Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 20 March 2009

GBDW - Wild About My Garden


In contrast to last month's pets theme, Gardening Gone Wild's design feature for this month is Wildlife in the Garden. Whilst I didn't deliberately design a 'wildlife garden' per se when we moved here, the needs of wildlife was one of the things I did keep in mind. After all, I wanted a garden of year-round interest myself and by thinking about that, it only takes a small step for it to mean a year-round interest for birds, insects and other beasties too - my favourite visitors are the bats in the summer. As a result I've chosen many flowers loved by insects, especially bees and butterflies - eschewing double formed varieties of plants such as Echinacea as these aren't so attractive to them. Berried shrubs and trees mean food in the winter for birds - we currently have 37 species as regular visitors or spotted nearby - not bad and the list has steadily increased year on year.

My main philosophy however, has been to ensure the garden is attractive to the smaller beasties such as invertebrates. As a freshwater biologist in my third career, I became a firm believer in looking after the populations lower down the food chain: do this and the rest will follow. This means becoming a lazy slow gardener, such as not being too hasty in clearing away all those leaves in the autumn, as they make a marvellous garden mulch. At this point some of you will be throwing your hands up in horror and exclaiming 'slug and snail haven!' and yes you're right, but I also have some very fat frogs in the garden ready to pop out to gobble them all up and I love hearing the regular sound of thrushes using the gravel path as an anvil to crack open snail shells.

Slow gardening also means leaving most of the faded summer blooms in situ over winter rather than cutting them down, thus leaving lots of seeds for the smaller birds to feed on and many insect larvae hunker down for winter in the stems too. This has an added bonus since we've had the problem of squirrels nesting in the loft (remember - one person's nice attractive wildlife can be another's garden pest), it means I still have lots to feed the birds which, unlike the birdfeeders I'd been putting out regularly, don't feed the squirrels as well. Thus the squirrels have stopped nesting in the loft this year and I've only needed to use supplementary bird feeders when it's been extremely cold. An extra bonus has been lots more birds foraging in the central part of the garden this winter instead of sticking to the edges.

Shelter is also important - I use the garden prunings which are too thick for shredding to create small log piles which are then tucked away towards the back of the borders - these are attractive to insects such as beetles: most species are beneficial to the garden. The rotting log piles, garden leaves and compost bins in my garden means the microscopic garden populations - the fungi and bacteria - have plenty to thrive on, which in turn helps other invertebrates such as my lovely worms - the best garden helpers of all. The birds are currently taking up residence in the trees in and surrounding the garden, plus the Clematis cirrhosa 'Balearica' (a wren's nest in the latter) in a big way at the moment. My quest for shelter for all kinds of wildlife also means there's a good excuse for friends to give simple, but very welcome home-made birthday gifts such as the pictured ladybird (aka ladybug) and bee haven my friends S & L gave me last week. All you need is a thick slice of tree branch (apple in this instance) drilled with lots of inch deep holes plus two T shaped brackets fixed to the back for attaching it to the fence and you can have one too!

Apart from squirrels and smaller mammals such as mice and voles, I don't have the more 'gardener challenging' wildlife visitors such as foxes, rabbits, deer or badgers. Whilst I love seeing these animals (and most of them have been seen close by), their presence in my garden would be a test for my love of nature. This is currently happening on the allotment, where foraging badgers have taken a liking to crops such as sweetcorn!

If you would like to know more about wildlife gardening, The Wildlife Trust has a very good Wild About Gardens section on its website which also reminds us that gardens are an extremely important haven for wildlife as they form a nationwide patchwork of green areas much larger than all the land set aside in the UK as nature reserves. The RSPB also has lots wildlife gardening information here, including a look at the issue of unwanted garden visitors.

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop is hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.

21 comments:

  1. I like your slow gardening and am definitely a practitioner! We have badgers here in winter and they do challenge my love for wildlife. They can really create mayhem!
    I could also do with some more thrushes (or fewer snails).

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  2. I like the slow gardening philosophy. It's a great way to help the critters. The allotment badgers sound a lot like our raccoons, whose favorite feast is also sweet corn. I've heard that electrified fences are a big deterrent to them. The power is turned on a night & off in the morning. That probably isn't an option down on the allotment, so you might have to resort to caging (the corn, not the badgers).

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  3. I like your terminology: 'slow gardening'.
    A nice book, that's really worth the purchase (I bought it for about £ 8.00) is 'No nettles required - The Reassuring Truth About Wildlife Gardening' by Ken Thompson. It's easy to read, but very interesting... (I have a few articles on my blog about this book, but they're in Dutch unfortunately...)

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  4. Eek - I got my scheduling wrong and posted on the wrong day! Ah well, it's good to have your comments!

    Elizabethm - the badgers have also created mayhem up at the plant! I won't be growing sweetcorn this year...

