Hooters Hall

Native plants: Heartsease / Wild pansy (Viola tricolor) and Bird’s foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

It being a bank holiday we made the traditional trip to our local garden centre today. I wasn’t planning on getting any plants until I saw that they had some Heartsease, or to give it its technical name Viola tricolor, on offer. I’ve developed a real interest in native plants over the past few years, so much so that when we buy our smallholding I hope to set up a native plant nursery. Most gardeners only grow native plants in specific ‘wild’ areas of their gardens. However, there’s no reason why native plants can’t be used in  more formal planting schemes, a topic I’ll be posting more about in the future.

Viola tricolor is a beautiful native flower and the parent to all the hundreds of pansies that you see for sale all over the place. The flower colour can be quite variable sometimes all yellow, sometimes yellow and white or yellow and purple with or without stripes radiating from the centre. A sprawling plant with a height of 5 -45 cm, flowering April to September, it tends to be found at field edges, in scrub land, meadows and rocky places, preferring sun or light shade.   

Viola tricolor is often used in herbalism. It has been recommended, among other uses, as a treatment for epilepsy, asthma, eczema and because of its expectorant properties, has been used in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a diuretic and has been used to treat cystitis. The flowers have also been used to make yellow, green and blue-green dyes, while the leaves can be used to make a chemical indicator. The flower is also edible so makes a pretty addition to summer salads.

Here are some pictures:

Another native plant that I’ve had great success with this year is Bird’s foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). I grew loads of plants from seed and they’ve been flowering throughout the summer. Growing from 2.5cm to 35cm high, depending on location, this is another pretty little plant with bright yellow pea like flowers. The name comes from the fruit which which is 2cm long, chestnut brown when ripe and spread out like a bird’s foot. It prefers a sunny, well drained site, flowering from May until the autumn frosts. Bird’s foot trefoil is also a nitrogen fixing plant. It has root nodules which fix gaseous nitrogen and when the plant dies this will be released into the soil. As a result it makes a very good, and attractive green manure. It’s also a big favourite with bees.

Here are some pictures:

In a formal planting scheme both of these plants would be best placed in a rockery, in the cracks between patio slabs or on the top of a garden wall where their delicate but vibrant flowers can be appreciated without being overshadowed by larger plants. Next year I’m planning on using Bird’s foot trefoil as an edging plant around one of my raised beds and the Viola will brighten up my new herb bed.

Hopefully this will inspire you to make use of native plants in your garden or, if you’re a smallholder to have a look at what’s growing on your land and try and support our native plants in their natural environment.  

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