March, 2012

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 the winner of the hairiest legs competition is...

    Look at those for an amazing pair of hairy legs!

    The fighter-pilot goggles effect is rather fetching too, don't you think?, as is the blonde moustache.

    These belong to one of the insects you are most likely to see at this time of year in your flower border - if you live south of about Manchester, that is.

    I photographed it this week in the gardens in the middle of Brighton, and it is the gloriously named Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes. Below, if you look closely, you can see another of its rather endearing features - its habit of flying with its long tongue hanging out. Here it is homing in on a Daphne.

    These are the gingery males, for the females are all-black. And what really sets them apart from bumblebees is their speed of flight - they simply zoom from flower to flower, rarely settling for long.

    Watch out for them at dead-nettles and lungworts in particular at this time of year, but I've seen them at prunus blossom too and many other deep-throated flowers. The males will dart at each other, and patrol a territory, always focusing their time around prime flowers where they know females are likely to visit.

    It is likely that, with climate change, we will see them march on ever northwards, so even if you live in the north of the country, keep your eyes peeled - they could be with you soon.


    Due to work pressures, Adrian - who does this blog as a volunteer - will now write every Friday morning instead of twice a week. He's feeling very guilty, but we're sure you understand!

  • Glory of the Snow

    'Glory of the Snow'? You'll be wondering what I'm going on about, given that it has been 70 degrees outside and more like midsummer.

    But I wanted to share with you a couple of photos from Kew Gardens from a couple of weeks ago of their woodland garden, and the main bulb that they have naturalised.

    You'd be forgiven from a distance fron thinking that they are bluebells, albeit ridiculously early ones. But they are actually Chionodoxa, from Turkey and Cyprus.

    In their homelands they flower at altitude in early summer as the snows recede, and indeed the English name for them is Glory of the Snow (and quite fitting too).

    In this country, at lower altitude and with our relatively mild climate, they flower much earlier, in March. They like a half shady position, and plenty of organic material in autumn.

    And of course there must be some gardening for wildlife reason why I love them too. And here it is...

    Yes, there aren't many bulbs which are great for Honeybees, but this is one of them. Fantastic!


  • Myrobalan the Magnificent

    Have you ever walked or driven through the countryside now in early spring and noticed what looks like the Blackthorn in full flower but way earlier than usual? Yes, with the unseasonably warm weather the Blackthorn is emerging right now, but I mean bushes that started to come into blossom as early as the end of February.

    It's a mistake I used to make, when in fact what you are proably looking at is the Myrobalan Plum. And it really is a glorious snowdrift of blossom.

    It comes from the Balkans and further east than that, but has long been grown in this country, and is now scattered throughout hedges and woodland edges far from habitation as if it is wild.

    It is closely related to the Blackthorn, but actually, if left unchecked, can grow into a 15-metre tall tree, although still with the delicate proportions of maybe a garden plum tree. Here is a full-grown speciment I photographed at Kew a couple of weeks ago.

    So why do I call it Myrobalan the Magnificent, apart from the fact that it sounds a great name for a novel? Well, the blossom can just heave with bees and bumblebees.

    The Myrobalan's other name is the Cherry-plum, and it can produce a few, small, reddish plums, but unfortunately it does not readily set fruit, otherwise it would probably be a total 5-star wildlife tree.

    But, nevertheless, for early season value, it's hard to beat. Have a look out for it right now - I'm sure you'll notice one somewhere near you.