February, 2013

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!
  • Seeds to sow for wildlife

    Seed-sowing time is definitely upon us, and for about £2 a packet, a bag of peat-free compost and a few pots, you can give yourself a border-full of plants.

    So I thought I would pick out my recommendations of seeds that are really quick and really easy to grow, easy to buy, and will flower this year and help wildlife in your garden this summer.

    Here are15 of my favourites from years and years of trying, and some of my photos of them in action:

    For butterflies: Butterflies are very difficult to cater for with annuals and first-year perennials, but here are my top tips for instant success from seed:

    Verbena bonariensis (airy perennial that will self-seed, and is almost as good as buddleia)

    Tithonia rotundifolia (below with Painted Lady, a real zingy annual growing to about 3ft high)


    Coreopsis (verticillata or tinctoria) (I've found is good for smaller butterflies such as skippers)

    Agastache (choose something like 'Blackadder' below, a perennial that is great for bees too)


    For bees:Slightly easier than butterflies, but you still need to choose plants carefully to get the best results:

    Phacelia tanacetifolia (the curly flower spikes slowly unwind, loved by Honeybees and bumblebees)

    Borage (brilliant for Honeybees and bumblebees)

    Annual sunflower (and the seedheads can then be left for the birds. Rather prone to slugs and snails though)

    Linaria maroccana (Fairy Toadflax - like a multicoloured tiny snapdragon, for solitary bees)

    Cosmos bipinnatus (they wave about a bit in the wind, but on a still day bumblebees love them)


    Echium Blue bedder (a Viper's Bugloss - note the Honeybee having a lovely time below)


    Cornflower - the best flower for pollinators in your cornfield wild flower mix)


    Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) (great in the vegetable garden amongst your crops to draw in hoverflies)

    Poached-egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) (low-growing, will flower within weeks - this is one for small solitary bees)

    Runner bean (It's great to have pollinator plants in the vegetable garden)

    Cerinthe major (Honeywort) (bees adore this, and you'll hear them doing the buzz pollination trick - grows to about 1-foot high).

    I hope there is something there to inspire you. But now I'd love to hear your recommendations!

  • Out in the garden, are you ready for spring's runaway train to arrive?

    I find this a funny time of year - spring feels so close and yet so far away.

    Here for example is the Chichester cathedral gardens this week, one of my regular little haunts where I go for a quick battery recharge and head-clear when I have meetings nearby.

    As you can see, the Bishop’s flowerbeds are looking pretty roughed-up by winter’s ravages - bare and grey.

    Few of the plants have yet put on much growth, and with temperatures still barely getting into double figures, there are very few insects to enliven them. My garden is much the same.

    This is when I find close inspection pays dividends. It is only when you get close up that you see the coiled spring of life in all the buds and the leaves of bulbs poking through.

    In my garden, there are little rosettes of fresh green where the Welsh Poppies are coming through, and the Elder buds are burgeoning ready to burst.

    And you just get the feeling that a couple of days of sunshine will set it all off. Under all that stillness, one sense something akin to a railway engine building up a head of steam; pretty soon the brakes will be off and spring will be a runaway train. Are you ready for the ride?!

  • Have you been Siskinned yet?

    My mum and dad rang me last night excited about the finch-fest going on in their Worcestershire garden at the moment.

    A number of Redpolls have been visiting for about 3 or 4 winters now. And this year a trio of Bramblings have joined the party.

    But they’ve now been joined by a little troupe of Siskins, providing yet another splash of colour and variety to the gardening mix. And I’m hearing that for many other people Siskins are visiting in larger numbers than usual at the moment.

    If you are unfamiliar with Siskins, they are small, dainty finches, overall looking rather greenish and streaky, but with contrasting black-and-lime wing markings. The males are especially dapper with a black crown. I usually like to bring you photos taken this week, but given that they aren’t in my garden, I’ve had to dig into my archives for one I photographed in 2009 with a Goldfinch. It's only a female, so imagine how lovely the males look.



    Most of the year Siskins breed in conifer woods, but in winter they often flock along waterside Alder trees or in Birch trees feeding on the catkins. However, about 20 years ago, they learnt to visit garden feeders but they tend to only do so once natural food supplies have run out, usually in March.

    On sunny days, you may even be lucky enough to hear the males singing, a happy if wheezy little ditty that goes on and on and sounds like a whole flock of birds instead of just one.

    Have you been Siskinned yet in your garden? (It’s a new verb, but I’m sure it will catch on). If not, eyes peeled, they could be coming your way soon...