September, 2009

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • Planning ahead

    Introduction – me and my work at RSPB
    Hi there everyone, and a massive thanks to Adrian for getting this new RSPB blog underway with some terrific tips on getting your sedums to flower longer and feeding banana smoothies to insects. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. That is a hard act for me to follow with my opener.

    First of all, a bit of an introduction about me!

    I’m the RSPB Urban Wildlife Adviser, the aim of my blogs on here are to update you with the RSPB’s work on the green space in which we live, be it homes, gardens or public open spaces. The title ‘Urban Wildlife Adviser’ is I confess a bit of a misnomer as the built environment includes rural areas to. But, what’s in a title? ‘Urban Adviser’ rolls of the tongue much easier than ‘Built Environment Adviser’ and its more personable.

    My time as an Urban Adviser is split between our Homes for Wildlife project and advising green space managers. Whether it’s your own garden or the local park, all are special places, that are so important for our own health and well being as well as for the wildlife visiting them.

    My interest in birds, wildlife and habitats dates back to the time of dinosaurs - so I'm told! My gardening experience is almost as dated - I used to undertake large-scale commercial landscape and private garden creation and maintenance projects. You won’t find much horticulture in my blogs, it’ll be more of your down to earth basic, no frills gardening with wildlife in mind as well as your pockets and time too!

    Planning ahead
    Unlike Adrian’s glossy start, my opening blog I’m afraid has no flowery pictures, but what it lacks in gloss doesn’t lack in a cash saving tip!

    Those receiving the latest Homes for Wildlife enews will have seen the tip about ordering plants in plenty of time from a supplier. Well that’s just what I’ve been doing recently. If you get things planted this side of Christmas they grow so much better. There’s less chance you’ll need to water them next summer too.

    In my grand garden plan, my next objective is a mixed native species hedge. There’s lots of plants you can get that are termed ‘bare rooted whips’. That is they are spindly stems of 40-60cm long (that’s about 18 ins to 2 ft in old money) and they don’t have a pot full of peat on them which is good for the environment. Purchasing bare rooted plants works out cheaper and saves you loads of money, which in the current climate ain’t a bad thing.

    You’ll be surprised how many kinds of bare rooted plants you can buy. Its not just native trees and shrubs, but many ornamentals to. They don’t have to be ‘whips’ either.  Many trees are sold as ‘feathers’ or ‘standards’, the latter coming in all kinds of girth sizes. Obviously the bigger the girth, the more expensive and the more likely it is that it may not actually make it! 

    Having decided what I wanted, I set about looking for a supplier. I referred to the list on the Floralocale website and found the contact details of the Community Tree Trust who specialise in collecting and growing local seeds in Bedfordshire.

    Now I guess you’re all wondering what I’ve ordered? I chose about 80 whips of 12 different species (hawthorn, dogwood, privet, holly, hazel, field maple, guelder rose, small leaved lime, goat willow, grey willow, buckthorn, dog rose).

    Hawthorn berries by John Day

    Most are to go in the hedge and some into a small woodland copse at the end of the garden. I also ordered 8 feathered trees (150 – 180cm in height) of 4 different species (oak, crab apple, field maple, hazel). Some I will plant in the hedge line, some in the copse and the hazel trees to make a living arch at the entrance to my garden.

    I avoided species such as birch, rowan and ash that are already around the gardens. It’s always worth remembering to prioritise what you provide. If there’s already a feature present, you’re often better providing something that isn’t. This will diversify the opportunities for wildlife. 


    I’ve already cleared the areas for when they arrive, so now all I have to do is sit back and wait ‘till November when they get lifted.



  • Butterfly Banana Banquets

    Butterflies on bananas

    Most of my blogs are going to be about what I call ‘proper gardening’, but sometimes there is a little wildlife trick that is too good not to try. This one involves mushy bananas!

    Now usually when I have an overripe banana, it goes into my syrup flapjacks, but not in autumn. At this time of year, I keep them solely for butterflies.

    If you haven’t tried it, here’s the technique. Take a blackened banana. Squidge it and squeeze it inside its skin until it loses all its rigidity. Cut some little nicks in the top. And then put out in a sunny sheltered position in the garden.

    Here’s what was coming to mine this week for a gloopy, sugary drink – top and bottom are two Commas; the two in the middle are Red Admirals. They loved it, and visited day after day with several of their friends. Note there is a small risk of a few wasps joining the feast - I've never had a problem, but if you do just close your smoothie bar early and consign the banana to a closed compost heap.

  • Calling all wildlife gardeners...

    Yes, I know, yet another blog. But if you like doing things in your garden to help wildlife, I think – I hope – you’re going to like this one.

    Seems only right that we start with some introductions, so Hi, I’m Adrian, nice to meet you! And here’s what to expect from this blog:

    Mondays: You’ll get something from me. I am an RSPB member of staff, but for this blog I’m a volunteer because outside of work I’m potty about gardening for wildlife. For the past year, I’ve been writing the new RSPB guide to Gardening for Wildlife, and the ten years before that were spent researching it! (That might seem like a shameless plug, but as it’s not out until next May I hope you will excuse me mentioning it).

    What I’m really interested in is how to make an attractive ‘conventional’ garden that is also good for wildlife. I’m a real sucker for a good old splash of colour, so you can expect quite a lot about garden flowers from me and what they’re good for. And you're going to get lots of photos.

    Wednesdays: Over to my colleague, John Day, who works on the Homes for Wildlife project at The Lodge, which I hope you’ve all signed up for. ‘Signed up’ doesn’t mean you need to start getting your credit cards out! It’s the RSPB’s free internet wildlife gardening advisory service.

    And Fridays: I’ll be bringing you some stories from RSPB gardens on our nature reserves around the country, and we’ll hear what some of the RSPB’s keen gardeners have been up to.

    I hope you going to like it. And I really hope you will take part, commenting and sharing ideas. I know there is bags of expertise out there, and I’m raring to tap into it.

    Red Admiral on Aster amellus

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