Create a 'catch-all' wildlife feature

MAIN GNNH19306.jpg

I’ve turned my attention away from my plants, just for a moment, to think about landscaping and features on my plot. I fancied a little spring project to add more interest – but as a wildlife lover and natural gardener, I’m generally reluctant to increase hard surfaces in place of plants. However, I decided I could do no wrong by creating a little naturalistic dry stone wall.

Dry stone walls are simply the place to be for wildlife, a hotspot for a huge range of species. Lichen, mosses and ferns cling to them, birds, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, newts and slow worms take shelter, small mammals hide, insects visit flowers planted in nooks. It’s like a metropolis for garden creatures! Plus they look lovely and natural, and can be cheaply made from recycled or reclaimed bits of stone. They need little maintenance – they need no mortar, for a start, and are all the better for it, meaning more gaps for animals and plants.

These simple features needn’t be the large monuments seen dividing up Yorkshire fields – you can make a much smaller affair by adding built up stones as a border surround, a corner statue, as pond edging, a patio divider or, as I’m doing, surround a new raised bed.

Traditionally they’re made by building up two smaller walls of stones next to one another and tapering together to the top like an ‘A’, connected and strengthened by larger ‘through stones’ that span the width of the structure. Lay them as you wish, but start with larger stones half buried at the bottom, built up in a classic brick wall pattern and infilled with smaller stones. Finish by adding a little compost to nooks and crannies and some saxifrage, aubretia, ferns or succulents.

Four small ways we can make a big difference

Click the images to find out more…

Beat slugs the organic way

GNNH19280.jpg

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with slugs. I really hate them when they chow down on my soft-leaved hostas, lettuce and sweet peas, lovingly nurtured before being decimated by these nonchalant beasts. On the other hand, I admire them for their cool brashness – ploughing on and munching without a care in the world.

Humans have been to the moon, discovered electricity and climbed Everest and yet slugs still seem to baffle and frustrate gardeners! They’re also pretty useful in the garden, providing food for nearly everything – particularly thrushes, which lap them up. Only some of them eat our plants, too, and all act as vital decomposers, like worms. So in many ways, our tolerance of them makes for a biodiverse, healthy garden, a chain link in the circle of life.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t control them though! Spring is when they really come into their own, so be vigilant now. I’m picking off any I see, making a concerted effort to seek them out and bung them in a nearby field. I’ve protected new spring shoots with grit barriers and cloche covers, too, but it’s also an excuse to plant more – with such full-to-bursting borders you won’t notice a few chomped leaves! Metaldehyde will thankfully soon be banned so we’ll all be looking for natural alternatives that don’t harm soil or wildlife. I’m opting for a clever product, Envii’s Feed and Protect, a 2-in-1 deterrent and feed that naturally alters the taste of plants to slugs (but not us), while encouraging good plant growth.

Four easy ways we can make a big difference

Click the images to find out more…

I’m helping out my garden birds

GNNH19264.jpg

March is an exciting time in the bird world – birdwatchers up and down the country are out and about clutching binoculars, spotting this year’s new migrants.

Many birds are arriving now for summer in our gardens – or just passing through for a snack as they make their way home. Our bird populations will change a bit now, so make a note of what you see and tell the British Trust for Ornithology or the RSPB via their websites. Say goodbye to buntings and blackcaps and hello to house martins and warblers! I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on what’s about in mine and my neighbours’ gardens.

To entice in a whole range of birds I’m putting out a hefty selection of feeds now, trying to cover all bases! Our birds face all sorts of challenges, so don’t think that they only need food in winter. They’ll get used to your garden and, when shortages occur at any time, be more inclined to pop to your plot for a feed.

High energy is key – set out sultanas, oatmeal and lots of different seed mixes, sunflower seeds, grated cheese and mealworms, too. Avoid peanuts, fat and bread right now, which can be harmful to baby chicks. It’s not all about the food – I’m putting out lashings of water regularly. High on the list, though, is being mindful that birds need good access to insects, rain cover and nesting shelter. That means I’m off on a trip to buy more plants – any excuse!

Four easy ways we can make a big difference

Click the images to find out more…

'I'm welcoming in the worms!'

GNNH19186.jpg

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

Click the images to find out more…

Bring in bats to your garden

Karen says, ‘I’ll put my bat box high in a sunny spot, where they’ll climb through the bottom and roost or nest.’

Karen says, ‘I’ll put my bat box high in a sunny spot, where they’ll climb through the bottom and roost or nest.’

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

'I'm growing some early nectar!'

GNNH19077.jpg

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.

Four easy ways we can make a big difference