Gardening for wildlife

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!
  • Slowly stirring the rich pot of life

    I do have mixed feelings about this time of year. On the one hand, I'm eager for spring to really show its hand, feel the warmth of the sun, and be surrounded by an explosion of life. On the other hand, I don't want to rush it and spring be half way through before I've even had chance to appreciate it.

    So today I thought I'd head out into my garden and just enjoy those little signals that spring is starting to stir life's rich pot.

    Great Tits and Goldfinches were singing, there was a Smooth Newt moving in torpid slow motion in the bottom of the pond that yesterday had been frozen over.

    But I turned my attention to plants.

    The most visible change in the last couple of weeks has been the lengthening and colouring up of the creamy lambs' tails of the Hazel catkins.

    These are the male flowers, masses of them in each catkin, shaking their pollen into the air. Close up, each is like a little felt cap over the dangling stamens.

    But this is where I urge you to really go into the detail, walk up to a Hazel tree, admire those catkins up close, and then notice the female flowers, barely a few millimetres long, like little sea anemones poking their red tentacles out.

    In my garden, I have another small tree that is in subtle flower at this time of year - the Cornus mas from southern Europe, pre-empting the yellow to come from the daffodils. It will have berries later in the year for the birds.

    But the real fire at this time of year is from the Witch Hazel, Hamamelis.

    With daytime temperatures under ten degrees Centigrade, I struggled to find a single flying insect out and about, but trhat's as it should be. As that sun climbs ever higher day by day, its heat will further stoke the fire, and that pot of life will begin to bubble.

  • A garden full of Mumruffins

    My garden is currently alive with Mumruffins.

    Maybe you come from Nottingham and call them Bum Barrels, or from Norfolk and call them Pudding Bags, but I'm from Worcestershire so Mumruffins it will stay.

    In a birdbook you're stuck with the rather more prosaic Long-tailed Tit, and I have to say I have a rather soft spot for them.

    A troupe of about a dozen - which will be an extended family party - passes through my garden most days, but of late they have become constant companions.

    The number of times they return to the feeders, maybe once every half an hour, reveals why they are so dependable recently. And what they love more than anything is to cluster inside the fat feeder and gorge on fatty nibbles. Up to seven can squeeze in at a time, but here are three.

    They have recently taken to eating sunflower hearts as well, and for this they need to take one seed at a time in their tiny bills and fly off to a nearby branchlet where they then hang upside down clutching the seed in one foot in order to hammer little fragments off it.

    They even visit the peanut feeder, and here you can see just how tiny and short their wings are, and how flexible that incredibly long tail is when they fly.

    During the breeding season they construct their incredible domed nest from feathers, lichen and spider silk, the origin of the Pudding Bag and Bum Barrel names. The female alone incubates the eggs, and squeezed into the dome her tail can get permanently curved during the hours of sitting.

    But now in February it is just a case of enjoying their bubbly little personalities, always in conversation with other with calls that erupt into 'sirrut sirrut' when anxious and an even more petrified 'seeee-seeee-seeee' when the Sparrowhawk appears.

    Little Mumruffins, eh?!

  • Don't delay, plant a tree today!

    Of all the decisions to make in a garden, the one I always think should not be put off is the question of planting trees.

    Certainly the decision should be carefully considered, because the wrong tree in the wrong place can provide real headaches down the line.

    But the right trees in the right places are such a winner for wildlife that you really will make a difference for nature by doing so.

    And the problme is that every year spend dithering about whether to go ahead is another year lost.

    There are certain things that seem to put people off from planting trees:

    1. a feeling that it must be difficult and that you need green fingers
    2. a sense that it is expensive
    3. and a concern that they grow so slowly that you just won't get pleasure out of it.

    So let's tackle those in turn.

    1. In my experience, trees are one of the easiest of plants to grow. Put them in small and it is little more than digging a hole, plonking it in, maybe giving it a water in its first year, and that's about it.
    2. Bare-rooted trees are incredibly cheap, and mean you don't have to lug great pots around. They must be planted in the dormant season, so there is still about six weeks to do it.

    And for point 3, I thought I'd share some photos of some of my trees that I've planted over the past couple of years in my garden to give you a sense that actually some trees can reward you very, very quickly indeed, growing up at an incredible rate.

    So here I am planting an Alder sapling in March 2016 in a rather damp part of the garden. I think it cost me about a fiver plus P&P.

    I'd quite like it to attract Siskins and Redpolls one day. But it is easy to be downbeat and think that it will be 10 or 20 years before that is possible.

    But here it is today, 2 February 2018, two growing seasons in.

    I love the speed with which birches grow, too. Here's my big Silver Birch after three growing seasons.

    I spent £20 on this one and bought one 1.5 m (5 foot) tall. It is now 5.4 m (18 foot) tall. (I measure them every year!).

    It is not just height that gives you the sense they are developing quickly. Here are my little Silver Birches which I planted two years ago in a clump of three, which are already beginning to develop their gorgeous bark, and have had catkins and seeds.

    So certainly think things through well, and don't plant a tree that will ultimately grow too big for its location, or will interfere with yours or neighbours foundations or underground services, or cast too much shade.

    But there is a tree for every garden, and on our webpage I've included some ideas of possible trees for different sized gardens.

    So get planting while there's still chance this season, and it will become a new and treasured friend in the garden, for you and for wildlife.