If you’ve read my earlier posts, you'll know I tend to hibernate indoors during the colder months. I pack down the garden in October, and it remains largely untended until spring. All through winter, I venture about as far as the bird feeders and then retreat back to the warmth, to watch the resulting feeding frenzy through the window.
Luckily, there have been some sunny spells lately, and my thoughts have turned towards bringing the backyard back to life in a way that provides homes for nature wherever possible. So, last weekend, I dusted off my gardening gloves and ventured all the way across the patio, with my two children cantering around my legs like cows released into spring pasture.
It’s not a very smart garden, but we’re lucky because it’s pretty large for its type – about 120 feet long, ending in a stream which supports frogs and newts. Since moving in, we’ve replaced a large area of gravel with rough lawn, which we gradually dug up and wheeled up the garden from the area that then became our vegetable beds. We also created a Freecycled play area from a former bramble patch.
We've created a ‘yard’ behind the garage for the compost bins, lumber etc, erected a second-hand greenhouse (without instructions!), and even laid out a bonfire circle in one corner, with log seating supplied by my mother’s hated Leylandii.
So there’s plenty to do for humans - but we’re mindful of the wildlife, too. Noting all the frogs and newts hiding under rocks around the place, last year we dug a small, one-metre pond near the apple tree, and were delighted to see plenty of both species turn up to splash around and enjoy it.
Sowing the seeds of a wildlife paradise. Photo: David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
When a neighbour reported seeing a hedgehog wandering down our driveway, we built a large den of logs and leaves under a bush in a quiet corner in case they found it useful, and put some hedgehog food down. There are various (as yet unused) nestboxes in various locations, and I’ve left the roof tiles loose along the eaves for when our beloved swifts return.
We’re always looking to do more for wildlife so, with a whole Saturday of sunshine at our disposal, I got the kids involved.
My daughter wanted to plant seeds. My son wanted to dig out his own mini garden, so I allocated a small plot in one neglected corner, gave him a trowel and let him loose to make mud-pie mayhem. Here is the result of his afternoon’s work…
Child's play: Mud, weeds, rehomed grass, potted 'weedlings', bricks... and a frog hotel!
He’s turned a patch of weeds and mud into - well, a patch of weeds and mud with a 'mini-meadow' created from clumps of grass I removed from beds while weeding. Against the fence, he has scattered wildflower seeds designed to attract pollinators. And the two broken pots are, apparently, “homes for the frogs when they don’t want to be swimming.” I love the turf roof.
Meanwhile, my little girl and I headed into the greenhouse with a bag of compost to plant some wildlife-beneficial flowers. With their humbug-like seeds and sunny, unmistakable blooms, sunflowers are a great choice for children. Plus, they look fantastic up against a fence in full bloom, and are very popular with garden birds, which strip the heads of seeds come winter. We plant them in cardboard pots that will rot into the ground after they graduate the greenhouse.
The first few pots now sown in the greenhouse, to be planted outside when we're clear of frost risk.
Last spring we sowed some yarrow, which is coming up well and should finally flower this year. Yarrow has long been used as a medicinal herb, but its tight, white flower clusters are also beloved of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. We still have some seeds left, which may or may not yield life... so we sprinkle them across in our wildflower border just in case. They’ll probably follow their predecessors across the lawn, but we don’t mind.
Teasels also take two summers to yield, but have helped bring in clouds of goldfinches to our garden, providing them with seeds over the winter. We decide to sow some more of those, too.
We're growing teasels from seed – to benefit goldfinches in winter, and bees in summer. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The early bees are already enjoying the lungwort and grape hyacinths that run riot through our borders...our equally rampant Aquilegias (columbines) are coming up, too.
As we’re wiping off our earthy fingers and putting away the seed packets, I spot our old teapot in the corner of the greenhouse among the flower-pots. I planted some mint in it last year, but I’ve just thought of a better use for it…
To let: Snug, one-bedroom dwelling of ceramic construction, situated among apple trees close to food outlets, and ideal for a young redbreast family…
It’s so uplifting to see the garden coming back to life, and we're having lots of fun thinking up new ways to welcome new wildlife. If we make a few interpretation signs, we've got our very own nature reserve. The kids can’t wait to see whether their efforts pay off… I shall report back later in the summer!
Have you done any recent work to encourage wildlife to your garden? Login to tell us about it in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org