April, 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!
  • You cannot bee serious!

    I am a wicked person!  I purchased two hanging baskets of trailing geraniums pink and white – lovely.  They made their debut last weekend in glorious sunshine and soon attracted the attentions of bees.  Except ............. they are not real!  Bought for purely practical reasons you understand - less dead-heading and watering to do - but boy did I feel guilty.  So, this weekend, I am going to make amends and create a bee garden.  I have compiled a list of plants to attract bees and will get started.  In my defence I already have many plants flowering at different times of year which are bee beneficial but I can do much more.  Many will help all sorts of other insects too.  Bees need us and we certainly need them.

    Let’s all be an A Team for the Bee Team! 

    Plants that I’ve chosen as being attractive to bees and to me: 

    Aquilegia, Allium, Borage, Cornflower, Cosmos, Fuschia, Geranium – hardy (and real!), Hydrangea, Ice Plant, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme, Verbena.

  • Going potty

    Gardening for wildlife in pots is a fascinating challenge, and hugely rewarding. And I can say that from first-hand experience - at the RSPB South East office where I'm based, we have a roof terrace (well, it's more of a roof pit) where the only way to grow plants is in pots.

    Some of you will be in the same position, having no open ground in which to plant things. For the rest of you, I bet you have patios and decking where container planting is the only option to inject a bit of life.

    I think great things can be achieved for wildlife using pots, so here are my top tips - and some photos of some inspiring pot-planting I've seen over the years.

      • The brilliant news is that almost anything can be grown in pots, including trees. Yes, some will need that bit of extra loving care, but the limit is just your imagination.
      • Yes, you need to be ready for the challenges. In particular, you need to be prepared to water regularly. And in warm weather than means very regularly. Small pots in particular dry out so quickly, so I like to be generous with my pot sizes. A mulch of gravel on top can really help.
      • Equally most plants won't thank you if they get waterlogged in the winter, so you do need good drainage in the bottom of the pots.
      • Plants can also get very cold in pots in winter, because their roots are barely millimetres away from the cold air. Some may need to be taken into greenhouses or cold frames, or wrapped in bubblewrap.
      • Plants can of course get pot bound, so you will need to be ready to do some re-potting.
      • Even those that don't need re-potting will probably welcome some fresh compost or additional feed.
      • And you'll probably need good neighbours to help out if you like taking a summer holiday, just to look after your precious charges.

      The results can be simply wonderful - visually and for wildlife.

      I'm not claiming this first photo is the best, but this was my 'cornfield annuals in a pot', with gorgeous Red Flax leading the way. However, it was the Fairy Toadflax beneath them that were the real winners with solitary bees.

      The wonderfully healthy young tree at the back here is a friend's Elm tree she is growing ready for White-letter Hairstreak butterflies.

      This immaculate selection at Christopher Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter was not planted specifically for wildlife, but includes plants such as Cornflowers, great for bees - and it shows just how good pot planting can look.

      But I've saved this until last because this was just a private garden in the back street of a little mountain village in boiling Lesvos. Everything you can see was growing in a pot, and for me was just so inspiring to see someone bring life where there was nothing but whitewash, brick and cobble beneath.

      Have you got any experiences of planting in pots you'd like to share? We'd love to hear.

    • Gardener's World Live here we come...

      It's about time I shared progress on the RSPB feature garden we're preparing for Gardeners World Live this June at the NEC.

      I quickly need to explain that it isn't one of those big budget show gardens that get all the attention. But each year, on a shoestring budget, we like to try our best to put on a good show in a big indoor garden.

      Well, my design, which is all about celebrating the diversity of nature on RSPB nature reserves, got accepted by RHS, so preparations have been under way since Christmas.

      Right now, my garden is crammed with plants in pots for the woodland part of the garden - Red Campion and Dame's Violet and Garlic Mustard.

      And I have large trays of more woodland plants, with Primroses and Woodruff...

      And there are seedlings on the go in every corner of the house (and not without causing a few domestic ripples!).

      I just hope I've timed it all right.

      Then up in Cambridgeshire the team of RSPB volunteers are doing the clever construction stuff for me, pulling together the complex scaffolding around which everything from Ynis Hir to Bempton Cliffs to Sumatra will sit:

      And up at the RSPB's dedicated wildlife garden at Flatford in Suffolk, Shirley Boyle and her volunteer team are pulling together beds of wonderful garden flowers.

      So far, so good, and I'm hoping it will all look great and show that wildlife and gardening really do go hand in hand. And more than anything I hope to see many of you there too.