October, 2016

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!
  • The Wildlife-friendly Garden in November

    It has been an incredibly dry autumn in many parts of the country, as a 'blocking high' (as the meteorologists say) has held the usual Atlantic gales at bay.

    As a result, I've been having to water my pot plants and new lawn when I was expecting nature to do the job for me, and my pond remains resolutely three-quarters full when I was expecting to see it lapping the margins.

    The conditions seem to have made the autumn colours especially radiant. Our native trees may not quite pack the punch that the Red Maples do in Canada, but I still love the intense yellows of Field Maple (below) and the flush of red in Wild Cherry against the mute deep purple of Dogwood.

    As the last bumblebees, red admiral butterflies and common darter dragonflies finally concede that it's time to let winter take over, thoughts in the garden turn to some of winter's big tasks.

    • In the vegetable patch it is time to start digging. (Respect to those who have mastered the art of the 'no dig' method). It opens up the soil, which relieves compaction and stops the soil getting waterlogged, and next year the plant roots will have a much easier task as they probe downwards.

    • It's time to get tree planting, and that extends to shrubs and hedges, because this is the season when you can buy many of them bare-rooted. They're much, much cheaper, and you have no great root balls to manoeuvre (your back will be glad to hear).

    • Doing nothing! Ah, yes, my favourite November activity. I know the urge is to tidy tidy tidy, but just because a flower has gone over doesn't mean that you can't find something to admire in the colour and structure of the seedheads. Like a faded movie star, the frost-flecked remains are so much more appealing than a bare bed, plus will be home to all sorts of hibernating insects and their eggs.

  • What to do when nature offers you gold

    I'm sat at my desk with a view out into the garden, and every few seconds a golden leaf detaches itself from my Cornus kousa tree and flutters wistfully down to the ground beneath. I love autumn!

    It brings to mind a neighbour I once had who liked nothing more than using a large kind of Ghostbuster suction machine to hoover his leaves up.

    There's a good reason for doing so on lawns, for they can so shroud the turf beneath that the grass can turn yellow and sickly.

    What troubles me, though, is that he would then throw the leaves in with the rubbish. To me, that's akin to burning money, because what nature is doing is offering something wonderful for free. As many of you will know, decomposed leaves form a brilliant 'soil conditioner'.

    It is called 'leaf mould'. I've been careful there not to use the word 'compost', because leaf mould isn't stuffed full of nutrients in the way that manure or normal garden compost is. Instead, it is packed with cellulose and lignin, and once it is a year or two old, it can be mixed with soil to improve its structure, used to make perfect peat-free potting compost, or laid as an attractive dark mulch.

    So this month's Giving Nature a Home activity is all about creating leaf mould. It really is as simple as raking them up and putting them in a bin bag with a few drainage holes poked in it.

    However, to make it even more friendly to wildlife, I've made a simple leaf mould bin, with wire sides, but with enough gap at the bottom for anything that wants to get in for a rootle around or a gentle snooze to do so.

    Sure, a few leaves work their way out at the bottom, but I can cope with that. It is important there are no jaggy bits of wire to snag the backs of wildlife going in and out, but it's something that can easily be knocked up in a spare hour.

    Once made, Toads, Slow-worms, Hedgehogs and even Field Voles will all grab the opportunity to get inside.

    All you have to do is a bit of raking (great for the abdominals) and toss the leaves in.


  • I didn't expect autumn's colours to be blue

    Back in the summer, I presented the 'stick trick' - erect a stick in or near a pond in a sunny position and there is every chance that it will be commandeered by a dragonfly as a launch pad.

    But I can't deny that in the back of my mind I had a vague hope - no, let's call it a dream - that one day something even more spectacular might use it.

    Sometimes, you know, dreams come true.

    Yes, I realised that my chances were higher than most because I pushed the boat out (almost literally) and made as big a pond as I could. But, nevertheless, my garden is still in the middle of a town with no river or stream within more than half a mile as the Kingfisher flies.

    So quite how it found my pond I don't know, but it just shows that almost anything is possible in gardens.

    I like the front of a Kingfisher, but I have to say I'm even more fond of the rear view. Backwards and forwards it went, diving into the pond repeatedly but always coming back to its stick.

    Although the light was fading, you can perhaps work out what it was finding to eat...

    Yes, large dragonfly nymphs, in what is only a nine-month old pond.

    So nature is already fleshing out the foodchains - the pond was colonised naturally by tiny invertebrates in the spring, which fed the dragonfly nymphs, which are now food for the master fisher of all.

    And who'd have thought a simple stick would have played such a large part in it?