April, 2010

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!
  • Snail-proof gardening

    We had 3mm of rain here today, the most we've had in a long while, and a certain faction of my garden wildlife were out having a party. As parties go, it was quite slow, because the revelers were of course these guys, snails. ('Guys'? Technically of course they are 'guy/girl's).

    It seemed a good opportunity to address another of the questions I was posed at RSPB Members Weekend - "What plants can I grow that are good for wildlife, but won't be eaten by snails and slugs?"

    As usual, at the end of the blog, I'll be making a plea for you to contribute, so that anyone logging in can share the benefit of your wisdom. And of course feel free to question any of my recommendations if you have evidence to the contrary - you may have a more voracious breed of snail in your garden than I do (but I'd claim that mine are the hungriest in the world).

    So here goes: I'm going to aim for 20 suggestions, but most of them are going to be whole families giving you hundreds of choices. None are guaranteed (quick escape clause there!). And perhaps most importantly remember that many plants are far far more vulnerable at the seeding and young plant stage than when they have become old and tough - it seems many snails and slugs like their greens fresh! Notice too how many of these are hairy or furry, and often with aromatic leaves, or vigorous fast-growers that can keep pace with the munchers..


    • Agapanthus
    • Catmints (Nepeta)
    • Sages (Salvia)
    • Sea-hollies (Eryngium)
    • Rudbeckia
    • Campions (Silene)
    • Knapweeds (Centaurea)
    • Scabiouses (Scabiosa)
    • Marjoram (Oregano)
    • Forget-me-nots (Myosotis)
    • Michaelmas Daisies (Aster)
    • Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
    • Iceplant (Sedum)
    • Foxglove (Digitalis)
    • Stachys, especially Lamb's-ear
    • Lavenders (Lavandula)
    • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)
    • Tobacco Plant (Nicotiana)
    • Mulleins (Verbascum)
    • Geraniums

    Over to you - I'd love to know your top tips.

  • Lest we forget

    We seem to be having a rather dry spell at present which is worrying if you had some plants that went in rather late – oops! Luckily I got most in and they all seem to be looking rather lush. I’m just impatient for them to start spreading and flowering now to attract all the pollen and nectar loving species I’ve planted them for.

    One of the more established plants I do have is the Forget-me-not which at the moment looks stunning with its splash of strong blue. Its so easy to grow too – I had a small piece donated by a neighbour a couple of years ago and now its well established. To stop it dominating I just pull clumps of it out before it seeds and there’s still enough to go round from the seeding plants that are left.

    Unfortunately, whenever I see or think of the plant and its botanic name Mysotis, I’m always reminded of a rather bad joke passed down from a nurseryman.

    A chap walks into a nursery and sees a nice display of blue flowering plants for sale and for the life him cannot remember their name. He calls one of the sales people and asks what they are. Why they are Forget-me-nots Sir. ‘Ah, yes My so ’tis he replies’ 

    Another stunning shrub or small tree who’s flowers are just going over now in the garden is the Snowy mespilus or Amelanchier. They are good at providing lovely white spring flowers and early crop of berries in mid summer before other fruits are available – much loved by blackbirds and also lovely orange red leaves in autumn. Certainly a three seasons plant and one of my favourites. 

    I hope you have been noticing over the past week the abundance of various butterflies now on the wing. In particular the orange tip and brimstone – it’s like watching oranges and lemons drift past, the fresh colours looking quite stunning in the bright sunshine.

  • Making long lawns lovely

    This weekend I popped in to Denmans Gardens, a 4-acre garden open to the public near Chichester created by the landscape designer, John Brookes. As usual, it was with notebook and camera firmly  in hand, to see what was working for wildlife and what wasn't.

    The thing that impressed me most was that, in this immaculate garden, they have the courage to let some of their lawns go 'wild and woolly'. And this, research has shown, is usually brilliant for increasing the amount of insects in a lawn, and hence increasing its value for several species of birds too.

    Now it would be fantastic if more and more lawns around the country were allowed to go this way, but I'm sure there are plenty of gardeners out there who are recoiling at the prospect. Many gardeners (and that includes me) want our gardens to look attractive and tended, not abandoned and neglected. So how does Denmans do it and at the same time leave the impression that this is most definitely a cared-for garden and not something that has been 'let go'?

    The trick is to do it in a way that signals most clearly, "You know what, this is no accident! This is an intentional and creative decision, designed to actually make our garden look better, and be good for wildlife."

    And to do this with long grass, the best way is to become an artist with your lawnmower. Create geometric shapes, maybe, such as regular square blocks of grass. Or do as Denmans do and mow walkways around the outside, creating a shape-within-shape look (left).

    And look at how the lawn blooms (right)! At this stage at Denmans, it is just Ivy-leaved Speedwell coming through, attracting the odd solitary bee. But imagine the minibeast jungle this will develop into. And imagine all that lawnmower electricity and time saved too!

    I'd love to hear of people giving it a go this year, and the results you get.