October, 2011

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!
  • My first burst of Sissinghurst...

    [Pre-warning - my next blog is next Tuesday, not my usual Monday]

    A couple of weekends ago, I made my first visit to Sissinghurst, the famous Kent garden created by the novelist Vita Sackville-West and now the home of Sarah Raven.

    I love visits like this. Part of me is there to enjoy it as a garden - its design, its planting, its moods. And part of me is there to see how well it does for wildlife.

    Now even though the garden was perhaps smaller than I expected, there was still oodles for me to take in. But perhaps the thing I liked the most was this...


    It is a tunnel of coppiced Hazel Corylus avellana, which leads down to the herb garden.

    I love this use of a native tree. It is still clearly a garden, because the trees are all planted in a regimented fashion and there is a ruler-straight path down the middle. But it retains much of the character of the coppice woodlands in rural Worcestershire where I grew up.

    One can imagine the 'woodland' floor underneath the trees rich with flowers (and hence insects) in spring. And maybe Chiffchaffs or Willow Warblers nipping about the branches at that season.

    Hazel is not bad for supporting good populations of moths too, such as members of the emerald clan. And the nuts are loved by Wood Mice (oh, and Grey Squirrels!).

    It is the kind of thing where you could be really playful with a design and alternate our native Hazel with Purple Hazel Corylus maxima 'Purpurea'.

    One of the Hazels in my woodland garden is due for coppicing this winter (I'll leave it until February), when of course I'll get excellent Sweet Pea poles too.

    What a brilliant reminder that our countryside can still be reflected in our gardens, and be useful too. Perfect!


  • Tales from a member's garden, part II

    Here is the second half of my 'interview' with RSPB member Nikki Smith about her efforts to Step up for Nature in her Warwickshire garden this year:

    What has surprised and excited you?
    I've been most surprised by the variety of wildlife I've successfully attracted in just a short period of time.  We do live very rurally so we have wildlife on our doorstep yet I have really seen the difference the planting has made.  I've been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make a difference.

    What are you planning to do next year?
    Gosh, where to start?!  I already have forget-me-nots and lots of wallflowers in the ground ready for early flowering.  I've planted bee friendly bulbs everywhere - crocus, alliums, all sorts - I just look for that bee friendly sign!  I have lots of packs of seeds ready to go early next year - I'm so excited I can hardly wait!

    I've kept notes and taken photos of the various plants I've tried this year so I know what works and how it looks.  I'm confident that I'll have something flowering all through the seasons next year. (Below are Nikki's Echinacea, complete with carder bee.)

    A pond of some description is the priority.  I'm not sure if we'll be allowed to dig a pond (we rent our house) but if not we'll set up a couple of small basins and hopefully encourage dragon and damselflies.

    We feed the birds all year round but we're going to add more nest boxes and I'm collecting items to build an insect stack.  I'll add in a bat box too as we already have bats roosting in the house. We already compost and have just bought a water butt.

    What has been most difficult, and what has been easy?
    Coping with the wind (our garden is a windy spot) and the typical British weather is always difficult but I'm trying to embrace it as a challenge!  I want to be more water friendly over the next 12 months.

    Growing some plants such as marigolds and foxgloves (Nikki's proud display of the latter below) have been surprisingly easy, while others involve some more time and perserverance, such asVerbena bonariensis.

    I've learnt to spend an hour 2-3 times a week weeding rather than letting it build up.

  • Welcome to a reader's garden

    I was delighted a few weeks ago to be forwarded an email in which an RSPB member, Nikki Smith, was clearly getting very excited about gardening for wildlife.

    Well, after a little correspondence, I'm pleased to say that Nikki gallantly agreed to share some of her experiences and photos, so here is the first half of my little email 'interview' with her.

    Q: How long have you been in your garden?

    We've been in our new house in Warwickshire for a little over 12 months now. However, it's only really been this summer that I've been working really hard on the garden. (In the photo below, you can see part of the back garden that Nikki is working with, with good berry-laden hedges and a mature tree, flower borders, lawn and bird feeders aplenty!).


    Q: What do you feel has worked best?

    Attracting insects and butterflies! The range of plants I've used have really attracted a large mix of insects, bees, butterflies, moths, etc. My personal favourite was the foxgloves - not only did they look stunning but the bees loved them. They grew with Teasels which ended up over 8ft tall - the Goldfinches loved them. (The chives, below, also worked a treat.)

    I got super excited 8.30am on a Tuesday morning a couple of months ago when I spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on my Red Valerian! I've seen them three or four times since and they are so amazing.

    I've tried to keep track of the different types of bees but it's so difficult. It's fun though! There are ladybirds, hoverflies and beetles everywhere too.

    Q: What are the biggest lessons you've learnt?

    I've learnt so much about plants - annuals, biennials, perennials. I know now what that means - daft I know but it's helped me no end and I love planning what to plant, where and when, what to grow direct in the ground and what to grow in trays. I get very pleased with myself when I manage to grow something from seed and then plant it out all round my garden. My marigolds (below) were like that this year).

    Of course, my knowledge of insects has grown too. I love seeing something new, digging out my guide book and trying to figure out what it is. I often only get a second or two before it's gone though.

    Deadheading - now that is something that has never failed to surprise me. My one tip? Deadhead your plants like there's no tomorrow and you'll be rewarded with flower after flower after flower. My marigolds, dahlias and cosmos are still going strong!

    As regular readers will know, enthusiasm is my favourite quality in a gardener, so my thanks to Nikki for having it in such abundance. Look out for the second half of my conversation with her on Monday.