Gardening in the city poses its particular challenges, the most significant of them urban pollution. We asked the experts at Wyevale Garden Centre for their advice on how to protect your flowers from the fumes – and to pick the best pollution-tolerant plants. You can find more advice about choosing plants in our dedicated guide.
Follow this advice to choose the best pollution-tolerant plants, then head to our guide to designing and planning a garden for more plant-related advice.
How to help plants cope with pollution
'Plants do have a hard time with pollution,' says David Mitchell, buying manager for horticulture. 'Since the leaves need to "breathe", anything that limits that exchange, such as airborne gasses or dust and grime, will limit their potential. Fruit trees in particular can struggle and yields can be as low as half of what they would be in cleaner air.
'Never water the leaves, as if they are coated in grime, salts or pollutants it will get right into them, so always water from the base. Every so often, take time to wipe the leaves down and clean them to get the grime or dirt off. A good time to do it is when it’s raining heavily. You might not clean every leaf at every level but it will make a difference.'
For bright and delicate flowers, look no further than the chaenomeles, which is at its best in spring. In the autumn, it produces edible fruits that are perfect for jelly-making. It's also a great plant to attract bees, thanks to the early nectar it provides.
To keep it at its best, make sure your chaenomeles is planted in well-drained, fertile soil in sun or light shade – such as under a window or on a low wall.
There are lots of different varieties of viburnum, but you want to look for the viburnum x bodnantense 'Charles Lamont'. With bright pink and sweetly-scented flowers, this shrub is hardy enough to withstand pollution without losing its delicate charm.
Commonly known as the butterfly bush, the buddleia plant's purple flowers are popular amongst the fluttering creatures. As well as being incredibly pretty, it's a fast-growing shrub that thrives in any well-drained soil.
4. Callery pear tree
The Callery pear tree, or Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer', is an ornamental pear that's perfect for small urban gardens thanks to its upright, narrow shape. You can enjoy flurries of white blossom in early spring, and the leaves turn a vibrant red and purple later in the near.
Most people are familiar with camellias, but did you know they're one of the hardiest plants out there? While the ruffled colourful petals look delicate, the camellia plant has glossy evergreen leaves that makes it extra tolerant to pollution. Place in light shade in a sheltered area to help it grow.
6. Topiary bushes
The good old buxus sempervirens, the evergreen used for hedging and topiary all over the UK, is a classic choice for an urban garden – after all, it's heavily used in parks and lining streets all over cities. Plant around the edge of your garden and trim regularly to keep it happy.
7. Ginkgo biloba
You'll probably recognise this tree more for the supplement tablets sold by health stores over the country. Otherwise known as the maidenhair tree, it's best known for its ability to boost energy, mood and memory, but did you know it's a city-friendly garden choice, too? Because it's a large tree, it's best suited to bigger urban gardens with plenty of space.
8. Escallonia hedges
Like the evergreen buxus, escallonia – particularly escallonia 'Iveyi' – are perfect for framing an urban garden. The hardy evergreen shrub has the added bonus of sporting beautiful white flowers that smell beautiful. It also thrives in cold areas, so it's perfect for unpredictable and often chilly weather.
Keeping with the theme of evergreen shrubs, the barberry plant (otherwise known as berberis) boasts soft yellow or orange flowers in the spring and deep blue berries in the autumn. As well as being seasonally interesting, they're also super easy to grow and thrive in most conditions.