Plants, David Attenborough describes how the flowers turn to the wall on which they grow to disperse their seeds. In Reading the Landscape of Europe, May Theilgaard Watts calls it Runes-de-Rome: “This plant is a part of every medieval city wall.’ in France, “Clinging to the massive masonry that lifts Chateaudun above the Loire Valley, it undoubtedly felt the breath of molten lead poured on the enemy from the apertures above and received many a misdirected arrow from below.” After its introduction into Britain it climbed the walls of Kenilworth Castle so vigorously that it earned the name ‘Kenilworth Ivy’. Ivy-Leaved Toadflax can be persuaded to grow indoors, in a pot on a windowsill. Its self-seeding mechanism can eventually provide nearby pots with a decorative miniature groundcover. Other names: Aaron’s Beard, Climbing Sailor, Pedlar’s Basket, Penny Wort, Thousand Flower and Rabbits.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax on Gillespie Park signboard

Ivy-leaved Toadflax on signboard outside Gillespie Gate


Knapweed Gillespie Pk

Lesser Knapweed at Gillespie Park



Sarah Raven’s Wildflower Seeds – Greater Knapweed

Masses of dry, dusty brown buds form at the stem-tips of this native perennial. In July, these become small LAVENDER ‘shaving brushes’. They usually only last until late August here, but each flower is a magnet for bees, moths, hoverflies and butterflies, including the Brimstone. Folknames include Bunds, Horse Knot, Ironweed, Lady’s Cushion, Yronhard.

Knapweed crop

LEMON BALM/BEE BALM ( Melissa officinalis) – Europe to C. Asia

LEMON BALM IN SUNSHINE P1030596Fragrant OFF-WHITE flowers appear at intervals along the stems of this easy-to-grow wildflower. ‘An extremely useful plant to colonize dry, dusty areas of the garden where nothing else will grow. The smell is an added bonus – crush a couple of leaves whenever you walk past to release the tangy lemon aroma’.

GROW YOUR OWN DRUGS, James Wong, Collins, 2009.

Plant Lemon Balm beside a path, or somewhere it can enjoy human contact, and vice versa. Cultivated for over 2,000 years, tea brewed from its leaves is therapeutic, soothing away melancholy and reviving the tired brain.

‘Nothing but good can be said of this rather insignificant-looking and unassuming herb. It is a valuable bee plant, and, according to Pliny, acted as a sort of sign-post, in case any bee was in danger of getting lost. “Bees are delighted with this herbe above all others… when they are straid away, they do finde their way home againe by it.” ‘The leaves of balm are still rubbed inside the hives after the hiving of a new swarm, to encourage the newcomers to stay.’

Green Magic – Flowers, Plants and Herbs in Lore and Legend, Lesley Gordon

WLovage by Fatsia JaponicaLOVAGE (Ligustrum vulgare)

Ricoh DC 4UThis perennial from RF’s sunny herb garden grew each year to a height of two metres. Bees love it. It smells of celery when its stems are broken, as happened often with catfights… (‘What happened here?’ ‘Catfight. 3AM. Woke me up’.)

Grown in English gardens and monastery gardens for hundreds of years, Lovage is not a native plant; it originates from the Mediterranean… Used as a herbal remedy for sore throats, as well as an aphrodisiac, it was considered one of the wonder drugs of the day (1597) by John Gerard – used for treatment of jaundice, colic and fever in children. Old herbalists would also claim its worth as an aid against other pestilential disorders. An alcoholic cordial, made from lovage, sugar and brandy, was used to reduce stomach upsets. ‘The flavour is like parsley and celery combined with a hint of aniseed and curry… So why aren’t we all using it by the handful and why is it virtually impossible to buy?… Today I’d like to redress the balance a bit. I want you to feel the lovage – give it a small corner of your garden, find it a place in your kitchen, and it might find a place in your heart… ‘ Recipes include Lovage, Lettuce, Pea and Cucumber Soup, and Courgette and Lovage Pasta.

