A walk on the wildlife side...
One of the things I love most about working here at The Garden House is the incredible variety of wildlife which I have seen throughout the year. It is always educational, inspirational and humbling. There is nothing better than picking up an old log from the ground and looking to see what is scuttling away. Sometimes, you only spot wee beasties when out of the corner of your eye you can see something skulking over your shoulder. It’s not always a good thing mind you, there is nothing worse for me than taking my uniform off at the end of the day and a spider crawls out from the crumpled heap on the floor. My first response is always to freak out then the second is to question how long it has been there. Perfectly reasonable reactions in my opinion. None of this squishing business though, if I can catch it then it goes back outside where it belongs. I have seen many creepy crawlies, slithering serpents and flying fiends which were new to me at the start of the year and in this month’s blog I will share them with you all.
As gardeners, we do our best not to disturb wildlife and to encourage diversity through our gardens by creating spaces such as wildflower patches, ponds and woodlands. Later on, in this blog I will talk some more about what you can do in your garden to encourage wildlife in. With so many photographs of wildlife to choose from, I have decided to only include a few, most of which are my own but a couple have been donated by my colleagues. I have tried my best to correctly identify and name these animals but if any reader knows the correct name for one, please do let us know. These photographs were all taken in the garden and as a small disclaimer: all animals were put back if handled and left alone after the picture was taken.
Some Garden House Wild Things!
Red Admiral Butterfly spotted in the Walled Garden, Aug 2018 ©jwright 2. European Hornet spotted near the Wildflower meadow, Sep 2018 ©jwright 3. Common Toad spotted in the polytunnels, Oct 2018 ©jwright 4. Violet Ground Beetle spotted in the Dell, Mar 2019 ©jwright 5. Ducklings with their mother by the Arboretum pond, Apr 2019 ©jwright 6. Slow worm found near the compost heap, Jun 2019 ©jwright 7. Common lizard spotted in the polytunnels, Jun 2019 ©nhaworth
Frequently, it is the plants that we don’t enjoy being in our gardens that our native wildlife love having around. There is a tendency in Britain to view many wildflowers as weeds which technically if they are growing in the wrong place then they are. Nevertheless, many creatures don’t agree with us and don’t hold the same prejudices about plant location. They are just happy to have a meal nearby. Many wildflowers are beautiful and can make fantastic additions to a border or a garden space. As a society in the 21st century where so many things are changing around us faster than ever, we need to be prepared to change and adapt long held views on our gardens and include native species which were pushed the side-lines in the 20th century. Climate change and the environment around us have changed dramatically in recent years and so many native British species of plants and animals are under threat like never before. We need to create more and more spaces which can become a home for these species.
That being said, I am also a huge advocate of using non-invasive, non-native plant species which are pollinator plants. What I mean by this for example is the use of Buddleja globosa or Orange ball Buddleja which is native to Chile, Peru and Argentina but is an amazing pollinator plant for butterflies and bees that can be used in borders to give late summer colour. A garden shouldn’t be boring. Otherwise no one would even consider creating one so it is extremely important to maintain that wow factor that draws people in. It is a myth that our native bees and butterflies will be happier with native plants. Non-native plants are just as important and can potentially be more beneficial in an area. A native British plant isn’t going to be any help if you put it in an area of the British Isles that it doesn’t naturally grow and may do more harm than good. The animal life endemic to your area won’t find it as attractive as the animals which have evolved to live with it and non-native species may be better pollinator plants for certain insects.
In the case of butterflies and bees, nettles play a huge role and it is usually a safe bet to plant or keep around. Urtica dioica or the common stinging nettle can be found throughout the British Isles. It is more often than not pulled out by gardeners as a weed. It is aptly named because of the stinging hairs on its leaves which can leave a nasty rash. It appears from early spring right through to the end of Autumn and its small purple flowers appear from May onward. I think this is such an underrated plant as it has so many uses: it attracts caterpillars, it can be used as a plant fertiliser, it can be used in culinary dishes such as soup and tea. Fun fact: nettles are sometimes used to stimulate blood flow by flogging- Urtication.
In this picture (right) Kniphofia is pictured with Eryngium. This picture was taken in the walled garden. The native species of Eryngium maritimum, Sea Holly, can be found in the south of the British Isles where it grows near coastal paths, sandy dunes and shingle beaches. All Eryngium species and cultivars like free draining soil in full sun. This coastal plant has relatives all over the world with species hailing from the Pyrenees, the Caucasus, central Europe and Argentina. They attract butterflies, solitary bees and honeybees to their flowers which come in varying shades of purple, blue and grey. Eryngium and Kniphofia can often be spotted in the same area of a garden. This is because they both love growing in the same conditions and provide a fantastic contrast to each other. Kniphofia species are native to South Africa. In addition to being a pollinator plant for bees and butterflies they can provide a home for ladybirds. House sparrows as well as blue tits have learnt to visit their flowers for nectar.
Gardening for wildlife can be as simple as increasing the number of plant species in your garden or leaving a strip of grass in your lawn unmown but it can also be a lot more complex and a lot more fun. Here are some things that you can do in your garden:
Bug House or Hotel: This is a classic and I think every kid should make one of these. You can make one for your garden or if you aren’t a crafty person then you can buy them in most garden centres. The idea is to build a home for all sorts of creepy crawlies to live in for example bees, wasps, woodlice and spiders. They can be made from wood, metal and concrete but using natural materials is recommended such as chopped up bamboo canes tied together with string.
Bird feeders, bird boxes and bird baths: Another classic and a British pastime. Feeding birds throughout the year helps keep numbers from dropping in your local area and providing a shallow pool of water for birds to drink from in hot summers will attract more and more birds to your garden. Something to think through before you go out and buy bird boxes and feeders though is what type of birds do you already have in your garden; this may take some research on your part. Different birds need different boxes. Another thing to consider is whether or not you have any pets especially cats but on occasion dogs can be just as guilty. Inviting birds into your garden may just end up becoming a free meal for your pet or even your neighbours!
Build a pond: Ponds are one of the best ways to draw wildlife to your garden. They don’t need to be overly deep and even a shallow bath filled with water can be useful. However, I wouldn’t recommend any open sources of water if you have children. Always better safe than sorry. Ponds draw in all sorts of creatures from frogs, toads, newts, snakes, dragonflies, butterflies, damselflies, lizards, pond skaters and birds.
Every so often I come across something special in the garden which is so indicative of the rich diversity of wildlife we have here. This month, with the temperatures rising and the sunny days we have been having. The bees in the garden have been more active and occasionally begin to swarm. This isn’t an issue; they normally settle in an area for a while and move on again. This is why if you ever visit us and see an orange cone blocking off a path then you can almost be certain the bees are on the move. Sometimes, they leave behind a little something for us to find such as this semi-constructed hive on one of crab apples in June.
Well, I hope you have all enjoyed this month’s blog and I hope you can come visit us soon. For now, Au revoir, Auf Wiedersehen and Arrivederci!
RHS Website: https://www.rhs.org.uk/
Gardening for wildlife RSPB by Adrian Thomas
Companion to Wildlife Gardening by Chris Baines
The Wildlife Gardener by Kate Bradbury