Healthy neglect…

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Last month other commitments pulled us away from the garden. Apart from us harvesting apples, raspberries and vegetables, the land was left to its own devices for the duration of the month. On the very last day of September we walked around the different areas to get a few pictures for this blog and we realized that the land had not suffered at all in our absence. Sure, it looked a bit untidy and overgrown on the surface, but underneath it was healthy, alive and brimming with wildlife. Maybe that is the biggest lesson we have learnt from looking after and developing our land over the last few years. A forest garden, mimicked on young natural woodland but full of edible and other beneficial plants, is a very forgiving place. Nature has a marvellous way of doing what is best for the land and when you start to work with nature and not against her fantastic things can happen. We wanted more frogs, newts and other wildlife so in addition to our stream we added two ponds. Because of this the slug population is being kept small and is not the major problem it was for the first couple of years.

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Our stamp on the stumpery.

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The Victorians were known for adding a lot of quirky and artistic aspects to their gardens. Grottoes, unusual water features, mazes and labyrinths. We are particularly fond of the stumpery;  a Victorian invention built from a pile of old tree roots and stumps with ferns, mosses and other plants growing amongst and on them.  The first stumpery was created by an artist and gardener named Edward William Cooke in Staffordshire in 1856.

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Wildlife watch in May.

 

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We are entering our fourth summer season on our land and it is fascinating to see how a balance is starting to form with all the plants, fungi, microorganisms and animals working together. The first couple of years we had thousands and thousands of slugs but now our newt and frog population has grown so much, the slugs are much less in numbers.

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Attracting wildlife.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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