WEBSITE - Meadow Buttercup crop

WEBSITE -Meadowsweet cropBlank_-_SpacerA tall wildflower with clouds of tiny, fragrant CREAM flowers and dark green, pleated leaves, this plant’s pollen and nectar animate the many bees who visit it.Our Meadowsweet patch began life as a rooted stem, dug up one Volunteer Day as we replanted the Gillespie Road entrance. Brought back to the wildlife garden and planted in the shady fern bed, it has thrived.Sacred to the Druids, Meadowsweet was laid on floors in the Middle Ages as a fragrant strewing herb, to be walked on. At wedding festivals it was strewn with Salad Burnet, which smells of cucumber.web July meadowsweet crop

‘…flowery tops contain Salicylic acid – nature’s aspirin’. In 1897, chemists at Bayer produced synthetically altered salicin, which helps alleviate fever, headache and pain. They named it Aspirin (acetyl + spiraea ulmaria) after the plant’s earlier botanical name, Spiraea ulmaria. meadowsweet.html, an Ayurvedic website

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PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE (Lythrum salicaria)

WPL3 Purple Loosestrife, 3 spires in fern bed with spent Meadowsweet WPL1 -  Purple Loosestrife with Bumblebee,   Hedge Woundwort seed stalksWPurple Loosestrife
















A wildflower of wet ground, Purple Loosestrife can be found at the edges of ponds, rivers and ditches. Its elegant spires of MAGENTA-PURPLE flowers bloom from June to August. Our stand of Purple Loosestrife, from a wildflower sale at the Ecology Centre, grows in the damp shade of the Fern Bed. Bumblebees love it.

WEBSITE - Oxeye Daisy cropBlank_-_SpacerA tall, handsome wildflower with WHITE petals and YELLOW centres, Oxeye Daisy blooms from late spring to early summer.Horses and sheep will eat this wildflower, but other animals will not touch it. Folknames include Caten-aroes, Butter Daisy,  White Gull, Magweed, Moon Penny, Dutch Morgan.XOxeye Daisies xWOxeye Daisies~

WEBSITE - Salad Burnet cropWSalad Burnet in wildflower square

WS1 Self-heal in pot

SELF-HEAL (Prunella vulgaris)

Self-Heal A wildflower of fields, pastures and lawns, Self-heal likes clay soil and sunshine. PURPLE flowers appear along the sides of its little drumlike structures from July to September, visited by honeybees and other insects. It can grow to a foot in height, but taller plants nearby may take its share of sunshine and crowd it out.

Folknames: Herb Carpenter, Heart of the Earth, London Bottles, Pick Pocket, Prince’s Feather, Sicklewort.

Valued as a herb for treating wounds and sore throats; in North America, where it was taken by early settlers, it is called ‘Woundwort’. “Prunella vulgaris has a long history of use in traditional medicine. It was first mentioned in Chinese medical literature during the Han dynasty (206BC-AD23), mainly for complaints associated with disturbed liver energy. European herbalists have always regarded it primarily as a wound herb”.

RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses, Demi Bown, p. 335

Botanical painting by J.N.Fitch, Horwood’s British Wildflowers in Their Favourite Haunts, 1919

Scabious with Bumblebee

SMALL SCABIOUS (Scabiosa Columbaria)

LAVENDER pincushion flowers of this wildflower are produced throughout the summer; bees are all over it. It loves sunshine and good drainage, and is a valued nectar plant for butterflies such as the Comma.

2012’s heavy rains brought an early end to its flowering season here. It can be dwarfed by robust plants climbing over it or taking its sunshine. Small Scabious was formerly used to treat afflictions of the skin, from scabies to bubonic plague.

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Sweet Woodruff mat by great stoneSWEET WOODRUFF (Galium odoratum)

Sweet Woodruff flwrs 2Sweet Woodruff’s tough, shiny  green leaves make a low-growing, carpeting mat which is happy in sun or shade. In May, tiny WHITE flowers appear, with the delicious fragrance of vanilla rising up from them. They are used in potpourri. Sweet Woodruff flowers with bee early June 2013Plantlets appearing where they are unwanted can easily be pulled up and planted elsewhere.

Tiggy liked to throw himself onto a mat of Sweet Woodruff when it was in flower, stretching out in the sun. One of its folknames is ‘Kiss Me Quick’.