    MMD - you're right, we don't have electricity up at the allotment so electric fencing's not the solution. I hear that caging isn't much help either as they just dig underneath them :(

    Anne - I'm so glad you mentioned this book :) I wanted to include it in my piece but felt my post was overlong already. It's one of my favourite books. I have his others too.

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  5. Oops - the badgers have created mayhem up at the plot, not the plant!

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  6. The more wildlife in the garden the better, even if some are more welcome than others. The badger appears to be visiting our allotments then popping into our garden for a final bout of hole digging. It's like having a visiting JCB digger and equally unstoppable.

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  7. I love that you have had 3 careers. How exciting. I think that people that always keep learning can never grow old : ).

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  8. A most thoughtful and informative post VP which I really enjoyed reading. Thank you :) So glad that you do not have squirrels nesting in your loft this year, as I understand that they can do great damage to electrics etc.

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  9. Good evening VP...if you're still up or good morning if you read this when you wake up~I do like the term slow gardening, too.... I am really slow to get around to clean up and there are plenty of leaves, seed heads, trees, bird houses, wood piles and walls for all manner of critters to live, find food and shelter. It certainly makes for a more interesting garden...gail

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  10. What an interesting, and informative, post.
    As you know I'm more than happy to encourage the wildlife on my plot, and that is as important to me as growing things!
    I'm most definitely a slow gardener, and have only just tidied up the plot having left everything over the winter!
    Enjoy the weekend! xx

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  11. I must remember to do my wildlife in the garden post. Found a dead Greenfinch on the bird feeder this morning - not pleasant to deal.
    Did you see the programme on BBC2 last night about Darwin's experiments with Jimmy someone (him of the pig farm)? I did smile when the snail expert referred to the Thrushes as murderers!!!!

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  12. great post! glad the squirrels are finding more hospitable roosts. the largest guest we have had here is a fox--who burnt the wind leaving once toddlers started stomping around the back porch!! since then the rabbits are slowly coming back. we have a young one in the hedge in front of the house.

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  13. This is a very interesting post. It's the first time I've heard the term slow gardening. Leaving the foliage and seed for wintering birds is an excellent practice as is attracting beneficial insects that prey on garden pests.

    I'm off to do some research on 'slow gardening'.
    Marnie

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  14. I also didn't set out to create a wildlife garden, but that's what it is. I think if you have a variety of plants you just attract wildlife because of the nectar, seeds, berries, cover, etc.

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  15. Hi VP. The most disruptive creatures on my plot are the moles, but they really do little harm and I love them. I'd like to think I'd feel the same way if we had badgers...

    Thanks for the Wildlife Trust link, I've added it to the allotment society resource list. Another good guide is this one from Natural England.

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  16. I'm growimg lots of flowers for the 'nice' insects and sunflowers for the birds next winter. Also I have a bug B&B which is a bit poor at present but I will improve the area in time. http://growourown.blogspot.com/2009/01/other-stuff.html
    Also, if I can find the time I'd love a little pond, though I don't think we're really aloud so shhh!.

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  17. EG - after your squirrel saga, I'm expecting detailed posts about your JCB badger very soon

    Life with Kaishon - that's my philosophy exactly

    Anna - thankfully they were a little better behaved than that and kept to the loft insulation!

    Gail - it was morning and it'll be early morning for you right now! I love how easy it is to make our gardens OK for wildlife - for me its a built-in thing to do :)

    Flighty - glad you enjoyed it, especially as I see you've been posting about fox newton at the same time :)

    PG - that's sad, but it happens. I see you've done your post now, I enjoyed it :)

    Petoskystone - luckily for us the rabbits keep to the land a few hundred yards from the house. The only rabbit we've had in the garden was when next door's pet one escaped!

    Roses and Lilacs - welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the post and it's inspired you to research further :)

    Monica - absolutely.

    Simon - we had a mole at our previous house - our previous cat caught it :( Thanks for another great link :)

    Carrie - your secret's safe with me, but why wouldn't it be allowed? Is it because of health and safety? If so, I think there are design work arounds that can be used...

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  18. yep, health and safety ruins all the fun! I'll get around it somehow, there shall be water on my site!! Do I sound convincing, I'm not good at breaking the rules :)

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  19. Hi Cariie - thanks for getting back here! There are ways around it if H&S the issue e.g. fencing it off, covering the pond with netting so that people don't fall in etc etc.

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  20. Sorry it's taken me so long to get here, VP; you know how hectic spring can be. I'm so glad you shared this post for the GGW Design Workshop. You make a good point that attracting wildlife isn't necessarily a matter of doing *more* work: it can actually be *less* work!

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  21. Hi Nan - your visit is always welcome and it's a busy time here too!

    I'm glad you picked up on this - everyone thinks that wildlife gardening needs lots of work, it often just needs some slightly different choices to be made and a relaxed attitude towards the gardening tasks. The latter means you get to enjoy the garden more too :)

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