Horticulture Magazine

20 Native British Flowers That Are Popular To Grow

primrose flowers in pink, white, yellow and purple

In today’s globalised world, we’re fortunate to have access to flowers and plants from all over the place.

The string of pearls from Southwest Africa, for example; or maybe the creeping fig from Southeast China.

senecio string of pearls
String of Pearls – not native to these shores

Years of cultural interplay and international shipping have given us easy access to these varieties, making it easy to bring the exotic and formerly unusual right into our homes.

Sometimes, though, it’s good to bring things back to long-established traditions.

To tap into the types of floral display that would’ve been familiar to our ancestors many years ago: native British flowers that are attractive to look at and perfectly suited to our climate and growing conditions.

So, if you’re looking to pay homage to the flowers that have defined British beds for generations, this list is for you.

Here, we spotlight twenty flowers that are native to our fine country, along with all the information you’ll need to get them growing in your gardens.

1) Primrose

yellow primrose flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: PRIMULA VULGARIS
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; ACIDIC / NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

The common primrose is a familiar and beautiful sight in British springtime.

Their simple white petals with a dab of yellow in the centre draw the eye and provide a subtle yet elegant backdrop for the spring palette.

With a relatively early bloom, the primrose is a great way to extend the period of visual interest in your garden.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) deem primrose to be worthy of the Award of Garden Merit (AGM): an accolade that demonstrates particular suitability to being grown in British gardens.

Given the theme of this piece we’ve prioritised flowers in receipt of the AGM, as it’s a fine testament to their prestigious position in our gardening history.

Primrose enjoys full sun or partial shade, with any aspect except north-facing.

They’re not fussy with soil composition, though will do best in acidic or neutral pH levels.

Gardeners in the further reaches of the UK will do well with primrose thanks to the flower’s H7 hardiness rating: indicative of an ability to weather even the most extreme European conditions.

2) Snake’s Head Fritillary

snake's head flowers in a field
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Fritillaria meleagris
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

The distinctive lantern lilt of this flower establishes it firmly as one of our aesthetic favourites, and that’s before you even consider the stunning dappled pink-purple colour palette.

In fact, this would be one of the flowers we’d be first to recommend for people looking to bring a touch of the exotic to their garden: the lamp-like appearance evoking something approximating traditional oriental ambience.

This flower is a fantastic demonstration of how a native British breed can function in a range of thematic displays.

The moody colours and captivating shape will look great alongside a wide variety of other flowers, hailing from these shores or beyond.

For best results with the snake’s head fritillary choose a spot in full sun or partial shade. Any aspect will do, and they’re not fussy in terms of soil composition or pH.

These flowers are slightly less hardy than the primrose but will still hold their own against all but the most severe of wintry conditions.

The snake’s head fritillary is another recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

3) Lily of the Valley

white lily of the valley flowers blooming in a forest
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Convallaria majalis
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: CLAY OR LOAM; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SHADE / PART SHADE

So many British flowers have a medley of names, derived from various regional labels that still compete for prevalence.

Lily of the valley is a fine example of this: you’ll see it referred to variously as May lily, our lady’s tears, mayflower, mugget, conval lily, and more.

And while there’s a lot of variety, you can see a common theme running through the names of late spring and femininity.

Look at the flower itself and it’s clear to see why.

The dainty, almost bonnet-like shape of the flowers combined with their pure white colour brings to mind an image of a fairytale maiden: something distinctly evocative of our history.

To bring this intriguing flower to your garden you’ll need to find a spot in full or partial shade.

Any aspect except south-facing is suitable, and you’re not limited to any specific soil pH.

Avoid chalk- or sand-based soils where possible, and ensure good drainage.

This flower has also been awarded the AGM by the Royal Horticultural Society, meaning three for three in this list so far.

4) Honeysuckle

Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina' (Late Dutch Honeysuckle)
  • BOTANICAL NAME: LONICERA
  • PLANT TYPE: CLIMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Notable for its enticing, sweet smell, the humble honeysuckle is a long-standing favourite in British gardens.

Boasting many varieties, this plant has a lot to offer to anyone with a green thumb.

The pinks, yellows, whites, and deep reds offered across the honeysuckle family make it a versatile and attractive choice; as does its ability to draw in bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects to your garden.

The buzz of natural activity surrounding the stunning colour palette guarantees you’ll have something beautiful to look at in any bed featuring this flower.

Ideal conditions vary between varieties so make sure to check the specific growing instructions for your plant.

In general though, honeysuckle is well-suited to British conditions and you shouldn’t have much trouble getting it established.

