Worms used to scare me as a child, probably as there always seemed to be big squidgy piles of them hiding in our sandpit – not the cuddliest of creatures, we can all agree! And yet surely there’s no other member of our garden wildlife community (apart from bees perhaps) that are as friendly and beneficial to us as these slimy stars.
Quite simply they make the world go round; Charles Darwin was famously a big fan. He called them the most important animal in the history of the world – only right, then, that we should encourage them in more to boost our soil so we can grow great plants. Oh, and they’re also a juicy snack for most of our other garden friends, such as birds, frogs, badgers and hedgehogs.
Our worms are essential soil components, the ultimate recyclers, breaking down organic matter, aerating and enriching the nutrient content, and their presence is a good indicator that your soil is nice and fertile. Stacks of leaves and sticks (or sandpits!) provide hidey corners for worms to live, and keep that messy corner of piled up pots – they’ll love the shelter. Whatever you do, don’t use suffocating Astroturf or too many concrete pavers – leave ‘breathing spaces’ for them to emerge. Perhaps leave out one or two paving slabs as planting pockets. But now spring’s here, the best thing to do is provide good quality soil for them to carry on doing their best work. Chuck veggie peelings on the plot, and to provide them with the ultimate banquet, mulch borders with compost, leaf mould and composted bark.
Four easy ways we can make a BIG DIFFERENCE
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I have to confess, bats are a favourite of mine. Sweet little faces and furriness aside, I think they sum up the ultimate garden ideal: a lush, green, healthy space full of beautiful flowers and foliage, teeming with wildlife. Their presence in your garden means you have a verdant, thriving plot – everything a gardener is aiming for. They wouldn’t be in your garden otherwise, so you must be providing all the right things; water (streams, ponds or birdbaths), shelter (densely-planted borders backed by mature tree cover), and food (teems of insects like midges, moths and flies, all attracted to your plants).
If you love sitting out on a summer’s night watching these little mammals swooping after their prey you can always put up a bat box now, like I’m doing, high in the eaves of your home, on a windowless wall or tree in a sunny, warm spot. But there are plenty of other ways to encourage bats. This week I’m sowing night-scented stocks and nicotiana, a joy for us on a summer evening and both with the most exquisite perfume at night to encourage moths – a tasty meal for bats. I’m aiming to let some areas stay a little wild; too neat and tidy and a garden becomes unattractive to any wildlife. Bats love hedges, too – get rid of yours and bats lose their ‘maps’ and ‘service stations’, which they use to feed and guide them around the area.
Our bats are discerning little fellows – remember, a garden that’s perfect for bats is also perfect for us.
Four easy ways we can make a big difference
This week is a real transition time in the garden. The end of February as it bounces into March is full of exciting new green shoots, gentle birdsong, buds and, of course, emerging pollinators, out and about now on the look out for fresh flowers and nectar.
Second only to worms as a gardener’s best friend, it’s always a lovely sight on my plot to encounter a busy queen bee or a humming hoverfly doing the rounds, early to the garden party as always.
Many insects are just coming out of hibernation, enticed out by warm temperatures. They’re sleepy and hungry after a long winter, so it’s important they build up their reserves early on before nesting starts.
These weary travellers need our help, more so these days as their habitats are on the wane, and of course they’re indispensable members of the garden gang. No, a gardener never gardens alone – there’s always a friendly backup team of companions helping us out!
So, this week I’m doing my bit and topping up their food. This will consist of some instant flower impact from adding hellebores, primroses, cowslips and heathers to my already established mini carpets of winter aconites, anemones, muscari, crocuses and snowdrops. I’m complementing all this with a sense of permanence by planting a few early flowering shrubs and trees, too. So in the ground goes a compact scarlet-flowering quince called ‘Crimson and Gold’, and a dwarf weeping willow ‘Kilmarnock’.
That should keep them happy – for now and years to come.