November, 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!
  • Don't they grow up fast...!

    The activity we'd love everyone to think of doing in their gardens this winter is to plant a tree. It's one of the best things anyone can ever do for nature.

    Now I know that some of you will have as many trees as your garden can reasonably support. But if you do have space and your reason not for planting is either to do with the cost or you are worried that it sounds difficult, on both counts I'd love to show you what's possible.

    The thing is that, in winter, you have the option of planting trees bare-rooted. The tree nursery digs them up, shakes all the soil off, and pops them in the post in a bag.

    This means that they're easy to handle and much, much cheaper than if you bought one in a pot.

    And it really is little more than then digging a hole and popping it in.

    The reason why bare-root planting is possible is because deciduous trees are inactive at this time of year; the roots are dozing.

    Here I am planting an Alder tree on 16 March this year, and very serious I look about it, too. I'm checking that I'm planting it at the same depth as it was growing in the nursery, so that the roots aren't above the ground nor the stem beneath the ground (where it might rot).

    At this point, it was 1.56m tall (just over 5 feet).

    Here it is yesterday, 8 months later and about 3.2m (over 10 feet) tall.

    Now not all trees will put on a growth spurt quite as dramatic as that in year one, but it shows what is possible. And even if your heart says you want to buy a big tree because you want instant effect, I always say 'buy small' because it is so much easier to get established, and pretty soon it will be shooting for the stars.

    And there are really only three other key pieces of advice:

    • stake a newly planted so that it doens't fall over - those roots haven't had chance to steady themselves. Stake it about a third of the way up - you do want the upper half of the tree to sway about and thus get some strength in its trunk
    • keep it well watered in year 1, especially in dry spells
    • and don't let those tree roots dry out, even though they're asleep - the tree should be out of the bag and into the ground in a jiffy.

    Job done!

  • Looking backwards...and forwards

    On Wednesday, I had what I think will probably be the last dragonfly of the year at my pond.

    It was a male Common Darter, with his blood-red body and red flash near the tip of each wing (that marking is called a 'pterostigma' which, if my Latin is correct, just means wing mark!).

    He was clearly feeling a little bit chilly - with only a low November sun to warm him, his engines weren't fired up for much in the way of flying, and that allowed me to get eyeball to eyeball.

    Only a face a mother could love, en?

    At this scale, you can see the thousands of facets that make up each eye. Each tiny lens faces in a slightly different direction, and we still don't know how the dragonflies' tiny brains manage to compute so many different images at once.

    Indeed, the wrap-around eyes even have lenses facing backwards, so a dragonfly can still see you if you approach him (or her) from behind.

    The eyes can even see ultraviolet light, which we can't.

    But his life and those of his generation is now over. Their job is done and, like so many insects, the adults now succumb to the cold and wet. They have made their investment for the future, and now put their faith for the future in the eggs and larvae they have left behind. These will emerge in 2017 with only instinct rather than parents to guide them.

    And they have all the joys to come of having wrap-around eyes.

  • The advance of the Roundheads

    I've said it before and there's a good chance I'll say it again - gardens are AMAZING places for learning about wildlife...and life!

    My latest discovery was today in a part of my garden that is due to eventually be a Bee Border. However, this year it has just had a covering of wood chippings from last winter's tree work. And it is through these, prompted by the recent rain, that a little green army has risen up.

    You can see why it grabbed my attention. How often do you see turquoise toadstools?!

    After a little bit of rooting around in books and the internet, I'm pretty sure they are Blue Roundheads Stropharia caerulea.

    My Collins Photoguide to Fungi says "blue green but fading yellowish; sticky".

    Yep, that looks about right. (They are so sticky that a tiny fly had actually got caught on one of the caps and succumbed in the gloop.)

    It also says that the stipe (that's the posh name for the stalk of a toadstool) should have erect white scales on its lower half.


    And where can it be found? "Mulched flowerbeds in parks and gardens." I think that firmly hits the nail on the roundhead.

    So my garden has allowed me to learn yet something else new. It even prompted me to go off on a tangent and fill in a glaring gap in my historical knowledge about the Roundheads and Oliver Cromwell. I blame my comprehensive education. Or perhaps it was just my fixation towards history that had 'natural' in front of it...