I was feeling a bit drained today, and even though the sunshine was glorious, when the under gardener first went down for her nap, all I had the energy to do was make a cup of tea and lie on the sofa catching up on Friday’s episode of Gardener’s World.
When it had finished, I dragged myself out into the sunshine with my camera (not my mobile phone for once!) to record some of the signs of spring that I could see. Tulips coming into flower, buds ready to break on the clematis montana and the flowers of my rosemary heavy with bees. Inevitably, my mood lifted.
So this is me, also being grateful for sunlight on the garden.
Last weekend, disaster struck my poor lavender plant. Or at least, last weekend saw the culmination of the problems that had crept upon my elderly lavender after two years of neglect. I hadn’t pruned the already woody and sprawling lavender since I was pregnant, then when I finally got around to it, I did a bit of a rush job and accidentally cut into dead wood. Last weekend I cut out the dead wood and was left with two long straggly branches with lavender growing at the end around a dead wood crown.
What had once been a beautiful lavender plant covering around a square metre, a buzz with bees and aflutter with butterflies, was a sparse, ivy-tangled monstrosity making a similar area of my garden look awful.
I was genuinely really upset. For the past six years, that lavender plant has been my favourite part of the garden. I’ve loved watching it come to life and seeing the wildlife enjoy it as much as I do, and though I have other nectar rich plants in the garden for pollinators, I knew it would leave a massive (both figurative and literal) hole in my garden. So I decided it needed to be replaced as soon as I could.
I used the healthy but straggly remains of the elderly plant and J.Arthur Bower’s Organic Rooting Powder to take a lot of cuttings in the hope that they will eventually form the basis of a similarly beautiful lavender hedge in our new garden when we move house. Really clear instructions on how to propagate lavender plants from cuttings can be found here.
While that little hedge gets going, I’ve bought the biggest lavender plant I could afford to replace my lost beauty. It just felt really important to me to replace as much nectar for the bees as I could (I’ll supplement with bedding plants on the bare soil) and hopefully whoever buys our house will love it as much as I loved the old plant so the bees and butterflies will have a lavender banquet for years to come.
Playing in the garden earlier, the under gardener found one of the biggest woodlice that I’ve seen in a long time. Being only 20 months old, she alerted me to her find by shouting, “Mammy, mammy, a spider! A spider!” Which caused her older cousin to sprint as fast as he could in the opposite direction.
I’ve always had a soft spot for woodlice with their little grey bodies, busy legs and inquisitive feelers, and I tried keeping one as a pet when I was four or five years old. I remember keeping it in one of my little sister’s wet wipe containers, and suspecting that my older sister had killed it because she was afraid of insects when in reality it was probably the chemicals they used in baby wipes in the 1990s.
I think my favourite thing about them though is that there are so many different names for woodlice – almost everyone seems to have grown up calling a woodlouse a different name depending on where they come from. In Gwent where I grew up, we called them granny granchers or granny greys, further down the valley, my friend from Neath called them piggywigs, and my Welsh-speaking friends have called them mochyn y coed (tree pigs) or pryf y lludw (ash worms), while my Irish friend grew up calling them slaters. I was a bit disappointed that my boyfriend just called them woodlice growing up!
Where did you grow up and what names did you call the humble woodlouse?
Last weekend, the under gardener conquered her phobia of earthworms. When I’ve held them wriggling on my hand in the past, she’s tended to whimper and back away, which is funny because she’s happy enough with spiders and flies, but I’ve kept showing them to her and explaining to her that they are my friends and help me with the garden.
Last weekend, I dug over the raised bed and veg patch, which I’ve effectively been using as a giant compost heap for years by digging through garden and vegetable waste, so it’s a worms paradise. I showed one of the bigger ones to the under gardener, and she did her usual whimper and back away so I popped it back on the border and covered it with some leaf litter before going back to digging.
The next thing I knew, I heard a shout of, “Mammy, I gots worm!” and she ran over dangling it in my face. All fear gone.
Now when we do our gardening, I keep a flower-pot on hand with a layer of soil so we can pop the worms that we find so that she can watch them (she sits giggling as they wriggle) and we can return them to their home when we’ve finished planting.
Mini-beasts for the win, it’s time to start building a bug hotel.
Anyone looking into creating a wildlife garden will know how important nectar rich plants are when looking to attract bees and butterflies to the garden. In the summer, I have a pretty reasonable range of nectar rich flowers for insects but at the end of January my garden was looking bleak. I was still waiting for my snowdrops and crocuses to come up and wanted to make sure that I had a good source of food for any reckless insects who decided to brave the grey days of February.
They weren’t the worst bit of my garden by any stretch of the imagination, but these planters caught my eye because they were so close to the house. I had used them for growing blueberries, but some kind of pest or disease spread through my plants like a wild-fire in the summer… it started on the right hand leaves and within two weeks the left hand leaves were falling off and all three plants were dead. They were the perfect thing to reuse to brighten up the winter with a nectar rich container garden.
We went to the local garden centre and splashed out £15 on some primroses and bulbs that were growing in pots- daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and the like. Then I spent a happy, drizzly afternoon in the garden with my under gardener (toddlers love to dig) emptying half of the ericaceous compost from the pot and filling them up with top soil in which we planted the bulbs.
Result? I have some early opening flowers which are benefitting from being sheltered by the house and opening way earlier than the same flowers in more exposed positions, the insects have something of a winter soup kitchen and the under gardener is oh so proud of her first foray into gardening.
For more on bee friendly gardening see some great tips from Friends of the Earth’s Bee Friendly Garden campaign.
I’ve always taken a fairly wildlife friendly approach to gardening. That I don’t use chemicals in the garden is a given, but my inherent laziness also means that the grass is only cut infrequently, piles of twigs grow ever higher next to the compost heap because they are easier to store than dispose of, and dandelions and cleavers are tolerated as a budget friendly source of guinea pig food.
Since falling pregnant with my daughter, I have to admit that I’ve been even more lax than usual. I had a problematic pregnancy, so other than naturalizing some crocus bulbs in my lawn when I was about eight weeks pregnant, I mostly left the garden to it. When she arrived, I was mostly too tired to bother.
Nearly two years later though, I want to make sure that the garden is an eco-friendly, wildlife friendly place for her to play. She loves being outdoors and joining in with whatever I’m doing in the garden so I want to create a toddler-safe nature haven that she can enjoy, somewhere perfect for watching bees, birds and butterflies, studying frogs, newts and beetles while learning to grow fruit and vegetables, just like I did with my father and grandparents.
We’re currently living in a two up, two down terrace, and looking to move to somewhere bigger so that a little girl can run around without coming into contact with a wall too quickly, so my current plans to rewild suburbia are on hold in as much as I’m aware that I’ll need to balance the need to create habitats and provide wildlife friendly sources of food with an aesthetic that will appeal to a wide range of buyers- so I’m thinking cottage garden lite with a decent patch of lawn.
This blog will be a place to keep track of our progress and the species that visit us.