Tag Archives: garden

common garden snail on little girl's hand

Don’t step on that snail

I found myself with an unusual problem in the garden the other day…. I’d run out of snails.

In my old Victorian terrace garden with brick walls separating neighbour from neighbour and preventing freedom of movement for frogs and hedgehogs, this was never something I would have thought possible. I had quite the opposite problem. But in our new garden with hedges allowing snail predators to roam at will, and a very active thrush, numbers are low.

Which wouldn’t normally bother me too much, but my oldest daughter has taken a liking to them. She thinks of them as pets. We’ve had a few weeks together before she starts school while her baby sister is in preschool in which we go out in the garden together to work on some project or other, and it’s never long before she starts playing the same game, building a house for her “snailies”.

Is it possible for a snail to have Stockholm syndrome? I think these must. They’re so used to being picked up and put in a flower pot to be studied that the seem to be quite happy coming out of their shells and sliming away along her hands. They’re probably desperately attempting a low speed escape, but she’s very gentle with them, picking the nicest flowers she can find to make them at home. Some days she won’t come inside all day, and has her lunch as a picnic so she can sit and watch her snails in their Everton mint swirls. There’s no such thing as a common garden snail to her, each one is magical.

Snails in a flower pot

Which is why I find myself in a position where I feel like I don’t have enough snails in my garden anymore. Overnight, the snails creep out of the flower pot she tucks safely under a rose bush, saying goodnight and sometimes reading them a bedtime story. The next day when we go to see them, they’ve gone. Once or twice there have been suspiciously similar looking snail shells (I don’t dare mark them with paint) broken open and eaten by the thrush’s hammerstone in the garden, “It’s okay Mammy, that can’t be my snaily, his shell was whole.” Was.

So I find myself hunting anywhere dark and damp, in the ivy, behind pots and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

But I think the snail obsession is good for her. She’s learnt how to handle them gently, the foods and situations they prefer in the garden. She’s learnt that if she sits in bright sunlight they won’t come out of their shells, but if she sits outside they will browse the food she provides for them. She doesn’t seem to have learnt that they don’t share her fondness for floral aesthetics, but she will compromise and offer them a range of leaves as well as flowers.

So now I just need to learn where they prefer to breed, and make sure that I have enough likely sites in the garden to boost their populations enough to keep the thrush and the children happy.

Seeds are Hope

cosmos seedling emerging from seed caseThe sight of seedlings lifting their heads up from the soil always fills me with hope. No matter what else is going on, how busy or stressed I am, how many things I have to do, I always feel better for sitting down with some soil and seeds in the evening when the children have gone to bed and sowing some seeds.

Even though I know they take time, I check the pots constantly for any hint of the ever so slightly fuzzy white emerging from the darkness, the shot of green that promises baby leaves. And when they appear it always feels like the best sort of surprise. Flowers are beautiful, but there’s something about the elegance and hopefulness of the tiniest seedling that stirs my heart.

I’ve currently got two boxes full of seed sat in my utility room. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve been given, some I’ve collected. But when they start sprouting I find myself constantly on the lookout for more seeds so I can grow someone the perfect chilli for their cooking, the ideal calendula for their raised bed, the happiest sunflowers to pop in their border, I want to share the joy of those seeds.

So while the stormy winds are making it impossible to get outside, I sit in the conservatory, pretending that I too am soaking up the weak sunlight through the windows watching my seedlings emerge with a cup of tea.

 

Tree planting in the wildlife garden

I’ve been pretty quiet about my plans for our wildlife garden while I’ve been focusing on my goals for sustainable living in 2019, but be assured that the wildlife garden is still a really key feature in this.

Planting a tree, child’s play!

We actually planted a cherry tree in the garden on Sunday, but it was such a bitterly cold day, no one was much in the mood to take a photograph! We went for Stella on a colt rootstock. The blossom will be great for pollinators, it will help maintain privacy between our garden and our neighbours, and as long as the children get to eat a few cherries when it fruits, I won’t mind the birds having a share.

This is the second tree that we’ve planted since we moved in, the first was a Scrumptious apple tree to replace my beloved Scrumptious the First who we had to leave behind when we moved house. I’ve also got plans for an orchard of patio fruit trees to green up a paved area and our neighbours fence. It’s budget dependent as to how I’ll progress with that, but we have a Victoria plum on extremely dwarfing rootstock to form the first part of that because our eldest was so taken with our neighbour’s windfall plums that they were kind enough to let her keep in the summer.

We live in a country that’s quite prone to flooding so I’m hoping that by planting some more trees it will help contribute to reducing the flood risk. I’m also conscious that the Committee on Climate Change has said that tree planting in the UK must double by 2020 to help lock up carbon and reduce flood risks so our tree planting in our medium-sized garden is to help this. Even if they are less than a drop in an ocean of necessary change, they’ll make the garden look nicer, will provide food and shelter for wildlife and hopefully some fruit for us in time.

