Gardens are havens of beauty and relaxation, perfect places to quick off your wellies, sit quietly and reflect on the marvels of the natural world. Our carefully tended gardens don’t just provide us humans with a place to sit and wonder, they are also the foil to the Theatre Of Life. Once you’ve observed even the smallest garden resident going about its business on your lawn, in the bushes or under stones, you’ll be totally hooked on this show and will want to see more! It’s quite easy to attract more diverse creatures to your garden. Here are a few changes that will make wildlife more welcome in your garden.
INSECTS, SLUGS & SNAILS
Though often thought of as pests, insects and slimy creatures, insects, slugs and snails are a vital food chain link that need to be controlled in ways that supports your garden’s eco-system.
- Don’t be too tidy, piles of leaves, twigs, stones…all provide excellent feeding and breeding ground for small creatures.
- Leaving even one small corner of your garden grow into a meadow will encourage biodiversity. It’s a good place where to just throw a few handfuls of meadow flowers seeds and see what happens. Just the kind of gardening children like, so it could be the perfect patch for mini people to observe plant growth and watch bug life.
- Don’t use toxic synthetic pesticides to get rid of pesky slugs and snails. Poisoning these will affect the whole food-chain, birds, frogs…will also be poisoned and their population will decline. You can keep the slug and snail population under control with good old-fashioned methods:
- Hand-picking in the evening and after rain and taking them to an area of the garden where they are more welcome will help you keep things under control No doubt they will come back but slowly!
- Make traps by placing (cheap) flat beer in saucers or other shallow containers to attract the slugs who will become intoxicated and drown. We like to think they die happy?
- Make slug barriers around your precious plants and vulnerable seedlings by sprinkling sand, ash, sawdust, even crushed eggshells will really slow down.
- Another new type of barrier I have just discovered is copper. Copper sends a small electrical charge to slimy creatures. You can buy copper rings to put around a group of plants and, another neat “on trend” idea, adhesive copper tape, perfect for the rim of pots or other garden containers.
BEES & BUTTERFLIES
Our friends the bees and the butterflies perform the vital task of fertilization . They gather pollen from flowers and in their merry dance from bloom to bloom, perform the vital task of fertilization. Without them, seed and fruit production would cease. For this reason, they are most welcome visitors in our gardens. There is a lot you can do to encourage them.
- Choose the right flowers
You need a good mix of native and non-native plants that contain a lot of pollen or nectar. Big showy cultivars do not always contain high levels of nectar so make sure to include native field and woodland flowers such as primulas, bluebells, scabious, oxeye daisy, honeysuckle, broom…Other non-native but well adapted Northern Hemisphere plants are also good, for example juniper-leaved thrift, cottage pink, bigroot cranebill or greater musk mallow. Exotic plants can also be used such as stiff bottlebrush, euryops, devil’s tobacco…
As well as being the most easy to spot and colourful residents of our gardens, birds delight us with their beautiful songs. They are really useful in pest control. Here is how you can keep these busy little helpers happy and healthy all year round
- Plant shrubs
A variety of flowering and evergreen shrubs will ensure a colourful garden all year round and will also provide food and shelter for the birds and for the insect they feed upon. You should also plant trees of course, but shrubs can be obtained already mature from most garden centres, providing a "pop up home" for for the avian population.
- Provide food in the winter months
Millet- sparrows, finches, dunnocks, buntings and collared doves
Peanuts & sunflower seeds- tits and greenfinches
Wheat & barley- pigeons, pheasants…
Seeds can be mixed with lard or suet to make fat balls. The fat content will help the birds fight the cold. Again, enlist the help of young children who will be more than happy mixing and rolling the balls and cakes before letting them set in the fridge.
- Remember water
Vital in summer but just as important in freezing conditions, water is essential to life and you would be surprised just how much birds do drink! There are lots of ways to attractively incorporate water in your garden scheme, from fountains, bird baths, even little rock pools where the rain water can collect. Just make sure it does not become stagnant or polluted.
FROGS, TOADS & OTHER AMPHIBIANS
You might already have frogs in your garden without having even seen them as they are easy to miss in the grass; they are often only noticed when they suddenly jump up, usually after a heavy downpour! They make a worthy contribution to the balance of the garden by keeping down the numbers of insects. As well as being very interesting animals to watch, especially in the mating season, it’s also wonderful to listen to their night chorus.
- Just add water!
You don’t need to exert yourself catching frogs from parks or other gardens (it’s illegal to displace them anyway); just provide the right conditions for them and they will eventually come. Frogs and other amphibians need a moist environment, preferably a small pond. Consider whether or not you can do this if you have young children. It might be possible to have the pond fenced to make it totally inaccessible to children. Frogs really need a pond to lay their eggs. Frog ponds are fairly easy and cheap to build as the water must be still, so you won’t need pumps, filters, fountains… Ponds should be in a shaded and quiet spot in your garden. If you can’t build a pond, provide some features in your garden where rain can gather in small pools, between stones, and you should still be able to attract frogs. They will also appreciate an area where the grass is a bit longer, edged with shrubs, with a few stones and perhaps a terracotta plant-pot turned on its side and half buried, all cool sheltered places where frogs just love to hide.
- Let them be
Keep cats and dogs away from the frogs’ area. Children might want to handle the frogs; this too should be discouraged. Teach your little ones it’s better to love some creatures from a distance. Frogs breathe and absorb moisture through their skin, so it’s really important to keep the level of toxicity in their habitat as low as possible. This means no pesticides or fertilisers.
Once very common nocturnal visitors to our gardens, these shy button-eyed prickly creatures are becoming a rare sight, much to the gardener’s sorrow, as they can help him or her with controlling snails, slugs, worms and insects. There is a lot you can do to attract them back and make them feel safe.
- Provide a safe haven
- The right diet
With the popularity of pigmy hedgehogs as domestic pets, you can now buy hedgehog food in pet shops, garden centres and even some supermarkets . However, it’s unnecessary, expensive, probably not too healthy and certainly not half as much fun as creating your own little banquets for our prickly visitors. Hedgehogs are omnivorous creatures so provide a varied fare: dog or cat meat, cooked and raw fruit and vegetables such as cucumber, peas, spinach green beans, berries… Give them a balanced diet and go easy on fruit and vegetable which contain a lot of sugar or starch such as potatoes, carrots, bananas. Wash everything very well to eliminate traces of pesticides and wax. Try to keep the food similar to what could be foraged in the countryside. Remember them when scrapping out the dinner plates and they will show you how grateful they are by being regular customers at you garden restaurant! Of course, don’t forget to make sure there is a supply of fresh water for them.