Go wild this spring: Mix delicate wildflowers with showy border plants

Go wild this spring: Mix delicate wildflowers with showy border plants

  • Nigel Colborn says to abandon your garden and visit your nearest woods
  • Expert says the woodland flowers are at their glorious best from now until May
  • Meadow and roadside flowers have become popular for gardens more recently

Here’s a delightful way to celebrate spring. Abandon your garden for an afternoon and visit your nearest woods.  

Woodland flowers are at their glorious best from now until May. At the moment, you could find carpets of white wood anemones. Later, there will be drifts of bluebells or whiffy white bear’s garlic. 

In part-shaded dells, you’ll see primroses or wood spurge. There might even be rarities such as oxlips, or green-flowered herb Paris. 

Those and so many wild plants are also lovely in gardens and easy to grow. Many, such as primroses and snake’s head fritillaries have been nurtured for centuries. 

More recently, meadow and roadside flowers have become popular for gardens. The best include cowslips, pale mauve cuckoo flower and red campion. Lovely summer cranesbills are good for gardens, too. 


You’d have to be a purist to grow nothing but wildflowers. Garden-bred plants have massive value for many reasons. 

Many are bred to resist disease. Most come in a range of sizes and shapes with greater colour choice. Even in the wildest garden, there needs to be star plants as well. 

Nigel Colborn says to abandon your garden and visit your nearest woods as woodland flowers are at their glorious best from now until May (stock photo)

I love peonies with whopping double flowers, tall hybrid tulips and blowsy roses with knockout fragrance. But modest plants, whether wild or not, mix easily with such ritzy exotics. In grass, fancy narcissus could blend sweetly with cowslips and frail cuckoo flowers. 

Personal taste will dictate what mixes. But if you love wildflowers for their innocent simplicity, don’t lose that by mixing them with too many garish cultivars. 

You’ll know at a glance which ones team well. Jumbo-flowered modern primroses have huge, lurid flowers. They’d blot out their woodland ancestors. They’d also clash with non-native wild primroses such as the mauvepink P. vulgaris var. sibthorpii. 

But there are garden primroses that blend perfectly with our natives. Purple- flowered Primula Wanda and double, pale pink P. Sue Jervis are examples. gardening nigel Colborn Fragrant: Bluebells will soon carpet woodlands and can flourish in gardens, too Barnhaven nursery (barnhaven. com) offers primroses ancient and modern. 


Like any plants, wild species must be acquired legitimately. You shouldn’t raid woods or roadsides. Luckily, almost all garden-worthy species are already in cultivation.

Many, such as bluebells, cranesbills and cowslips are widely offered. Rarer plants are supplied by specialist nurseries. I’ve used the esoteric Kevock ( and alpinists Pottertons (pottertons. For bulbs and other interesting plants, try Avon Bulbs ( 

Many wildflowers flourish in my garden, but for extra interest, we grow variants of those, too. Among 70 available wood anemone varieties, I grow Anemone nemorosa Royal Blue, and double-flowered Vestal. 

When planting wildflowers, know their habits. Yellow lesser celandines were the poet Wordsworth’s favourite wildflower. But in a garden, they’re virulently invasive.

Despite that, I love them enough to tolerate their spread. And after winter’s gloom, those high-gloss petals bring such joy. So do yourself and nature a favour, go wild this spring.


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