Life

Gardening: Why it's time we embraced car park plants – and how to make the most of them

If you thought plants you find in car parks were boring, think again. The RHS shows how these urban stalwarts can become gorgeous in your garden.

Oregon grape (mahonia) is a low spreading evergreen shrub widely planted in the shade

THE RHS is calling on gardeners to learn to love the nation's 'car park' plants – robust, everyday shrubs often found dotted across urban landscapes as part of its national Greening Grey Britain campaign.

Including snowberry, brachyglottis and Oregon grape, these shrubs are a common sight in car parks, but have fallen out of favour as, if uncared for, they can become woody and misshapen.

Yet they provide important ground cover, shelter for wildlife, prevent soil erosion and help limit flooding and offer colour and structure in difficult corners.

Leigh Hunt, principal horticultural advisor at the Royal Horticultural Society, says: "Robust everyday shrubs are the humdrum wallpaper in the urban environment and it seems that in the case of some of the more well-known varieties, familiarity breeds contempt.

"Yet many of these plants have the RHS Award of Garden Merit and make an excellent choice for gardeners. The finest give year-round colour and structure and can look beautiful in some of the toughest growing spots. We'd certainly call on gardeners to consider the splendour of these 'car park' varieties when looking to green far-flung corners of our towns and cities."

As part of its Greening Grey Britain campaign, the RHS is highlighting the crucial role that plants play in urban areas. Plants that can be taken from 'car park' to garden include:

Cornus alba 'Sibirica'

These are grown for their fiery red stems in winter. When a hedge trimmer is put over them annually, they can turn brown, but cut all the stems off at 6in in early April and the reward is a gleaming display from November to March.

Brachyglottis 'Sunshine'

A modest evergreen shrub with grey leaves and yellow daisy flowers. It is notably drought resistant and ideal for sunny dry spots.

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

A low spreading evergreen shrub widely planted in the shade. Its edible fruits are consumed by birds and self-sown seedlings are common, doing a good job in many an inhospitable border.

Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'

Often given a lumpy haircut with a hedge trimmer, but this plant can be easily and quickly shaped into small hedges and shapes such as balls and cones, creating eye-catching structure in the garden.

One to avoid

One exception to the rule is buddleia, which, despite being great for butterflies, can self-seed and become a weed. The RHS suggests avoiding planting where its seedlings can blow into waste ground, railway lines and the countryside to become a nuisance.

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