May, 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!
  • In search of wildlife-friendly flowers in their element...and in search of spring

    ** Don't forget, Garden BioBlitz this weekend, as featured on Springwatch, but you heard it here first! **

    I've got this fascination for seeing our garden plants in their original native setting - it gives great clues as to how to grow them, and what wildlife might use them.

    I also quite like places with wild mountains, sunshine, and, erm, maybe a little bit of red wine too.

    So last week I ventured south to the Pyrenees.

    And, yes, I enjoyed wonderful views of Lammergeiers and Wallcreepers, two of the sexist birds you could ever set your eyes on. But I also got to see some familiar plants in unforgettable settings.

    Such as this:

    It is the Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum, and I also saw truly wild Grape Hyacinths too, plants that in this country are garden introductions but running amok in places. Their saving grace is that they can be good for early spring bees.

    Or how about this one, only just at the spiky-leaf stage in the Pyrenees so far, but so trendy in British gardens in recent years:

    It is Eryngium bourgatii, the Pyrenean Eryngo, which by late summer sports little heads of blue flowers surrounded by a spiky ruff, again a good bee plant.

    Or for something very familiar indeed, see if you can spot the garden (and wildlife) favourite in this shot:

    That grey plant at the front? That's common and garden Lavender, growing in its natural home in the foothills of the Pyrenees (you can see the snow-covered peaks in the background).

    As you can see, if you want to make lavender feel at home, give it full sun and a free-draining and really rubbish soil (save your best compost for something that needs it).

    Just like in the British spring, it is interesting to see that Pyrenean butterflies, some of which were on the wing, aren't really worried about nectaring at this time of year - it is all about finding a mate.

    And if you thought our spring was bad, check this out - snow at 1400 metres altitude in late May where there should be alpine meadows, and the locals constantly bemoaning that this spring has been 'mucho frio, mucho frio'. (If your Spanish is rusty, 'frio' comes from the same root as our word 'fridge'!). Very pretty, but suddenly our spring doesn't look quite so bad!

  • The garden takes its foot off the brakes

    Every now and then I like to let you have a little nose into my own garden. I'm not claiming it is perfect in any way - in fact it's your chance to go, "Oooh, I'm not sure about that! I wouldn't do it that way!". But at least you can see that I do gardening as well as endlessly talking about it.

    And this is the time of year to show you how my Woodland Garden is looking.

    This was a month ago on 24 April, the Mezereon still flushed pink along its branches rear-left, my birch stump in the foreground which is developing a wonderful array of bracket fungi, and centre foreground the white bells of Creeping Comfrey, which is one of my A-list bee flowers in spring, visited by bumblebees of several species and Hairy-footed Flower Bees. (I don't like to spoil the effect, but you can also make out the white car in the street beyond, for this is actually my front garden about 40 foot deep.)

    And here is the garden this week, the photo taken from a little further back, but oh how nature has burgeoned in the last month (I know it always happens, but I still find that foot-on-the-gas whoosh of growth quite exhilarating).

    The flowers you can see are the deep pink of Red Campion, the blues of a shade-loving Geranium (whose name eludes me - any suggestions welcomed!), the Lamium maculatum bottom left with the white stripe on the leaf (fantastic for bumblebees, even in shade), and in the background the white-topped fresh green of Jack-by-the-Hedge (Garlic Mustard) which self-seeds like mad, but the Green-veined Whites love it and I'm still hoping that Orange-tips will finally colonise after another male passed through the garden this year.

    Within a few weeks it will turn a little ragged and my attention will turn to my rather sunnier little back garden. But for now it is my oasis of calm - just as it was for my garden's first Whitethroat last week that I found hopping about on the woodland path, happily snatching insects. I was SO happy!

  • Excited by the monsters of the deep

    While visiting my parents in the Midlands last weekend (where I'll have you know I put in five rows of potatoes - oh yes, there was no slacking there!), I called in at my beloved Hidcote, the National Trust garden in the Cotswolds.

    I spent many hours wandering around, taking photos, and indulging in my usual observation of what wildlife was where in the garden.

    And, yes, there were Chiffchaffs and Bee-flies and various other birds and insects.

    But it was the lily pond that had me down on my belly on the water's edge, nose to the surface, engrossed in the action below, for the waters were crawling with monsters of the deep.

    The first were this guy and his mates. The photo is taken looking straight down through the water with him clinging to the side of the pond.

    It's a dragonfly nymph, maybe 2 inches (5cm) long. And while I don't claim to be a nymph expert (they can be pretty tricky to identify), I'm pretty certain it is an Emperor, with its rather long, stripy body and rounded face.

    This one and a dozen or so others were boldly stalking the pond sides, looking like something out of Doctor Who with their bulging vacant eyes.

    Emperor nymphs take two years to reach maturity, and this one is large enough to be in its second year and will hatch come June or July.

    But among them were even bigger monsters - these lovely brutes:

    They were rather deeper in the water, so the photo is not great, I apologise, but hopefully you can make out these Great Crested Newts.

    There are two here in the shot, seen from above, and hopefully you can make out on the lower one the large jaggedy crest all along the back. You can also see the warty skins and the almost luminous yellow splashes on his toes that are also characteristic. And the lower newt is just clambering over a dragonfly nymph, just to give you some sense of scale.

    If I ever needed a reminder of how exciting - and beneficial - ponds can be for wildlife, here it was. And as Iay there on the Hidcote pond edge, I was delighted to have several people stop by, ask me what I was doing (understandably, to see a grown man on his belly like that) and then get excited with me. Wildlife - it's pretty special, eh?