Finding wild flowers in the nooks and crannies of Suffolk towns

You don’t need to go out into the countryside to see nature flourishing – our towns are home to scores of wild flowers sprouting from the pavements.

The lockdowns of the past year and a half have given us the opportunity to investigate the natural world closer to home – not just in our local woods and along nearby footpaths, but on the streets of our Suffolk towns.

Many people are seeing the greenery growing in the cracks and crannies of urban pavements in a new light.  Where once we dismissed these renegade plants, growing where they shouldn’t do; now more people are taking an interest in the surprisingly broad range of fauna growing under their feet.

During lockdown, botanists in London came together to form a group called More Than Weeds. They went around writing the names of plants in chalk next to the pavement cracks where they were growing as a way of encouraging people to take notice of the plants around them.

They are part of a growing movement urging people to see these plants as more than weeds, and to encourage councils to reduce the use of weed killers and let more wildness into the towns. In some French towns where glysophates are banned, ‘guerrilla gardeners’ push seeds into the cracks in pavements.

This view may not be to everyone’s taste – some want to see neat and tidy urban spaces, cleared of weeds where the concrete and the brick is pristine.

But it all depends on what you regard as a weed. By being able to identify a plant and learning about its properties, they become harder to overlook. And as the trend towards rewilding grows, shouldn’t we be thinking about what this might mean for our towns and cities, not just our countryside?


There are so many ways of seeing a town or city; some visit to shop, others to enjoy the restaurants and pubs. Maybe it is the architecture that draws you to urban spaces. For me, keeping an eye out for plants and flowers which have made a home for themselves in a nook is a great way of navigating a town – you never know what you might see; a fern growing out of the front of a house, a poppy bringing a splash of colour to a chimney pot.      

Some are native wildflowers, many are escapees from people’s homes; successors of plants brought from abroad to ornament our gardens whose seeds have blown beyond their borders. All of them brighten our day and provide nectar for our pollinating insects.

It’s certainly made me see my home town of Sudbury afresh.

As I stand watching a cricket match through the railings on Friars Street, I am taken by the arching bouquets of red valerian that have rooted themselves in the old priory wall next door. Originally introduced to the UK from the Mediterranean in the 1600s, this gorgeous plant with a wonderful pink-red flower can be found clinging to dry, rocky places in its native lands but today looks very at home in Suffolk’s towns.  

These days we tend to think of non-native species as being bad, but valerian does not seem to do too much harm and is here to stay, providing a good source of nectar from May to October for bees, butterflies and moths like the Hummingbird Hawkmoth.


Behind the Town Hall I stop to admire a fine buddleia plant that has established on a strip of waste ground. The buddleia heralds from Asia and was brought over to embellish our gardens but this is a tough plant which generates millions of seeds and seems at home in broken down and uncared for places. Opinion seems split on this plant, which can grow up to 5 metres in height. Some point to its deep lying roots, which can cause damage to foundations and walls while its tall statue is said to shadow out to native plants.

But the buddleia is also known as the ‘butterfly bush’ for the way it attracts peacocks, small tortoiseshells and the like. Up close, it is stunning – gifting voluptuous clusters of lilac petals and a heavy scent of honey. It strikes me in this place of potholes and municipal bins, this fine buddleia is an enhancement to the neighbourhood.

Even the lane where I live is a cornucopia of blooms. You can walk it in five minutes if you are rushing through but if you are keeping an eye out for all the plants growing wild along this stretch, the same journey can take you four times as long. An impressive stand of opium poppies decorate a wall; a line of purple toadflax with their striking spikes have found a place for themselves in a nearby forecourt. In a small car park opposite I see ivy, nettles, an imposing thistle, clumps of fat hen, mallow and ragwort, and many other plants I cannot identify.

Wild growth

In Ipswich where I work, I’ve been spending my lunchtimes looking out for urban fauna; delighting in seeing the pink and white flowers of field bindweed wrapped around a street sign; or the bright mauve heads of common mallow decorate a dull green telephone exchange box.     

Botanist Martin Sandford who is the manager at the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service has certainly seen an increase in wild growth in parts of Ipswich this past year as council workers have not been out and about spraying as much because of Covid.

Fewer herbicides and more growth can only benefit nature, he says.

“Especially at the base of trees where there is a little bare soil, which can provide a green patch for flowers to take hold and provide a pretty important nectar source.

“In urban areas pavement plants link up with gardens and provide important networks for pollinators.”

Incredibly, Martin says today you are likely to find a wider variety of wild plants in towns than in the open countryside where pesticides and herbicides are used more widely.

Another factor is that the hard, dry surfaces of urban areas, like roads, pavements and car parks, provide less shade and moisture than natural landscapes and therefore contribute to higher temperatures. This means plants that need warmer conditions to propagate might make an appearance.  Even cannabis has been reported sprouting through Suffolk pavements.   

“In urban areas, a lot of unusual things can appear in the cracks in pavements,” continues Martin. “There’s loads of stuff hopping out of gardens and more people are using bird seed.”

So, the next time you take a stroll through town, look down and see what natural beauty you can spot growing in the nooks and crannies. It could open up a new world and make you appreciate our urban areas anew.

This article first appeared in the August issue of the Suffolk Magazine

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