Demi Bown, in The RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & their Uses, says it is soaked in white wine in Alsace and made into a tonic drink.

young green teaselTEASEL (Dipsacus fullonum)

WViper's Bugloss and Teasel foliage in Ali Baba pot,  June 2008.The Teasel is a tall, dramatic wildflower which begins life as a rosette of leaves. During this stage, in its first year, it can be pulled up easily and moved to a sunny place where humans will not brush against it. In its second year it grows like Jack’s beanstalk. The rounded leaves become long and broad, with prickles along their edges, down to their now-pointy tips. Where the leaves clasp the spiny stem, rainwater collects in the joins. Having made itself thoroughly unwelcoming to grazing animals, the Teasel is free to grow to a height of two metres.

web interior mural teasel retouch

Teasel in wildflower mural, Ecology Centre

Green eggshaped ‘thistles’ now form at its stem tips. ‘The prickly heads were used for combing – ‘teasing’ – the knots out of sheep’s wool.’
A Little Guide to Wild Flowers, Charlotte Voake

Tiny PINK flowers appear in bands around these eggshaped ‘thistles’ attracting bees, and butterflies such as the Red Admiral and the Comma. Seeds form later, enjoyed by Goldfinches and other birds.

In Christopher Lloyd‘s Great Dixter garden, Teasels planted at the corners of the massive flowerbeds are left, dried, brown and dramatic,after the plants have finished flowering.

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VIPER’S BUGLOSS (Echium vulgare)

A tall plant with flowers of a deep, vivid BLUE, Viper’s Bugloss likes dry, gritty soil. One was planted here in a large terracotta pot with a Teasel and a Wild Clary; the Teasel took over, crowding out the others. Once replanted, Viper’s Bugloss proved a magnet for bees. As for how it got its name, a website called, which looks at honey worldwide, shows photos of Viper’s Bugloss seeds that show the perceived resemblance between the seed and a viper’s head… Echium is a Latin word taken from the Greek ‘echis’ for viper; ‘bugloss’ is Greek for ox tongue, referring to the roughness and shape of the plant’s leaves. Its other names include Blue Bottle, Blue Cat’s Tail, Our Saviour’s Flannel, Blue Thistle and Blue Devil.

Gillespie Park Fl - front gates on Drayton Park Rd, Wild Carrot and KnapweedWILD CARROT (Daucus carota)

“Also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, this is a dainty, frothy wildflower. Unlike cultivated carrots, the wild carrot’s root is tough and stringy and not particularly palatable.”. This may be true for humans, but one wild carrot, planted in the garden here, was eaten, possibly by mice. It regrew, but the new growth too was eaten and its stringy, unpalatable root dug up and eaten as well. Wild Carrot grows in sandy soils, hedgerows, grassland, along roadsides and on cliffs.

It flowers from June to August; each flowerhead is a flat disc of tiny CREAM flowers with a single red flower in the centre. When the flowers are spent the disc begins to close, forming itself gradually into a cup, and ending as a a ball of dried brown stems and seeds, which attract birds.

WWild Carrot flowerheads with Bee or Hoverfly, Gillespie Park Wikipedia says the root of Wild Carrot contains much sugar. It was known as a dyer’s weed in N. America, providing a creamy, off-white colour. The US Department of Agriculture calls it a noxious weed, a pest in pastures, whose seeds persist in soil for 2 to 5 years. Wear gloves when handling the leaves, which may cause dermatitis.

Holroyd counted 61 species of insect who were known to visit it in 1919 – bees, moths, beetles and bugs… Its folknames include: Bees-nest, Crow’s nest, Dawke, Dill, Fiddle, Hill-trot and Rantipole.   Photos: Gillespie Park

WWoadWOAD (Isatis tinctoria)

WEBSITE -WoadElizAlso called Goud, Ode. A biennial said to have provided the blue paint with which the Celts painted their bodies.

For one season we had Woad in the garden, after finding a young plant at the Centre for Wildlife Gardening, Peckham… Slugs and snails loved it, so it was moved around and kept in a pot until it matured and flowered. Its YELLOW flowers proved unattractive to insects, and it appears that only one insect, an aphid, lives ON it.

