|A neat path of short-mown turf through slightly taller grass that grows next to uncut areas of vegetation can add structure to an area. When cutting areas of long grass, try not to cut it on the same day and start at one end and work inwards from one side to allow creatures an escape route. Another option is to create a wildflower meadow or a grass-free planting that is mown less frequently. Check out my latest blog: Why the grass isn’t always greener-alternatives to lawn for more information.|
Modern styles of perennial planting including drifts of herbaceous planting with grasses threaded through can be a rich source of food for wildlife. Appropriate plants provide Nectar-rich food for bees & Butterflies and seedheads provide food for seed-eating birds. Leaving the heads on over winter will give birds a long-lasting ‘store cupboard’ and look stunning in the winter light covered in frost as well as providing a welcome shelter and hibernation site for insects.
You can buy a whole range of purpose-built boxes for a whole range of creatures to shelter and raise a family in. The design can be incredibly simple or quite elaborate, as long as it fulfills the needs of whatever it is you are trying to attract. Hedgehog boxes can be particularly important in urban areas where shelter is scarce. The box can be sited under a hedge or thick shrub where they will be undisturbed. I love the idea of purpose built insect hotels with all manor of materials for different insects to inhabit including glass bottles, bamboo, pots, twigs etc-the only limit is your imagination and they can be a variety of sizes. At present, we are making a wildlife seat for our boutique allotment! The RSPB have some excellent information about building a wildlife stack.
So that we can start to really understand what’s going on and where we need to focus efforts. Just sitting and staring at the garden might seem like doing nothing but a number of wildlife-related charities want us to do more of it. Actually, it does involve recording information and or taking pictures and uploading them, but this is straightforward and fun. This article about wildlife surveys gives more information. To inspire everyone to build homes for natures in their own gardens the RSPB has a unique website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/hfw giving everyone access to expert advice, whether it’s a huge garden or a tiny balcony. You will receive a home starter guide and can help populate their maps by telling them when and where you are giving nature a home. To help spread the word, the RSPB has joined up with Rightmove (the UK’s number one property website) to help promote the campaign to home owners and renters.
It is important when thinking about wildlife not to forget that using chemicals will frequently have a knock on effect on a number of organisms, even if you think the pesticide is targeted. For example, slug pellets-easy to say only slugs eat them but remember what eats the slugs e.g. birds, frogs!! In a well-balanced wild garden you will find that the natural predators get rid of most of the ‘pests’ for you. Providing them with suitable habitat and food can encourage them. Organic gardening which I practice in the garden and allotment means taking a completely different approach to managing your garden not just changing a few sprays and fertilizers but trying to avoid using harmful pesticides and chemicals is a good start. To find out more about organic approaches, The Encyclopedia of organic gardening provides a detailed guide.
Perhaps leave twigs; branches and plants such as nettles etc for food/shelter/hibernation –these can be managed in a particular area that fits with the ethos of that area of the garden. This may be an area tucked away for example behind the shed, or in an area at the bottom of the garden where the planting is more naturalistic. However, if there isn’t such an area, even a pile of twigs/logs can provide some benefit. A pile of logs in a shady corner will feed beetle larvae and provide food shelter for amphibians, insects, spiders and small mammals. Hedgehogs often use log piles to hibernate in. Similarly, grass clippings or other ‘waste’ material such as leaves or materials from cutting back shrubs can be used to create habitat piles around the garden. Leave windfall fruit to provide a valuable autumn food supply for insects, mammals and birds.
Composting garden waste helps your plants and wildlife. Compost makes for healthy soil; it is an excellent mulch; it is free and easy to produce; and comes without the 'fuel miles' involved in its transport. Compost heaps also provide a home for many small creatures which enjoy the heat released by the breakdown of the materials in the heap.
You can make compost in a simple covered heap at the bottom of the garden (we have one of these on our boutique allotment), but a compost box or bin looks neater and can be easier to manage. It should be sited on bare earth or grass and can be in sun or shade. The important thing it is accessible with plenty of room for adding, removing and turning material. As long as you follow a few simple instructions and approaches, composting is a straightforward process.
If you really don’t have space or the inclination for a compost heap, because you don’t have much garden waste but want to recycle kitchen scraps, perhaps consider a worm bin.
The basic requirements for all creatures are that they have food, somewhere to live and breed safely and water for drinking and bathing. Before you rush to dig a pond or put up a bat box, look around the garden and identify areas that are already attractive to wildlife and then look to other areas, that with a bit of a change in management, could be improved upon. Don’t expect too much too soon! If you want to find out more, check out this RSPB book: Gardening for wildlife.
I’d love to hear how you get on and please do follow me, Liz Ackerley (www.poppyheadconsultancy.com) on twitter @PoppyheadC or like my facebook page where I post about our current projects, garden design ideas, food growing, workshops and provide blogs on garden design-related ideas.
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