September, 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!
  • Hedging Happiness

    I planted my first native hedge ten years ago.

    When I say ‘hedge’, think more about a 15-metre line of the weakest-looking bare twigs sticking out of the ground. Frankly it looked pathetic. At that stage it clearly didn’t offer wildlife anything except a good laugh.

    But I followed the text book, laid squares of old carpet around their base, gave them the odd bucket of water, and hoped for the best. I even did the really painful thing of snipping my ‘whips’ in half – it seemed so brutal at the time.

    By the second spring, my ‘hedge’ was starting to have something of a presence – a froth of green beginning to fill out.

    By year four it was difficult to push your way through it.

    And since then it has been an absolute joy. Sparrows twitter from deep inside it; Wrens and Robins wend their way inside its spiny heart and Blackbirds flick about its base. In winter, tits dangle in its complex framework. And on sunny summer days it is alive with hoverflies and other insects. This is it this week:

    I had presumed it would be hard to manage. After all, not many gardens seem have hedges these days - the stock solution for dividing up our little rectangles seems to be wooden panel fencing.

    But it turned out to be really easy. I think it takes about an hour’s work each year, I reckon. I take the shears to it in September and just clip it back, threading the cut stems back into the hedge to make it even thicker. I’d much rather be doing that than creosoting a fence.

    So why do so few gardens have hedges these days if it is easy and cheap? Yes, there is that period when it is establishing when it no barrier for dogs or children. And a deciduous hedge offers less privacy than a 6-foot tall solid fence.

    But if you can cope with that, then a hedge won’t blow over in a gale, it lasts a lifetime, and it’s better for excluding intruders.

    And just think of all those wildlife benefits: shelter, cover, nesting sites, insects, berries. And for Frogs, Toads, Hedgehogs and many other creatures, they can come and go between gardens without encountering impenetrable barriers everywhere.

    Check out this month’s Homes for Wildlife e-newsletter for a brilliant offer from Ashridge Nurseries to buy native hedging plants for your own garden, saving you money and raising some funds for RSPB too. Go on, give it a go!

  • Read all about it, read all about it!

    As well as my own perambulations around my own garden and those of others, I like to try and keep up with stories in the national press that are relevant to us wildlife gardeners. So here are the headlines from the last few months:

    The shape of British summers to come?
    Various of the papers reported the prediction that the wet, cloudy summer we have had could become something of a fixture in future years due to the melting ice in Greenland shifting weather patterns. Certainly the unusually wandering jetstream this summer showed what an influence it has on our weather - and our gardening.  

    Deadly worm poses threat to hedgehogs (17 August)
    The Daily Telegraph reports that the "Wildlife Aid Foundation has highlighted the presence of a new threat to hedgehogs: the Thorny-headed Worm. This parasite is allegedly killing hedgehogs in some numbers". I'm always nervous when an article says 'some numbers' - does that mean two? Two thousand?

    No ban on pesticides that 'threaten bees' (7 September)
    The Independent reports that nerve-agent pesticides (these so-called neonicitinoids) are not going to be banned in Britain despite four separate scientific studies strongly linking them to sharp declines in bees around the world

    And finally, over to the Daily Mirror for its giant mutant slugs (14 September). Apparently, "giant Spanish slugs that invaded Britain are mating with native ones to create a mutant superslug capable of wreaking crop havoc". When they say giant, think the size of a small seal. You're going to need a very large beer trap.

    And I can't leave a blog without a photo, so here is my own news - my first Painted Lady of the year. And I'll let you identify which wonderful plant it is on...

  • Every little discovery helps

    In my quest to probe around the gardens of Britain to find what wildlife is doing what, I always get a thrill when I make a new discovery.

    So last weekend was especially exciting when I found a new plant attractive to nectaring butterflies while visiting the lovely Merriments Garden in East Sussex.

    (Now when I say 'new', I fully expect that someone else has known about it for ages. But it was definitely a new one to me, so it still feels like a discovery.)

    And my 'find' was a perennial sunflower called Helianthus 'Capenoch Star'.

    It wasn't one of your giant-headed Van Gogh-type sunflowers, but one of the well-branched perennials, about five foot high, and with masses of flowers with golden yellow rays and florets.

    A few sunflowers can be pretty poor for attracting wildlife, but many are brilliant, offering nectar for bumblebees, Honeybees and hoverflies, and then copious seeds for birds.

    But here was one that seemed irresistible to a Small Tortoiseshell:

    and to a Comma:

    No matter how often they were disturbed by passing people, they couldn't stop themselves coming back for more, just like me and strawberry-creme chocolates.

    I snapped up the last Capenoch Star they had for sale in the adjacent nursery and will give it a go in my garden to see if I can get the same results at home. It has the RHS Award of Merit, which is always encouraging, and seems to be available from a good number of nurseries around the country.

    So have you made any garden wildlife or plant discoveries lately? Every little discovery helps!