You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer
So where do you even start! I have a packed week, sleepless nights and a walled south facing garden that is screaming out to be loved. Like a toddler, our garden can get unruly if you do not pay attention to it. So where do you go for advice to control your unruly child/garden? Like parenting, you can turn to How To books, ask your own wise parents and even your friends and colleagues.
There are many perks to my job (doing my bit to save the planet for starters) but one of them that has been most helpful recently is picking the horticultural brains of some very knowledgeable folk around the office. It doesn’t stop there, with the launch of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign – it feels as though the entire charity is aligned to helping me sort out my wildlife and family friendly garden.
Even more fortuitous is our own resident wildlife gardening expert, Adrian Thomas, is going through the same “tame your garden” parallel storyline. I should admit that my storyline is a more sedate Last of the Summer Wine affair compared to Adrian’s epic Steven Spielberg adventure. But the theory still applies. I will be following the Giving Nature a Home FREE guide (OK so that is my only plug of the day) top ten tips:
Giving Nature a Home Step by Step Guide
So first things first, the way I see it is we need a plan of campaign for “Operation Wild Times”.
Phase 1: Know your garden (and you)
□ Map out where the sun goes during the day and at different times of year.
□ Move structures around to free up valuable south facing wall.
□ Get things moving and pop in feeding station for your wildlife.
□ Be inspired by your surroundings and make it personal.
□ Start designing your new homes for wildlife (and your family).
What is great about this is our Little Chief could get involved from Day 1. We are not talking about the make it a chore/ get a sticker for the sticker chart kind of vibe. We are talking about good old fashion quality family time in the Great Outdoors. Be inspired by what is around you, turn off the TV and do something more interesting instead (#kidoftheeighties). Trust me we had great fun going for mini adventures and seeing what our garden could be like and here are some of the pictures we took along the way. I highly recommend it.
Woodlouse hunting out-the-back
Off to the woods and getting tree envy
Shabby chic bird house painting
Building a bug hotel
Watching for wildlife at the new feeding station
Our first ever wild visitor to the garden (excuse rubbish i-phone pic)
Next Time: Phase 2 – Wish Lists and Destruction
Things are hotting up. Next step is looking at what you have in your garden and what you would like to keep and what would be on your new wish list of goodies.
Phase 2: Embrace the wildlife and removing the not very [wildlife] friendly stuff
□ Design your unique garden
□ Remove the non-native shrubs
□ Remove gravel and some concrete to improve drainage and stop my 3 year old throwing gravel everywhere.
So before I went any further I had to be practical. Not only do I want my garden to be a home for wildlife but I need it to be family friendly. Interestingly, someone on Twitter yesterday asked me what family UN-friendly would look like. How about this?
Mrs M and I sat down and thought about how to give our garden that unique personal touch. We came up with a list of all our favourite plants and “happy place” items. This didn’t include our old swimming pool we had in Fiji or a coconut tree but you get the general idea from our wish lists. We did initially ask our Little Chief but his thoughts were less structured shall we say.
For the Family Wish List
□ Patio for dining
□ Outdoor kitchen
□ Shade above patio – sail?
□ Lawn for playing
□ Shed for storage
□ Hammock – need posts to hang?
□ Path to back gate for buggy access
□ Vegetable patch
□ Herb patch
□ Fruiting tree
□ Den, tepee, climbing holds, rope swing, roly-poly grass mound ?
For the Wildlife Wish List (refer back to original Giving Nature a Home FREE guide)
□ Lawn with long grass edges
□ Nectar rich flowers
□ Deadwood piles
□ Feeding station inc. water bath
□ Wildlife homes – bird box, bug homes, frogitat, hogitat, bat box, swift box
□ Gabions with hidey holes for wildlife
□ Green roof on shed
□ Cherry tree
□ Succulents e.g. sedums
□ Echinacea purpurea
□ Snakes head fritillary
□ Snow drops
□ Blue bells
□ Agapanthus orientalis
□ Michalmas daisies
Now we knew what we wanted we took a look out the backdoor and thought about how we could work with what we have (including our budget). This is what I came up with in the first instance.
I think you will agree, not too shabby, considering – maybe I should become a Duplo garden designer ;-) After getting the nod from Mrs M – I brought in the muscle – well my brother, sister and I. Cheers Matt & Em. We used my limited tools (amazing what you can do with one rusty spade and 6 "guns") to rip out all the shrubs that were taking over the garden, leaving behind our amazing ivy/hawthorn/a.n.other hedge for cover for the birds and bugs. I should add at this point that this occurred a few months ago (checking for early nesting birds) and the apocalyptic pile of evergreen shrubs then sat in our garden for about 6 weeks until I finally found a weekend that I could visit my friendly recycling depot. Please refer back to my first blog post in the Operation Wild Times series, the clue is in the title.
Next Time: Phase 3: Adding in the new (family or wildlife friendly) stuff
For more information on some top wildlife friendly plants take a look at this BBC blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/22433553
If I had been lead to believe what I was told at school and that all I could have a job in conservation was as a scuba diving marine biologist or jungle living monkey lover (tried a bit of both – leeches and seasickness scuppered both) then I would have given up ages ago. I am a font geek/brand checking/queue watching/pop-up cafe loving conservationist. Not only that but at work I get to learn cool stuff like what stag beetles and hedgehogs love.
So I embraced this new science knowledge and my creative flare (a bit of a split personality thing going on) and started to design our garden and tackling Phase 3 of Operation Wild Times.
Phase 3: Adding in the new (family or wildlife friendly) stuff
□ Get creative and design your garden
□ Love your soil
□ Find some helping hands.
□ Lay down hard landscaping
So here it is, after many late nights of browsing the internet, my mood board (yes I said a mood board, stop your chuckling).
You get the general idea, a modern contemporary feel with practical stylish solutions to family and wildlife needs. Key take-home messages are, use recycled/reclaimed materials when possible and look to other sectors of the market for clever ideas.
This manifested itself with my first mini project – my Hanging Herb Garden of Norwich. Good soil is limited in my garden and I can’t afford to bring in tonnes of top soil like my brother did so instead I looked up and started gardening on the vertical. I used a wire curtain hanging system and bathroom toothbrush pots to make the most of a sunny wall to grow some “micro-greens”.
Got me thinking about the importance of our soil and that most of my garden is under a good few inches of concrete – not family or wildlife friendly. Take a look at this video to see what I mean from the soil advocates.
After grubbing around in my treasured dirt and getting creative I came up with my final design. Drum roll.... here it is (I recommend an old graph school book for drawing yours to scale).
As you can see there are a few restrictions to consider; getting our Little Gem’s buggy from the back gate to the back door is the main one – hence the minimal hard landscaping covering my precious soil.
Final step in this phase is knowing your limits and bringing in the big muscle and professional skills. Now as a newcomer to Norwich/Norfolk/East Anglia I did not know where to start with finding a reputable garden landscaper so I jumped on that Rated People website and came across Michael of M. H. Garden Design. He is a lovely chap who is very enthusiastic about wildlife gardening and jumping at the chance of doing something different from the usual driveways and rockeries. You can find examples of what people usually ask him to do here.
Next time: Patios and the Parade of Plants!