October, 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!
  • And now for something different...

    Every now and then I like to bring you something that has value for garden wildlife but which you wouldn't find in many a book on the subject.

    And here is my latest off-the-wall suggestion for those of you who like to do things a little differently.

    Are they mouldy plums? Could it be mis-shapen apples? No, they are the fruit of the Handkerchief Tree.

    Now you're probably more familiar with it in spring, although this is still quite a rare garden tree. It's then that all the branches are draped with what look like lines of dangling white hankies. Those of you with a less surreal imagination may know it as the Dove Tree. And you may equally find it labelled Davidia, after the French missionary/naturalist Pere David who wandered around China finding giant pandas and Buddleia davidii. Whichever name you favour, the tree is a splendid thing in full bloom in May, and a real talking point.

    What I haven't found is any wildlife that uses either the flowers or the leaves, although the tree itself has a great branch structure ideal as song perches for birds like Robins and Blackbirds.

    But what I was pleased to see was Blackbirds eating the ripe flesh off the fruits.

    If anyone has any more observations of wildlife in Davidia, I'll be pleased to hear them. And if you want to give the tree a go, it's a bit expensive and not one from your run-of-the-mill garden centre. But the good thing is that it is totally hardy, and will grow fast up to about 20m so it is not too huge. And I guarantee it will both wow your neighbours and hopefully keep the autumn Blackbirds happy too.

  • Time to bare all

    It's that time of year again - the leaves are turning to all manner of shades of red, gold and orange. One of the best nature spectacles of the year and in some of our towns and cities with their mix of native and non-native trees and shrubs, the show can be enhanced.

    Once the leaves fall, it signifies to me the start of the planting season and if I really want to successfully grow some plants I should go buy some and get digging! The beauty of winter planting is the wider choice of plants available. We can buy potted plants throughout the year but when plants are dormant in winter it allows many to be sold without pots. 'Bare-rooted plants' as they are called, are usually cheaper to buy than when in pots.

    There's also the benefit of no peat being involved as there would on a pot. Many of our native species are available in this way, so if you want to plant a hedge or tree, or even landscape a whole garden, this is the most cost effective time in which to do it!

    I've often witnessed the best results from planting before the end of the year. They certainly seem less likely to want watering in the summer. Maybe it's because the soil may still have some warmth in it which helps the roots establish quicker.

    There's lots of good plants to choose from, such as hawthorn, rowan, field maple, blackthorn, hazel, birch, grey or goat willow - the list is endless. Remember to look around and try to get those native species that really have come from British stock. It's not easy but you can do no worse than to start by looking at the Floralocale website which has a list of approved suppliers. Happy planting!

    I'm off now to order a couple of small trees (oak and field maple) to add height to the hedge I planted last winter.

  • And here's one I made earlier...

    We start today with a little trip back in time. It's August 2005, and here (left) was the state of my new native hedge. Hawthorn was the main ingredient, with Blackthorn, Dogwood, Wayfaring Tree, Privet and Field Maple, plus some Dog and Burnet Rose to clamber through.

    The little whips, which had gone in two winters before, were just beginning to flesh out. They'd had a severe pruning when they went in the ground, and a second one the next winter, and now at last they were looking more like little bushes than just twigs in the ground.

    Goodness knows where the five years have gone since, but here's how she is looking right now (right). If it were a child, you might be saying, "Hasn't she grown". Oh, yes, and she has a mind of her own now, too!

    My 'management regime' (gosh, that sounds posh - I don't normally call it that) is to keep her in check one side one winter and the other the next. And what you're looking at here is the 'outside' which went unpruned last winter. From this side she will look a little more under control by next March!

    The great thing about the 'one side at a time' technique is that it allows the Blackthorn and Hawthorn in particular to flower on the uncut side, and thus produce berries. And the House Sparrows love it, and the Wrens love it, and Blackbirds and Dunnocks.

    What I really like is that I can now take a photo that looks like a slice of countryside, when if I panned backwards you'd see it sits in a world of tarmac, bumper to bumper cars and densely-packed houses. It may not be an image of orderliness and tidiness, but I like to think I've brought a bit of life to my neighbourhood.