July, 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!
  • Joy in the Lady's Bedstraw

    Poor John - he's so hard worked he's unable to do any blog entries for a while! Poor you - you get me instead each time!

    Today I have to tell you about a little triumph in my patch of Lady's Bedstraw. The photo I grabbed to show what happened won't win any prizes, but it was something that made me very happy indeed.

    You see, as well as quite liking the frothy goodness of Lady's Bedstraw (and wondering how long it took many a man-servant in the past to gather enough to make a bed for his Lady), my main reason for loving it is that it is the larval foodplant of none other than our beloved buzzing friend, the Hummingbird Hawkmoth.

    And so I planted a little patch several years ago, and it has grown to be a couple of feet wide, but until now success had eluded me.

    But when I went out into the garden on Sunday, there was a Hummer, but it was acting very oddly. It was bobbing rather than buzzing, and jerking rather than zooming. And I realised it was a 'She Hummer', tasting away at all sorts of plants with her feet, but clearly sensing that Lady's Bedstraw was somewhere near.

    And every now and then she's alight fortuitously on a bit of bedstraw, bend her abdomen around, and lay a single egg before moving on. I hope you can make her out in the act in the photo, her orange wings a-blur.

    If nature is kind, it means I should have some fat green caterpillars in the next month to fuss over!

  • A taste of the garden in Italy

    I was fortunate enough last week to go hiking in the Dolomites in northern Italy. The views were simply breathtaking, but it was the alpine meadows that really caught my attention. There, among the myriads of flowers, were so many examples of species that are now familiar in our gardens.

    I was like seeing old friends in a new light, like when you visit someone's home for the first time and see how they really like to live. Here were Martagon Lilies and Orange Lilies (left - yes, growing wild!) and milfoils and scabiouses.

    But of course what also caught my eye was which plants were being used by which creatures. And rising straight up to somewhere near the top of the pile in terms of their attractiveness to butterflies were once again members of the knapweed family, just like here in the UK. Here (right) for example is an Arran Brown taking advantage, not a British species at all, but doing exactly what a Meadow Brown or Marbled White would do in this country.

    It seems that, certainly where butterflies are concerned, there really are some nectar plants that they find irresistible, wherever you are.

  • Paying the Gatekeepers

    A walk in the country for me is always coloured by wondering what it teaches me about my garden. So today’s little meander along an old railway line and along the banks of a river was a treasure chest of little notes-to-self about the myriad of wildlife that was supping and sipping and noshing and gnashing and buzzing and busying all over the place.

    Gatekeeper butterflies in particular caught my eye. Both males and females were on the wing, the males with their dark ‘sex brand’ line crossing the orange of their forewing (spot the difference in the photos). Some were gently poddling along low sunny hedges, especially those of Hawthorn with nice lush coarse grass at their base. Here they are looking for a mate in a place where the female can then drop down and do a bit of all-important egg laying.

    And then in other places, the Gatekeepers were more interested in getting some liquid intake at flowers. Plant of choice today on my walk was Creeping Thistle, not exactly something you'd want for your garden but clearly doing the business in the wider countryside.

    Gatekeepers are no migrants, but don't keep a 'home territory' either, so are happy to wander along green corridors. Many will therefore pass along a line of gardens, and your challenge is to give them reason to stay in yours when they pass.

    It was nice, then, to come home today to find a Gatekeeper in my garden, as usual very interested in my Marjoram flowers. I don't have the warm pockets of rough grass to give them room to breed, but at least once they set off on their meanderings again I have helped recharge their batteries.