UK Native Plants and a Relaxed Attitude are the Secret to a Wildlife Friendly Garden

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Royal Horticultural Society establishes link between dense garden plantings and abundance of invertebrate wildlife

Gardeners wishing to support plant-dwelling invertebrates essential to the food chain, including predators such as ladybirds and spiders, should put in more plants - particularly native species - set aside the secateurs and turn a blind eye to the odd nibbled leaf, according to the Royal Horticultural Society.

The new insights come from the charity’s four-year Plants for Bugs research project, which was designed to test whether the geographical origin of garden plants affect the abundance and diversity of wildlife they support. The latest results are published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation.

Over the course of the unique field-experiment, scientists studied 36 garden-border sized plots containing hardy plants native to one of three geographical regions: the UK, the Northern Hemisphere (excluding the UK), and the Southern Hemisphere.

Analysis of the tens of thousands of invertebrates recorded from the leaves and stems suggested that although all the geographical groupings of plants supported large numbers of invertebrates, it was the native plants that were the most successful, supporting 10 per cent more than the next Northern Hemisphere plant group.
Plants from the Northern Hemisphere supported the second highest abundance of invertebrates, while those from the Southern Hemisphere supported a fifth (20%), fewer invertebrates than native plants.

Tellingly, across all of the plant groups studied, researchers found that regardless of the origin of the plants, the more densely they are planted, or allowed to grow, the greater the abundance of invertebrates of all kinds they supported.

Examples of attractive UK native plants that gardeners can add to their borders include:

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)

RHS Principal Entomologist Dr Andrew Salisbury said: “The presence of a wide range of invertebrates, such as ladybirds, springtails, spiders and even caterpillars are indicators of a diverse and well-functioning garden eco-system, and so should be encouraged and supported.

“As in all terrestrial ecosystems, plants are the basis of a garden’s food chain. Some insects and other invertebrates feed on leaves and stems, either in their green state (e.g. caterpillars and aphids), or as they decay (e.g. woodlice and springtails) and play host to algae and fungi. These are then prey for other species, such as spiders and parasitic wasps.

“While some of these animals, particularly herbivores, are traditionally regarded as pests by gardeners, they are vital to support healthy populations of natural predators which in turn help keep pest populations under control. And they provide food for garden birds and mammals such as hedgehogs. In short, an abundance of bugs of all types equates to healthy garden ecology.

“In order to help create a positive environment for these valuable invertebrates to thrive gardeners should plant plenty of plants from the UK and relax; refrain from spraying plants at the first sign of pest attack, and reduce trimming and allow some plant debris to accumulate in order to support the garden’s food chain.”

The Plants for Bugs research project, run out of RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, published its first findings in August 2015. More information about the project is available at


Notes to editors

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

For more information please contact Laura Scruby in the Royal Horticultural Society Press Office: / 0207 821 3060

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262