November, 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!
  • Bring on the Spider Hunter

    As my previous blog showed, in the great web of life, spiders are pretty terrifying hunters...if you're an insect, that is.

    If you are scared of spiders, I hope you can at least appreciate the valuable work they do munching their way through countless flies and gnats and other creepy-crawlies each year.

    But spiders have plenty to be nervous of too, because there are creatures out there that specialise in hunting them down.

    Here is one that came marauding through my garden today...

    Scary, huh?

    This Wren spent about five solid minutes working its way around and through and behind this trellis, which is wrapped in the bare stems of Honeysuckle and Hop.

    I was absolutely thrilled - this was exactly why I put up trellis in the first place. Ideally I'd like a hedge there rather than a fence, but it wouldn't suit the neighbours. So instead my aim is to use trellis and climbing plants to smother my fences and create cover and food and hiding places for insects and spiders, and hence provide food for birds.(I have to say, this particular trellis looks rather lusher throughout the summer!).

    And here was living proof that it was working. There certainly wouldn't have been any Wren there without the trellis.

    I've been busy planting even more climbers this autumn, with the hope that within a couple of years my fences are as close to being hedges as they can possibly be. And my hope is that that will mean even more terrifying Spider Hunters in future.

  • Warning! Ferocious spider photo

    Any arachnophobics, look away now!

    A couple of weeks ago I was moving a plant pot when I disturbed the spider you are about to see.

    It wasn't as large as those giant ones you see at this time of year in the bath with the really long legs, which are usually Tegenaria gigantea.

    But it was really dark slate-grey and fleshy looking, with mahogany legs and a lightly fluffy rear end, and something vaguely sinister about it (some of you may say that there was no vagueness about it at all!).

    I managed to grab some photos, and turned to Ian Dawson for an identification. Ian ran the RSPB library for seemingly decades before he retired last year, and he is Mr Spider Supremo.

    My spider turns out to be Amaurobius ferox, the second name meaning 'the ferocious one', and apparently she can give quite a painful nip. It is widely distributed in the UK, and regularly found in gardens, where the female can be found right through the winter hiding amongst rubble and logs, cellars and outhouses.

    The female is larger than the male, but both are sooty-dark with ghost-like markings on the abdomen.

    The wonderful Jennifer Owen in her 30-year study of a Leicestershire garden found over 50 species of spider in her garden, which just shows you what a wonderful variety of life exists just outside our back doors.

    And here is the moment I warned - 'the ferocious one'!

  • A stinker or not?

    Woohoo! Yesterday I was able to put in a whole day in the garden, which always brings such a feeling of fulfilment.

    It would have been lovely to have done something very 'wildlifey'. But even the most ardent wildlife gardener must still turn their hand to all those structural and functional things that need doing, so myprimary task of the day was to dig in stepping stones all around my Woodland Garden.

    I'd much prefer a bark path, but I have such a problem with cats toileting that to walk without having to watch every step will be so much more pleasurable.

    The one splash of intense colour left in my Woodland Garden are the unfurled seedpods of Iris foetidissima. The bright orange berries seem to glow from their 'candied peel' pods

    But here's the thing. My instinct is to see something with berries and leap to the conclusion that it must be good for wildlife. But the berries on Iris foetidissima are often there ALL winter until they shrivel. Birds and mice must surely notice them, but they're clearly not a great favourite.

    It makes you realise that the best berry-bearing plants for wildlife are those where you hardly ever see the berries because they are gobbled up so quickly.

    And even though this Iris is native to most of the southern half of Britain, it has another aspect that may make you think twice - snails seem to find a perfect home deep amongst the strap-like leaves.

    So is it actualy a stinker for wildlife? Well, I continue to love it for two big reasons.

    1) It grows where almost nothing else does in deep, dense, dry shade, the leaves looking fresh all winter.

    And 2) the delicate, elegant, understated midsummer flowers are enjoyed by bees and ants. Here are four ants enjoying themselves in June this year 

    And I don't find it stinks the place out either, so I'm going to continue to stick with it, and with its alternative name of Gladdon!