Sustainable Living in 2019

Happy New Year! Normally a New Year feels like a reason to celebrate, but I found myself feeling unsettled on New Year’s Eve this year, a bit unready to face the unknown that is 2019.

Personally, 2018 has been a good year, as we welcomed our new baby and moved into our new home but it’s impossible to ignore the seemingly global political turbulence and news of impending climate disaster. It’s hard to hope that all of this can be solved in 2019, and I feel so powerless in the face of it all.

I read something about setting single word goals recently, and while hope would seem to be a necessary one, it still feels a little passive. So for 2019 my target is sustainability, focusing on making changes to improve our family’s impact on the planet. This is a pretty broad brush and I’ll be actively seeking out opportunities to reduce our impact on the world but at present I see it falling into three main areas:

Food

According to Friends of the Earth, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the USA and China. We don’t waste much food in my house but I feel that we could always do better. At present, all uncooked vegetable waste is composted ready to go back into the garden, but I want to look into setting up a wormery to allow me to recycle cooked vegetables and baby food scraps. At the moment anything that can’t be composted is put into our council food bin and I understand that this is used to generate electricity. Last year, I managed to implement meat free Mondays in our house (though I vary the day to keep my partner on his toes… he’s very much focused on meat as the heart of every meal) and I want to extend this. It’s not as good as vegetarianism or veganism, I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Clothes

The fashion industry is a major polluter, and while the old stat about the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter after big oil has been challenged, the whole industry from crop growth to disposal of garments is a myriad of environmental and ethical problems. This year, I’ll be focusing on reducing our impact in terms of buying clothing by making use of my older daughter’s old clothes for the baby, making sure my clothes last as long as possible and buying ethical and second-hand clothes rather than fast fashion. This hopefully won’t be too much of a hardship as I’m not particularly image conscious and have always gotten a huge buzz from an eBay bargain, but it does mean that I’ll have to plan ahead to consider what I’m willing to buy second hand vs new for my oldest, and will also have to anticipate her seasonal needs in order to source quality second hand items. I’m already experimenting with visible mending thanks to an incident with my jeans earlier this week!

Zero Waste

I’m looking at ways to cut out waste, particularly plastic waste, from our house. Again, I don’t think that we are especially wasteful as a family but at the same time there are substitutions that I know we could make to improve our environmental impact. So far I’ve made reusable beeswax fabric to replace foil and baking paper for covering food (I’ve never trusted clingfilm), buying solid shampoo and conditioner to remove the plastic waste from the bathroom, experimenting with a mooncup after a failed attempt while I was at university (rushed, I don’t think I gave it a fair chance), and replacing our plastic toothbrushes with sustainable bamboo ones.

Greening

This is something I’m very passionate about, and it’s taking what I’ve been doing with my wildlife gardening to the next level. A lot of sustainability seems to be negative in terms of being about what you’re not going to do anymore, so I wanted to take an active approach to greening our environment by planting my wildlife garden (the committee on climate change says that tree planting needs to double by 2020, and I want to be doing my part in a small way), growing our own vegetables and filling our home with plants to help tackle indoor pollutants.

It’s all a bit amorphous at the moment, but I’m hoping to feel more and more inspired as I go, and also that the changes will feel more like natural progressions than big shifts. I’m hoping that writing about this here will help me find like-minded people and will keep me accountable as well, so please let me know if you have any helpful tips you think I should keep in mind while seeking a more sustainable life.

 

 

What I’m doing for wildlife in November

Is anyone else feeling a little bit lost now that Gardener’s World has finished for the year? I mean, I never had time to do the jobs for the weekend that Monty Don suggested but I did appreciate the slightly Mary Poppins-ish direction.

This has led me to develop my own list of key jobs for the wildlife garden in November, and while it might not look like much, I’m finding it difficult to get it all done with my two little helpers!

My November Wildlife Garden Jobs

Planting spring bulbs

Because we’re in a new garden which has some great trees but otherwise not much growing I spent big (well, relative to my budget) on Spring bulbs. I normally like to save money in my garden, but I see the spring bulbs as an investment because they will come back year after year and with a bit of luck the ones I’m naturalizing in our lawn will spread themselves all across it in a few years giving any early bees and insects some vital fuel on the go. I’ve nearly finished planting and the weather hasn’t gotten truly frosty yet so I’m counting that as a win.

Planting for winter flowers

I get quite bad seasonal affective disorder, so I like to get out in the garden as much as possible even on very cold days. I’ve thought ahead and got the groundsman to dig two holes to plant a winter honeysuckle and winter flowering viburnum to allow some more early season nectar followed by some useful berries for the birds. I’m hoping the flowers and fragrance will be a big mood boost when I need it.

