On my recent writing retreat to Norfolk, I dropped in at a garden that is in the midst of a five year restoration. It is at a place called Holkham Hall where they have 6.5 acres of walled garden, originally created in the late 1700s.
I visited on a warm late September day and the thing that it really reminded me was how much time and effort is required to restore a garden that had for a long time been a bed of brambles and nettles.
Here is one of the new herbaceous beds: see how sparse it still looks, how much bare ground there is.
...this one even more so
These beds will look magnificent in a couple of years' time. And they are full of plants that I can see are going to be insect heaven, But right now it is all about those three magic ingredients - time, patience and belief.
There is an interesting conundrum here - would this have been a better garden for wildlife if it had been left as Brambles and Nettles? Certainly, any creature that relies on those two plant species will have less of a home now than it did originally. But the scientific evidence that we have is that, as a general rule, a well-tended, plant-rich garden, if full of flowers that are pollen and nectar rich and which bear seeds and fruit, will have a greater diversity of life than an abandoned garden.
If you are still developing your garden to be a better home for nature, I hope you've still got some of those magic ingredients - nature really repays in spades if you do.
Well, phew!, hello everyone. After two years of weekly blogging, I've just been AWOL for three weeks as I encountered something I never have before - life filled beyond the brim.
In my day job with RSPB, the project I've been managing - helping the Environment Agency undertake the largest realignment of the open coast ever undertaken in Britain - has been reaching conclusion. It's nothing to do with gardening, but is all about giving nature a home, so you might like to see a short time-lapse piece of the breach taking place here or the little video I made about it here.
And in my spare time I've been volunteer editing a new 600-page book about the birds of Sussex.
So what about my beloved gardening? Well, I've been writing about it for the RSPB's magazine, and my monthly column in Garden Answers. But you can imagine my angst at not being able to do hardly anything else!
But at least I managed an hour to check out Piet Oudolf's garden at Pensthorpe nature reserve in Norfolk. For anyone who isn't familiar with the name Piet Oudolf, he is hailed as the most influential garden designer of the last 25 years because of his use of plants. In fact, like in art, he is even part of a movement - the 'New Perennial' movement.
And I love it because it happens to be rather good for wildlife too.
Probably best if I jump straight to a couple of photos I took:
Yes, this was early October, and look at all the flowers for pollinators (eg Persicarias, Echinacea, Sedums) and all the grass seeds and all the structure for things to hide in. I love it.
And these are the types of plant that can then be left standing as frost-capped seedheads all winter, providing ongoing shelter and food for wildlife.
There are beds designed by Piet at places such as Wisley (Surrey), Scampston Hall (Yorkshire) and the Serpentine Galley (London).
But it's something that can be tried, albeit on a smaller scale, in most gardens, with the right plants grown in drifts and blocks, interspersed with grasses.
Have you tried it? Do you like the look of it? Let me know.