November, 2014

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!
  • Birds clearly know their berries

    I thought I’d do a quick ‘photo audit’ of what is in flower and fruit in my new garden at the moment and the answer is…not a lot!

    Of course, that makes me very happy because I know I can make a huge difference in the years to come.

    On the flower front, White Dead-nettles are having a late flush of flower.

    Notice the leaf-mine in the big lower leaf, looking like a wiggly pale trail. I suspect this is an active mine, in which the larvae of a tiny leaf-mining fly is munching the narrow layer between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf.

    There is a bit of Feverfew.

    And that’s it flower-wise!

    On the fruit front, the Kiwi fruit are resolutely rock hard.

     While the Tutsan berries don’t seem to be flavour of the month for wildlife.

    But the thing that intrigued me was this: a red-berried Pyracantha heaving with berries.

    Yet next to my driveway is an orange-berried Pyracantha that has almost been stripped bare by Blackbirds and Blackcaps. These were the last few berries I could find still on the large bush.

    What do the birds know that we don’t?! The literature might suggest that, in general, red berries are taken before orange on all sorts of plants. But clearly in my garden there is something quite distasteful about the red-berried kind, even though they look perfectly ripe.

    I’d love to hear your theories as to what might be putting the birds off. I will be watching with interest to see if and when the birds finally deign to eat them!

  • An alternative to Ivy

    One of the staple ways of giving nature a home in small gardens is to grow climbers. Given the lack of space, it is a brilliant way of using vertical bare surfaces and filling them with foliage and flowers, with all the benefits that that brings.

    But one question I'm often asked is what alternatives are there to Ivy - it might be a brilliant plant for wildlife but those aerial roots can be a right menace to your brickwork and mortar.

    One plant family that is well worth considering is Clematis, but while so many of them may have saucer-sized flowers, they never seem to attract a single pollinator.

    Here, then, are two that you might like to consider that are proven attractors of wildlife.

    The first is the 'orange-peel' clematis, Clematis tangutica, from eastern Asia, that has these really attractive waxy flowers, which are followed by gloriously tufty seed heads. This one I photographed in late September still pulling in the Honeybees.

    The other is Clematis rehderiana, again from China. This one is in my garden, and in early autumn it is harder to find a plant with more pull for bumblebees and Honeybees. The flowers may bee subtle in tone and form but, en masse, I think this is a real winner.

    Do you have any climbers which you recommend for wildlife?

  • Who's been eating my fungi?

    Last week I bemoaned the lack of fungi in my new garden.

    So what then happens? Barely a couple of days later, I was probing deep under the canopy of a Holm Oak and found about five mushroom-type toadstools, big ones, the size of a saucer. Excellent - my garden isn't quite the fungal desert I thought it was.

    I must photograph those, I thought, so I came back the next day with my camera and they were gone! You ought to have felt the wave of confusion that came over me. Had I dreamt it? After all, I awoke the night-before-last thinking there was a Hedgehog moving about on my pillow.

    But, no, I was sure they had been there. As I looked more closely, I realised that something else had taken a shine to my toadstools. Look closely at the photo and you can make out little bits of the cap while top right is the uneaten 'stalk' sat on a leaf, technically called the 'stipe'.

    It's always good to play the nature detective, but on this occasion there weren't many suspects to consider. Badgers are fungi foragers but I have yet to see any evidence of them in the garden. Hedgehogs aren't particularly prone to mushroom munching. Wood Mice and other rodents might have a nibble but wouldn't polish off giant toadstools in this way. So the finger is pointed firmly at my Foxes.

    It was a reminder that in creating a garden that offers food for wildlife, it is easy to think of nectar and pollen for bees and berries for birds, but much of the rest of nature's harvest, from leaves to wood and from roots to fungi are all on the menu for different creatures.