Native Plants and Trees

This page is a month-by-month guide to our native plants and trees, their edible and medicinal uses, and includes seasonal recipes for foods and drinks made from what you can gather in the garden or from the hedgerows. It is also a gardening guide to growing the native plants and trees, based on my own experience and experiments. This has led to my interest in native plant guerilla gardening, also included here. We can all play our part in re-wilding the countryside and our own gardens too by planting native plants and trees. We can then gather them for medicines and food and they will help restore the diverse eco-systems so needed by the bees and other wildlife.


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Trees in pots

On a sunny day, have a look at any trees you have grown in pots. Give them some attention! Re-pot any trees into bigger pots if they need it, giving them some fresh compost and generally giving them some attention and care. Make sure that the root collar - the point from which the roots grow - is just at the soil surface, and remove the bowls from under them now, as they dislike having their roots in cold or frozen water. If they are not too heavy, move them to a sunny spot for the winter.

You can also be creative with the trees as you repot them, raising them slightly each time so that you begin to expose roots. Put a slightly bigger stone under the roots each time you repot them. Try planting two trees together to become life long companions. Young trees in pots can also be encouraged to bend and twist using string and wire. Be very gentle with the trees, only manipulating them a little at a time and not cause them undue stress. These features will continue, as they become mature trees.

Sprinkle native plant seeds in with them or plant them up with native plants. This creates special partnerships, which continues when you finally plant them out.


Elders and Oak trees in pots


Guerrilla Gardening - Finding Homes For Native Trees

If your trees in pots have got to a good size, it may be time to find places to plant them out. This must be done between November and early March. This may involve a bit of guerrilla gardening, by planting them out in places that would benefit from a tree or two, such as playgrounds, along walkways and trails, by rivers, on roadsides and verges, along hedgerows, canal sides, up on the moors, along woodland edges and on the edge of any forgotten pocket of land in a town or village.

When planting out trees remember the size that the tree will eventually become and consider if it has enough space to grow and if the type and size of the tree is appropriate there. Trees in more confined places will be more stunted, and grow more slowly.

Add a bucket of compost at the bottom of the hole before planting the tree and water well. Bang in a stake and protect with a tree guard and chances are they will be treated as if they are meant to be there. Keep an eye on them for their first year, until their roots get established and take bottles of water to water them if the weather is dry.

Planting Out Trees

Trees need to be planted out or moved between November and March while the sap is down and while roots can grow and get established before the sap rises in the spring.

1. Water the tree well before planting out.

2. Dig a hole big enough for the root bowl and big enough for the tree to spread its roots. Throw in a bucket of compost or well-rotted horse manure and water in the hole before planting the tree.

3. Make sure that the root collar - the point from which the roots grow - is just at the soil surface unless you have been raising the tree to have some exposed roots showing.

4. Firm the soil well down around the base of the tree and water again.

5. Cut some sturdy straight sticks from ash or hazel to use as a stake and add a tree guard for added protection.

6. Keep an eye on the tree for the first year, keep grasses away from its base and water if the weather is dry.


Oak tree on the edge of Rutland Water




The old year has died but within the decay there are signs of new life growing. The first bright green shoots of the spring bulbs are poking through the soil, and there is a sense that life is stirring below ground. Seen from a distance, some of the native trees have taken on a coloured hue, caused by the gentle swelling of their buds, faint now, but this will increase as the month goes on.

Chives ~ Allium schoenoprasum
Chives, surprisingly, are one of our native bulbs, now rare in the wild.



They are beginning to grow now and can be picked as a sweet oniony garnish. They are a general tonic and cleanser, and rich in iron, so worth picking and eating. The more you pick at this time of year, the more they will grow.


Dandelion ~ Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion leaves may be forced under large plant pots at this time of year. Cover the pot with straw or bubble wrap to encourage early young tender salad leaves.

Simple Green Pickle
Chop up fresh dandelion leaves (taking out the bitter central stem) and chives. Rinse them and without adding any water, steam gently for a minute to soften them. Then add cider vinegar and honey in equal measure. Chop in plenty of garlic, a little salt and ground black pepper. This makes a simple green pickle that can be added to any meal. Alternatively don't steam them but soak them in the vinegar, honey, garlic, salt and pepper and eat them raw.



Keeping a Nature Journal
Keep a nature journal and write in the daily changes you observe around you. Keeping track of the weather is always interesting to look back on, as well as first sightings of birds and plants, first trees unfurling their leaves etc.

* Choose one tree to observe over a year. Document the year's cycle here, the seasonal changes in the environment and the wildlife. Document the bird and insect life, and the native plants growing near by. Write about the different atmospheres that are different times of the year bring and how the tree changes in different weathers.

* Explore one place repeatedly, such as a spring, a cave, a lane. Make it your special place that you check in with and get to know intimately using all of your senses. Make a series of sketches or take photos and from far away to close up. Observe its place in the environment, in the landscape, adding in any history that surrounds it. Let it feed your muse and write about it from your heart and feeling-self.

* Take photographs of the native plants, beginning now with the first sightings of the earliest spring plants. If you don't know their names then use the photos for identification and use a good field guide when you get home. This is the great advantage of digital photography. Label them on the computer and where you found them. If you know their names then find out more about their herbal uses when you get home and whether they are edible. Print them off and add to your journal, or use them to draw simple drawings in your journal.



January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December