We are very fortunate in this country to have a varied and beautiful selection of native trees and shrubs, which both protect and enhance our environment. Native plants and trees are the backbone of our wildlife's food chain and as woods and hedgerows disappear, so too do the familiar creatures of the British landscape.
The destruction of our native plants is causing the demise of our native species and many introduced plants offer less value to our native wildlife. With this in mind, this week I have decided to encourage you to cultivate more native plants in your gardens to help conserve our unique British environment. Planting native trees and shrubs not only helps to encourage and preserve native wildlife but they can also mean less work in the garden too! Local plants are adapted to local soils and climate and often have lower maintenance requirements. Many will grow in difficult areas of the garden with little or no fertilizer.
Once established, native plants usually withstand long periods of dry weather. Local plants are the essence of regional identity and preserve the character of the countryside.
British Native Trees
There are myriad native trees and shrubs in Britain. The most common include Ash, Beech, Oak, Yew and Silver Birch. There is also the Crab Apple, Ivy, Honeysuckle, Hawthorn and Bramble. My favourites include:
With its straight, smooth, silvery-grey trunk and fresh springtime canopy of young, almost translucent, pale green leaves, this is one of the most handsome and easily recognised trees.
Beech thrives in chalk and limestone uplands and in slightly acid sandy soils. It is truly native only in southern England, but has been so widely planted that the precise northern limit is difficult to define. Beech can grow up under the shade of any native tree except yew but very few trees will grow under the dense shade cast by beech, so it can easily become dominant.
Ash is a member of the olive family and the last native tree to come into leaf. In Winter it can be recognised by its knobbly greenish-grey twigs and its large, coal-black buds in opposite pairs. Ash's distinctive clusters of flattened fruits with long, tongue-like wings, known as 'keys', can remain on the tree throughout Winter. Ash is commonly found in woods, scrub and hedgerows, particularly on damp, alkaline soils, throughout England. Ash is a fast-growing tree that can take over, so be sure to trim the tree back regularly to manage its growth. It also has a talent for survival - it can reproduce quickly so watch out for new saplings and remove those that you do not require.
Ideal for small gardens, the Crab Apple or Malus is covered in clouds of pretty white flowers which open from delicate pink buds in May. The Crab Apple is a small, densely-branched deciduous tree which seldom grows taller than 8m.
Crab apple is found in ancient woods, especially of oak, and hedgerows on a wide range of soils throughout lowland England. There are many modern cultivars with white, pink or maroon flowers and some have attractive maroon-purple foliage. Those producing large fruit make excellent crab apple jelly.
The English oak is a sturdy and stately tree boasting massive, spreading branches and distinctive round-lobed leaves.