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May 13

Wildlife Wednesday: Gardening for Wildlife

I love May for many reasons but getting out in the garden is definitely amongst the top three. This is the month that gardening finally becomes entirely a pleasure again, shrugging off the numb fingers and little-rewarded slog of outdoor winter tasks. Being fond of the vitality that rosy cheeks and blast of cold air can bring into winter gloom I don’t resent my cold season garden forays too much. Yet there is something magical and uplifting about watching flowers bloom, seeds spring up from dry dirt and the sharp,bitter green of young foliage paint the garden during this mild and nurturing month. Best of all, with warmer weather and the nature’s radio playing bird song on full volume, the garden is suddenly an inviting place to linger and ignore my to-do list for a short while.

Wildlife garden

Spring has sprung in our ‘wild’ garden.

This season I am enjoying being out in the garden more than ever. Last year I had to share our garden (mud heap more like) with the never-ending mess and muddle of our builders. It has given me a lot of pleasure in reclaiming the garden back from wilderness, picking out the nails trodden into the poor excuse of a lawn and coaxing the plants back out of hiding. The girls have been enjoying it too, spending every moment available getting into some kind of mischief out there. It made me smile the other day to see Roo patrolling the garden and inspecting the different plants and areas in exactly the same way I do. Her younger sister though seems more intent on trying to lick the bird birth or making a beeline for the greenhouse …

One of the legacies left by the builders was a large mound of clay ridden soil. I have spent much of the spring turning this and the area around it, into a wild, woodland bank. With its heavy soil, some of it perfect for a bit of pottery making, I felt a bit guilty when putting new plants in. I didn’t expect them to last long. They have surprised me though. I have tried to use bee, butterfly and bird friendly plants wherever possible with a focus on native species. The latter more just because I fancied it than because of any particular advantage for wildlife. Already the bank is buzzing with hoverflies, bees and other winged beasties and we have had quite a lot of butterflies about too.

Peacock butterflies

Peacock butterflies making the most of the sun on the bank!

First to take up residence on the bank have been cowslips, oxslips and primroses, their yellow flowers brightening up the early spring. In the wilder areas at the back I have planted teasels. These tall, pricly but structurally attractive hedgerow plants are great for bees when in flower, with their seed heads a popular food source for birds in the winter. At one end I have planted hellebore whose muted pink and white flowers cheer up the winter garden and provide an early source of nectar for bees when not much else is flowering. Today I noticed that the ox-eye daisies are beginning to bud. On the sunny fence behind the bank I have put up a bee house to encourage solitary bees and other pollinators to set up home.

My one major failure so far has been the addition of cat-mint. Despite covering it with a plant pot to get it established, balancing water trays on top of it and patrolling regularly, the two cunning and determined feline members of our family continue to get past all my defences and nibble its leaves. I keep covering it up again but I don’t have high hopes for its survival. Now my thoughts are turning to summer and autumn interest. I will be getting out my well-thumbed wildlife gardening book again and pouring over the excellent RHS Plants for Pollinators list and the RSPB’s Give Nature a Home site for inspiration.

Cat eating cat mint

Not entirely the wildlifeI was intending to attract…

Elsewhere in the garden we have been trying to incorporate more wildlife friendly features too. The bluebells have established well now and been putting on a lovely display under the oak tree (native hyacinthoides non scripta not the invasive Spanish bluebells so often found in gardens). I have added in naturalising narcissi, cyclamen and wood anemones into the mix too this year. Behind them I have given the cow parsley and buttercups a temporary grace period. We have turned the forget-me-not patch into a feature by mowing around it which looks a lot neater than expected and makes a great backdrop for outdoor photos of the girls. The birds have been in and out of our established if rather boring shrubs at the bottom of the garden, making me feel quite guilty about considering replacing them for more exciting varieties. We now also have a dedicated log pile for old dead wood and tree clippings for the benefit of creepy-crawlies and possibly our visiting hedgehog. Roo is very excited by the prospect of beetles and with bug pot in hand, she is constantly asking me to turn over old logs.

Log pile stumpery

A cosy home for a beetle or two?

The one thing I still really need to find space for is some kind of pond. With a large oak tree dominating the garden and throwing down its leaves continually over autumn and winter, there is no obvious spot. I might have to get inventive with some kind of sunken sink or similar in the vegetable patch. At least the frogs who I find lurking about under the rhubarb leaves every year would appreciate that.

What have you been up to out in the garden this year? Have you spotted much wildlife out there yet or been adding in any wildlife friendly features? Do please share any pond tips too!

 

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