Feeding the birds

I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like feeding the garden birds, but it’s obviously so important for the survival of UK birds when food starts to become scarce. I’ve already got some basic fat ball feeders hanging up, one at the front, one at the back, but I want to make sure that I have some high energy bird food made for colder days and stations offering food for the insect feeders when their prey is in short supply.

Making wildlife habitats

I’ve been doing some pruning as and when I can and the Happy Dandelion and I have been using the woody off cuts to create some wildlife habitat areas under hedges in the vain hope that they will be useful for a passing hedgehog. Vain because of the lack of hedgehogs available to take up residence not because the piles are no good. I’m planning to make an even bigger pile behind the compost heap with some of the bigger branches. We had stag beetles in our old garden, so I’d love it if we could create an environment for them to thrive here as well.

Creating hedgehog holes

I’ve gone out with my measuring tape to check whether the holes under our back garden fences are big enough (they need to be 13x13cm) to allow any hedgehogs that did happen to be passing to access my garden. There’s a lovely gap between the one neighbour’s hedge, but not in the other fence so I’m going to ask whether they would mind me cutting a small access hole in the wire when I see them. In the meantime, I’ve persuaded the groundsman to cut some holes in our back fence and front gate to allow easy access to the back garden so I need to hold him to that.

Am I missing anything that you do for wildlife in your garden in November? I’m keen for new ideas!

Four Go Wild In Suburbia, an update

I started this blog with good intentions of keeping a diary of our journey making a wildlife garden, but it’s been over six months since I posted in 2018. That’s not to say that I haven’t been productive. So productive I haven’t had a chance to blog.

The Happy Dandelion and I spent a lovely, long Monday in the garden in April making bird nests from long grass and hunting for minibeasts before I realised that I hadn’t caught the stomach bug The Groundsman had suffered on the weekend, and that Happy Dandelion’s sister was on the way. Oops. She was very overdue, and I felt a bit silly that I didn’t realise that I was in labour given that I’d done the whole childbirth thing before, but she arrived big, safe and well.

During the long, hot summer, the pieces of the house move that we’ve been talking about for the longest time finally clicked into place and we moved into our new house which has a much bigger garden. I’ve learned a lot from working as many wildlife boosting habitats as I could into my tiny wildlife garden, and I was sorry to say goodbye to it, especially as it meant saying goodbye to my apple tree, raspberry patch and flowers.

The new garden is much bigger (so I guess I’ll have to change the name of this blog, it’s not a tiny wildlife garden anymore!) and I’m looking forward to making it a friendly place for my babies and for wildlife. I’ve already started a few little things to get started on the wildlife garden (little things are about as much as I can manage most days!) and I’m looking forward to sharing these with you.

Planting up a log pile for wildlife

Recently, I’ve felt like I haven’t had much opportunity to spend much time doing anything in the garden because we’ve just been so busy doing other things. I hate the cult of business and am much more in favour of an Ode to Indolence outlook, but we have been very busy and when we haven’t been busy we’ve been faced with the issue of the wall.

You don’t have to be an expert in construction to see the issue with the wall, even from that angle. My neighbour’s lilac tree had damaged it over the course of decades to the point where it had so slowly almost as not to be noticed become unsafe for the under gardener to play around it. So it had to come down and the lilac tree had to have (with the consent of my neighbour) a pretty brutal pruning, branches, trunk and root to make sure that the wall could be rebuilt without the problem recurring for another 100 years. All of which meant that my garden has been covered in rubble and a twelve-foot section of lilac tree.

I decided to put the trunk to good use, but when I moved the tree to one side, it turned out the local garden snails had decided that under the canopy was a hip new hangout and were unsurprisingly very slow to act on their eviction notice…

 

I spent a few hours chopping the section of the lilac tree up into pea sticks, bean poles, twigs, sticks and log sections to use in the garden and began layering them to make a log pile. I used a long trunk section of trunk as a base and some thinner branches with some leaves on first to weave together a sort of hollow that I hope will be a good hiding place for frogs and snails, which I then layered some thick branches over to create a strong base.

Then I added in some tree trunks that the previous owners of our house had left behind from felling a tree, some gnarly roots from the lilac and a hollow log to create lots of nooks and crannies that mini-beasts will be able to hide in. This is stacked behind a hazel tree, some bushing roses and a carpet of mint, so I’m hopeful that there will be some seasonal nectar for wildlife. There’s a bird bath sunken into the ground in front of the hazel so there’s water for frogs etc. I’m also considering planting the log pile to create pockets of shade and moisture.

The structure is in place

Does anyone have any suggestions for wildlife friendly plants that would make it more aesthetically pleasing? I thought maybe some kind of trailing flowering plant, but I’m not sure what would suit full sun and a dry aspect. Can anyone offer any suggestions?