Woad was much used in dye-making in the Middle Ages… But so foul was the smell produced by the fermentation process that Queen Elizabeth I banned dye being made from Woad within 5 miles (8 km) of any of her palaces.

RHS Encyclopedia ofHerbs, Demi Bown

WYellow LoosestrifeYELLOW LOOSESTRIFE (Lysimachia vulgaris)

A native wildflower which sends up long stems of YELLOW flowers each year, this one is most definitely not a bee favourite. No insect cares to even rest its wings by perching on Yellow Loosestrife, which has been used, rather, as an insect deterrent. Its flowers were burnt inside the house to keep out flies, and in Ireland it was twined through the harnesses of oxen pulling the plough, to stop flies from biting them. Our Yellow Loosestrife now lives outside Tom’s back door, to deter flies.

Little Guide A Little Guide to Wild Flowers by Charlotte Voake  * Text by Kate Petty  *   Published in Great Britain by Eden Project Books, 2007 

* Imprint, Transworld Publishers

*  Div. of the Random House Group Ltd.

*  *

This little book, by award-winning children’s book illustrator Charlotte Voake, can be enjoyed by adults as well as children. Each native wildflower is illustrated, with a small, hand-printed tale of where it grows, when it flowers, how it got its name, and its past history with humans… has it fed us, healed us or poisoned us? Birds, animals, insects and children appear throughout. The selection of native plants includes Chickweed, Milkwort and Shepherd’s Purse… small and easily overlooked by many of us. Pages left blank at the back ( ‘My Wild-Flower Scrapbook’ ) are meant for drawings, paintings or photos of wildflowers: ‘Make sure you date all your entries – this could be a useful document one day!’

The Eden Project brings plants and people together. It is dedicated to developing a greater understanding of our shared global garden, encouraging us to respect plants – and to protect them.”

Rich's book cover with green border

Nature’s Forgotten Folklore: Myths and Magic in Islington

* Richard Meyers *           

In this booklet for Islington Council, Conservation Ranger Richard Meyers collects some of the stories, folknames and legends surrounding our local wildlife… There are traditions from a rural way of life before the industrial revolution, and tales from other countries who share some of our flora and fauna.

Those who have come along on one of Richard’s guided walks, or joined him and the team on a Thursday Volunteer Day, will have heard these and other stories. In Nature’s Forgotten Folklore: Myths and Magic in Islington he is, as he says, merely scratching the surface.

The book is available free, while stocks last, from The Islington Ecology Centre, 191 Drayton Park, London N5 1PH  (By personal visit rather than by post.)

Wildflowers in the Ecology Centre’s sales have come from Norfolk:

*British Wildflower Plants * * 01603 716 615

Wildflower biography sketches are from ‘Imagine Islington‘, a Millenium display for the Angel Mall organised by the Islington Ecology Centre. Hay bales divided walkway areas; wildflowers were planted in all manner of containers, from old boots to shopping trolleys. There were houses for wildlife (Who Lives Here? – bats, hedgehogs, frogs and toads) and games, with Wildlife Rangers on hand to answer questions.

For information and inspiration: see Marc Carlton’s website (c) 2007 ‘The Pollinator Garden’ flowers for bumblebees.pdf (includes ‘generally not much good for bumblebees’)



The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, published by Michael Joseph in 1977, was created by naturalist, illustrator and art teacher Edith Holden in 1905-06.

Edith painted the wildflowers, birds and other wildlife she saw, walking or cycling through countryside around her home in Orton, Warwickshire. The book moves through the seasons, pages filled with botanical paintings, country traditions, poems, the weather…

Cycling was popular; many women, laced into the tight corsets and long dresses of the Victorian era, now chose to wear ‘rational dress’, such as loose-fitting trousers (knickerbockers) for cycling. Some men objected… only eight years earlier, male students at Cambridge had hanged a woman riding a bicycle, in effigy, to protest the admission of women to the college. It is our good fortune that Edith Holden was able to cycle into the countryside and record what she saw there. In this book we see it as it was a century ago, through her eyes.