5) Forget-Me-Nots

light blue flowers of forget-me-nots
  • BOTANICAL NAME: MYOSOTIS
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL / ANNUAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: PART SHADE

Rare is the flower whose bloom brings a touch of blue, and no list of British flowers would be complete without the striking colour of the forget-me-not.

One of our favourite springtime scenes is a blanket of forget-me-nots spread out in a woodland clearing, and bringing this aesthetic to your garden – even with a much smaller spread – is something we highly recommend.

And if you’re like us, you’ll get the added benefit of remembering the famous musical mention of this flower each time you tend to them.

A great example of how traditional British flowers have crossed the cultural barrier to become immortalised.

These flowers enjoy partial shade in any aspect, and like chalk-, clay-, or loam-based soil. Water well but ensure the soil has adequate drainage.

In terms of hardiness, forget-me-nots can hold their own against all but the absolute worst of our weather: we’re talking freak winters in the northern reaches of Scotland where temperatures drop below -15°C.

6) Dog Rose

pink dog rose flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: ROSA CANINA
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN

For many years there was a bush outside the house a couple of doors along from me that erupted into a vibrant pink bloom every spring, and I had no idea what it was.

Only after researching which flowers to bring into my garden did I discover that it was dog rose I’d been looking at, and safe to say I’ve not looked back since.

As with lily of the valley, this is a plant that goes by many names.

And to be honest, we can’t help feeling that ‘dog rose’ – the most common – does the flower something of an injustice.

Just take a look at the proud pink bloom offset by a zesty yellow centre and tell us that some of the other names – briar rose, bird briar, cat whin, or even canker rose – don’t speak more to the distinctive palette?

Whatever your thoughts on the name, this flower will make a fine addition to your British-themed floral displays.

The colours are striking, the bloom is expansive. And who knows, maybe you’ll draw the eye of a budding gardener in your neighbourhood and inspire a future foray into writing about gardening.

Grow your dog rose in full sun in any aspect, and ensure moist but well-drained soil.

This plant isn’t fussy, so instead of worrying about growing conditions you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

7) Wild Cherry

white flowers of wild cherry tree
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Prunus avium
  • PLANT TYPE: TREE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN

This deciduous tree (sometimes grown as a shrub) is native to the UK and can be grown in most areas, provided it has full exposure to the sun.

Its spring flowers will gradually make way for fruiting in autumn, often providing an edible yield in addition to the beautiful white clusters of flowers.

This is a large-sized tree that will require plenty of room to grow into.

8) Elder

white flowering sambucus nigra
  • BOTANICAL NAME: SAMBUCUS NIGRA
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Sambucus nigra is commonly known as Black Elder or Elderberry.

It is usually grown as a shrub or small tree in the UK, with a maximum growing height of 5-6 metres.

Umbels of white bushy flowers in summer usually turn into black berries in autumn, before the plant then loses its leaves in winter.

When overgrown this plant can be hard pruned into a new shape without compromising its health.

9) Cheddar Pink

pink Dianthus gratianopolitanus flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Dianthus gratianopolitanus
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL / ANNUAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; ALKALINE PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN

Commonly grown as an alpine plant, Cheddar Pinks are mat-forming perennials that are mostly evergreen in their native British conditions.

It should be grown in full sun and alkaline soil to maximise the bright pink, fragrant blooms in summer.

10) Cornflower

blue cornflowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Centaurea cyanus
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL / ANNUAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • SOIL: LOAM OR SAND; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN

The beautiful bright blue flowers of Centaurea cyanus are ideal for wildlife gardens and will ready stand out amongst the various colours of a wildflower meadow.

Cornflowers prefer to grow in full sun with well-drained soil that is predominantly made up of loam or sand.

Deadhead the flowers throughout spring to prolong the plant’s flowering period throughout the summertime.

11) Stinking Hellebore

light green flowers of stinking hellebore
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Helleborus foetidus
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: WINTER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; ALKALINE PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Stinking Hellebore is slightly unusual in that its flowers have the unusual appearance of being a similar colour to its stems and foliage.

It’s also unusual in that its flowering months take place across the winter period, offering visual interest during a time when not much else is in bloom.

The plant is evergreen and should ideally be grown in alkaline soil and part shade.

12) Foxgloves

upright pink foxgloves in a large field
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Digitalis purpurea
  • PLANT TYPE: BIENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable flowers, foxgloves are native to the United Kingdom and much of Europe.

There are few gardens where foxgloves would look out of place and their flowers produce an incredible amount of pollen for bee species, making them a wildlife-friendly addition to any space.

Despite their exotic appearance, they tolerate most conditions and are incredibly hardy, surviving temperatures of up to -20°C.

Expect them to flower in summer before producing a prolific number of seeds.

