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! A majority of UK native plants is best for insects ! Non-native plants support around 10-20% fewer invertebrates than natives ! Dense planting of any kind is best

Return of the


Monty draws lessons from a new report into the wildlife value of our British native plants – and wonders why we typically favour the exotic over the domestic n 1821 a young Scotsman set off for

the west coast of Africa on board HMS Iphigenia. He was the foreman of what was then called the Chelsea Botanical Garden (now the Chelsea Physic Garden) and had been selected by the Horticultural Societ y of L ondon (now t he Roya l Horticultural Society) to search for plants in ‘Africa and the Americas’. His name was George Don. His father, also called George, had been a plant hunter and nurseryman in Scotland, and his brother, David Don, was secretary of the Linnean Society. These, of course, are my ancestors. Young George was the first professional collector that the Horticultural Society of


London paid to go looking for new and unknown plants to bring back to this country in order that we might grow them in our gardens. He eventually returned in 1823, having been to Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba and finally the eastern seaboard of the United States – where most of his tropical species were killed by frost. Despite this, he arrived home with hitherto unknown species of alliums, aquilegias and rhododendrons. He may have been the first official plant hunter but, as every student of horticulture knows, he was by no means the last or the best known. Throughout the 19th century, the globe was scoured in pursuit of the new

and exotic, so that our gardens might be filled with plants – from giant redwoods to exquisite alpines – from all over the world. For the past 150 years or so, we have taken it as read that a garden with the greatest number of unusual and interesting plants is the better for this diversity and that a measure of gardening skill is assumed f rom your abi lit y to ra ise a nd tend these introductions. However, the same RHS that sponsored the 23-year-old George Don almost 200 years ago has just issued a report based on trials at the RHS Garden, Wisley looking at which plants are most beneficial and amenable to our various plant-liv ing November 2017