Attracting wildlife.

wildlife

You need an organic garden to attract a wide range of wildlife. But you also need wildlife to create an organic garden. We do not think one can exist without the other.

wildlife  pond

We have been living on our plot of land for almost three years now. When we first moved in we only made the house liveable, and concentrated most of our efforts on the garden. Our land was encircled by a huge thick laylandii hedge that blocked out all light and did nothing to support wildlife. We cut it down and replaced it with espaliered apple trees, oak and beech hedging and a lot of mixed trees and shrubs. It was a very important first step in attracting wildlife and we used the trunks for structures in the garden and all the smaller branches for mulch on paths and planting areas.

red oak

One of the first things we did was create a big wildlife friendly pond. We are very happy this year as at least one hundred young newts are living in it now, along with dragonfly-nymphs, water-beetles, frogs, toads and whirligig-beetles. On one side the pond has a pebbled beach, for easy access in and out of the water and on the other side it has a bog-garden filled with moisture loving flowers and plants where frogs and toads like to hop around. The pond has been dug right next to an old stone wall and it is a great place for many creatures to hide or hibernate.

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wildlife newt

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pond wall

As every gardener knows, to successfully grow vegetables and flowers or just about anything, you need to avoid too many slugs, snails, greenfly and red spider mites, to name but a few. We do not wish to use any chemicals in our garden so the natural way to deal with these so called pests, is to attract as much beneficial wildlife as possible. We grow a lot of flowers and shrubs that pollinating insects like and when they are drawn to our garden because of the flowers, they also pollinate our crops. We encourage bats and birds by putting up nest boxes and feeding them all year around.

sedum

wildlife september flowers

Perennial fennel is lovely for culinary purposes and our plant is so big that there is more than enough for us as well as the birds who eat the seeds all through winter. We also grow teasels, a plant much loved by gold and bull finches. This year we had a big area that had been covered by old thatch from a roof so nothing was growing there. In the spring we threw out a lot of flax seed from the health food shop along with some phacelia seeds across the space and a few months later we had a beautiful haven for pollinating insects.

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wildlife september teasel

flax and phacelia

We cannot imagine our garden without wildlife, there are all the practical benefits but also so much beauty to admire and enjoy. We love looking at newts and beetles swimming in the pond and birds nesting and eating in the garden. Not to mention the very special time our bats scooped over the pond in total silent one summers night and the only proof they were drinking, were the slight ripples in the moonlit surface of the pond.

Creating a wildlife haven.

 fern frond

Although most of our garden is on the wild side, it is divided into a few different areas. We have a herb-garden, filled with medicinal and culinary herbs, a small woodland, a kitchen garden for mainly annual vegetables and a large area dedicated to wildlife. We try to include useful plants for ourselves and for wildlife in all of these areas but we believe the wilder part and the small woodland has the biggest benefit for all the animals. We have two ponds with adjacent bog gardens with a large, rather waterlogged area in between. It was covered with creeping buttercup and couch grass up until last spring, and we decided we wanted a more varied habitat so we covered the whole area with a double layer of cardboard boxes and some soil on top and sowed a lot of native wildflower seeds. Unfortunately, as soon as the lovely little seedlings became visible, our army of slugs munched them all up and we re-sowed the area a few times but to no avail. We then decided to go for a slightly different approach and added mints, foxgloves, teasels, lavenders, hollyhocks, mallows, geums and other perennial plants, already at a size too big for the slugs to completely decimate. If you plant mint straight in the garden bear in mind that it will spread vigorously and may out-compete other plants, but we are quite happy for this to happen as the area is very big, and the mint is far more beneficial to us and the wildlife than the couch grass.

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Helping our endangered bees.

Christmas rose

We always knew we wanted an organic garden brimming with wildlife. Unfortunately one of the most important assets to any garden, the bees, are under threat all over the world. There are many different reasons for this but we believe the biggest one is the use of pesticides, mainly insecticides containing neonicotinoids that are used by many gardeners and industries alike. Other causes are the extensive loss of natural floral habitats, due to modern farming as well as climate change and disease.  Recent wet summers, have made it difficult for bees to find pollen and the Varroa mite is a parasite that attacks bees, spreads viruses, and often cause the collapse of entire bee colonies. Honey bees and bumblebees are dying on a catastrophic scale and this is affecting every other living creature on the planet. Loss of the bees will lead to crop failure and starvation.

 The good news is that we can all do our bit in slowing this process down. By using no pesticides in our gardens and by providing plenty of flowers for pollen we can give the bees a better chance of surviving. Early in the year, there are not a lot of flowers around and planting some trees, shrubs and flowers that flower at this time of year, can be tremendously important to the bees. It is a good idea to use native plants, as the bees seem to prefer them and they are well suited to the area. We encourage the spread of dandelions, wild primroses and lesser celandine in different parts of our garden.

primrose

lesser celandine

We have planted mahonia, commonly called oregon grape, forsythia, magnolia and gorse. All of these trees and shrubs have winter or early spring flowers. Other useful additions include, hellebore, commonly called Christmas rose, heather, garden primrose and daffodils. We always favour single, old-fashioned varieties of flowers. Some modern plants are bred for showy, double blooms without much consideration for pollinators.

Hellebore detail

 Heather

daffodils

In the future we are planning to keep our own bees, but at the moment we are providing all the bumblebees and other local bees with the best possible habitat, all year around. It is a lovely feeling when you see the first bumblebees of the year, awoken by the spring sunshine and warmth, fly around in search of pollen and you know they will find it in the garden.  The more bees you can attract to your garden, the more of your fruits and vegetables will be pollinated, so everybody wins.  We believe it is the single most important thing any gardener can do. All of the photos were taken in our garden today.

 Garden Primrose.