Deadhead them after flowering to prevent an excess of foxglove plants in future years.

13) Common Wayfaring Tree

white flowers of common wayfaring tree
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Viburnum Lantana
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

The Common Wayfaring Tree is not usually grown as a tree but as a shrub here in the UK.

It has small white bushy flowers which emerge in spring and summer, before producing inedible dark red/black berries and losing its foliage over the colder months.

Within 20 years it will likely have grown to its eventual height of between 3-4 metres.

14) Columbine

purple and white aquilegia flower in focus
  • BOTANICAL NAME: AQUILEGIA
  • PLANT TYPE: HERBACEOUS PERENNIAL
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

These bushy plants have nodding, often very colourful flowers which first make an appearance in spring.

Aquilegia is often found at high altitudes, making it an ideal fit for alpine gardens.

The plant is prone to downy mildew and any affected foliage should be cut away and disposed of carefully. [source]

If the infection persists the area should be rested for at least a year to allow any soil contamination to pass naturally.

15) Ragged Robin

three Lychnis flos-cuculi flowers in focus
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Lychnis flos-cuculi
  • PLANT TYPE: BIENNIAL / PERENNIAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH; DAMP
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Ragged robin is ideal for any damp or waterlogged areas of your garden (including near ponds) that may otherwise be difficult to grow in.

It is best grown separately from other wildflowers, especially those which are thuggish and may inhibit its growth. [source]

White-flowering varieties are also available to grow.

16) Wood Anemone

wood anemone with white flowers covering ground
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Anemone nemorosa
  • PLANT TYPE: HERBACEOUS PERENNIAL
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: PART SHADE

This wildflower is commonly found in ancient woodland (hence the name) where it has a mat-forming habit and produces flowers with vibrant white petals and yellow stamens.

Replicating woodland conditions is vital to helping this plant grow well – so place it somewhere with partial shade and moist soil.

Correct care will yield stunning flowers between March and May.

17) Viper’s Bugloss

echium vulgare
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Echium Vulgare
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL / ANNUAL FLOWER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN

Known for its upright spikes and glowing blue flowers which were thought to resemble a viper. [source]

In its native habitats of moorland and grassland in the UK, this incredibly hardy plant is a favourite of bees and other pollinators when it flowers in summer.

Position it in full sun and a well-draining growing medium for ideal conditions.

18) Ox-Eye Daisy

multiple bright white and yellow ox-eye daisies
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Leucanthemum vulgare
  • PLANT TYPE: HERBACEOUS PERENNIAL
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

With more than a passing resemblance to the common daisy, this larger plant can grow to a height of up to 1 metre.

As a British native it can withstand even the harshest of conditions, making it one to grow in even the most exposed areas of your garden.

It is most easily propagated by sowing seed indoors in the autumn and planting out the following spring.

19) European Buckthorn

fruiting branches of european buckthorn
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Rhamnus cathartica
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB / TREE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SPRING / SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

Buckthorn is native to Europe, much of Africa and Western Asia.

It is a deciduous shrub (or sometimes a small tree) which is very easy to grow in most gardens.

In spring it produces yellow flowers which turn to dark, inedible berries around autumn time. [source]

Though it is fine to grow here in its native habitat in the UK, European Buckthorn is considered an invasive species in the USA, where it has out-competed many native plant species since its introduction hundreds of years ago. [source]

20) Fieldrose

white and yellow flowering fieldrose
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Rosa arvensis
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: SUMMER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • SOIL: ANY TYPE; NEUTRAL PH
  • SUNLIGHT: FULL SUN / PART SHADE

A thorny, rambling shrub, Rosa arvensis produces beautiful cream-coloured flowers with golden stamen.

It is extremely tolerant of various growing conditions making it ideal for use as a hedgerow or perhaps a shady (often neglected) corner of the garden.

It is usually grown from bare root which can be easily transported during the plant’s dormant season in the winter months.

Bloom Britannia

While we live in an age where plants and flowers from around the world are within our reach, often at a moment’s notice, there’s something especially satisfying about keeping traditional British plants at the heart of our garden displays.

Not as some lazy token of patriotism, nor as a slight on the botanical offerings of other countries; but rather as a reminder of our rich and beautiful floral heritage.

Native flowers also offer a range of benefits to our native wildlife – including bees and other pollinators.

So, whether you opt for an all-British display, a mainly-British display, or use the odd British flower here and there as an anchor in something more exotic, we hope you’ve found inspiration in this article.

And should the twenty flowers above not tickle your fancy, remember that there are plenty more native British flowers ripe and ready for being grown in your garden.

In this selection we covered a range of shapes and colours, but by no means is our list exhaustive.

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