April, 2015

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!
  • No-one explained to nature about windows...

    This last few weeks there has been little tapping noises going on all over the house.

    The 'culprit' was my resident Blue Tit, aggrieved to find a rival Blue Tit right in the heart of his territory. Everywhere my Blue Tit went around the house, it would find its competitor popping up. Each time my Blue Tit went on the attack, the other would fight back.

    Yes, the curse of reflections had struck, something that evolution hasn't prepared most creatures for. Unwitting male birds find their posturing is matched by their opponent who seems equally matched and unwilling to back down. It's so confusing!

    So when I heard the tap-tap-tap last week, I thought Mr Blue Tit was up to it again. But no, it was this little fella getting annoyed:

    If you haven't worked out who it is, perhaps if I show a flight shot you'll get a better idea of who it was:

    Yes, a Long-tailed Tit; check out those wonderfully pinky shoulders.

    Of course, the issue of reflections is only a small part of nature's window problems. The biggie is the number of deaths as birds fly into them - so-called bird-strikes. These photos were making me think that I ought to wash my windows, but on second thoughts, until I get my bird of prey silhouettes up, I'll leave them be!

    Birds saved; time saved - perfect!

  • Succumbing to the urge to grow

    I promised myself that I wouldn't plant anything this year, the first year of creating my new garden. This year was going to be one for clearing, assessing, laying out the structure and getting rid of the pernicious weeds.

    However, the urge within me to grow is so strong that I've succumbed. I don't know if you suffer from it too - it is that sheer joy of planting something, nurturing it and seeing the glories that can arise from such humble beginnings.

    So first of all I allowed myself to plant some bare-rooted rambling roses, justifying it on the basis that the sooner they go in, the sooner they'll begin to do good for nature.

    I'm training three roses up a trio of leylandiis which I left in place when most of the others came out this winter. I had them heavily pruned to reduce the risk of windblow, and they're ugly things, but I knew that really vigorous ramblers which will hopefully cover them in just a few years.

    I chose ramblers that have single flowers and also have a good chance of bearing hips, so I went for American Pillar, Rosa helenae and one called Cupid, so I should have a mixture of muted red, white and a fleshy pink respectively.

    There is so much to do in the garden that anything I do grow this year needs to be quick and easy, so for a thin bed in front of the garage, I'm just going to put some sunflowers and intersperse them with one of the best butterfly plants there is, Verbena bonariensis.

    The sunflowers have gone into individual pots filled with peat-free compost - I like to start them off indoors, in large part to keep them away from those pesky snails and slugs while they're seedlings.

    The Verbena has gone into seedtrays. It can be a devil to get to germinate, but will then hopefully self-seed once it is out in the garden.

    This is one of those fine seeds that I personally like to use the wet-pencil trick to sow. I just dip the end of the pencil in a saucer of water and then pick up one seed at a time so I can sow them evenly across a seedtray.

    Look at the state of my hands! There's nothing like getting in a bit of a mess while you're giving nature a home.

  • A little something for the future

    This last winter, tree surgeons cleared over 70 trees from the garden I have just taken on, which on the face of it sounds like ecological sacrilege. However, with over 30 of them being giant leylandii already starting to fall onto neighbouring properties and the rest being an impenetrable tangle of sick and untended fruit trees, no longer bearing fruit, it was a job that had to be done.

    The extra light will now allow ground flora to flourish and the remaining trees to grow healthily.

    However, I did want to put back some trees into the larger gaps and add to the diversity of tree species in the garden. So I managed to grab a window just before the end of March to plant 17 bare-rooted trees, a mix of Silver Birch, Aspen, Wych Elm, Larch, Alder Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn (the latter two fro Brimstone butterfly caterpillars) and Scots Pine.

    So, for today's blog, let's cut down the words and go to a photo story instead!

    1. Dig the hole.

    2. Check the planting depth of the tree in the hole, to ensure the ground level now will be the same as when the tree was at the nursery beds. I use a cane across the hole to check this.

    3. Hammer in a stake at 45 degrees on the windward side of the hole. I do this before I plant the tree so that I know I'm not damaging the roots.

    4. I like to add some mycorrhizal fungi granules over the roots to aid growth. It's amazing to think that we didn't know anything about this powerful relationship between trees and underground fungal networks until only a couple of decades ago.

    5. Firm it in so that the tree is steady but not so that you have pummelled all the air out of the ground. I use my toe rather than my heel. Use a rubber stake-tie in a figure of eight to attach the tree to the stake but without risk of rubbing.

    Eh voila, with regular watering in year one hopefully these new trees will grow, prosper, provide a home for wildlife, and still be there for decades and decades.

    The season for planting bare-rooted trees is pretty much now over, but it is still possible to plant pot-grown trees in the same way. And I tell you, the sense of satisfaction is HUGE!