May 23, 2019
Choosing the right planting structure is important in any garden design; getting the right balance of colours can create the perfect environment to relax in that suits your personal style. You might prefer a uniform, minimalist scheme with varying shades of green with only the odd splash of colour, or you might be a bit bolder, opting to go for a brightly coloured, vibrant composition. Regardless of your personal style, we highly recommend building a backbone of native plants which can have a positive effect on the local ecosystem – that’s why, for our customers in Kent and Sussex, we recommend plants that have a strong tradition in the counties.
The ecological value of native species
One of the best ways that you can support your local ecology and contribute to the biodiversity in Kent and Sussex is to plant local, native species – those which have evolved to suit the English climate and have adapted to compete with other local species, forming a diverse equilibrium with each striving to gain a foothold in the complex array of habitats found in the Kent and Sussex countryside.
Non-local species – sometimes termed ‘invasive’ if they damage the local ecosystem – can disrupt this equilibrium by bringing in a new set of adaptations that the local species have never encountered before, and thus, are not able to compete with. One example of a devastating invasive species is the Japanese knotweed, which was originally brought into the UK as an ornamental garden plant and is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in the top 100 of the world’s most invasive species. In Japan, it isn’t a problem because of the numerous insect species which have evolved adaptations that allow them to feed on the plant. In the UK, there are no such predators, with local insects largely leaving Japanese knotweed alone. This allows it to out-compete local plants, which are eaten by native insects, often completely swamping them and preventing them from growing.
Although an extreme example, the point remains that non-native plants provide less to the local environment than natives. For example, data shows that oak, willow and birch, which are all native trees, can be associated with more than 220 different insect species. On the other hand, horse chestnut – which is native to the Balkans – is only associated with four different insect species in the UK.
Garden design with native plant species
Every animal and insect has its niche – you take the native plant out of the garden and you have a problem. That’s not to say overseas plants don’t belong; they provide wonderful colour, pollen and variety, but from a wildlife and ecological perspective, building a backbone of native plants is important.
A few gardens are quite purist with native species, focussing on what is right for this part of the country. Dewlands Garden Design’s geographic reach covers the sandier slopes of Tunbridge Wells, the chalkier downs of Lewes and Wealden clay, so it can be quite diverse.
Most of the plants of Kent and Sussex are pretty much the plants we have across the UK but because our area has lots of clay, you see less of the beech forests of the Chilterns and more of the silver birch and oak trees which grow all over the UK, which look great as part of a garden design. Here are some more native plants which not only add splashes of colour and intrigue to your garden, but also support the local ecology.
Native woodland plants
Woodland plants are usually wildflowers which carpet the floor with bursts of colour. These include:
Building your garden around a backbone of native plants can be an effective way to encourage biodiversity and support the local ecology. Including the trees and flowers from our list in your garden design plans can be an excellent way to get started.