Tag Archives: gardening

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!

Spring, nipped in the bud

Well, it was beginning to look a lot like spring.

The crocus, narcissi and hyacinth bulbs that we planted in the autumn were coming up nicely alongside primulas that we’d transplanted into tubs alongside the lavender cuttings that I took last year. The Under Gardener was enjoying wheeling her toys around in the wheelbarrow that she got for Christmas and telling them how the flowers were full of nectar for the hungry bumblebees….

Then along came “The Beast from the East”.

Now the flowers are wilting into the snow in their tubs, I’m guessing their roots have frozen to prevent them taking up water. I’m hoping that the buds on other plants aren’t getting too frost nipped. Even the birds seem to be keeping away from the feeders, hopefully sheltering somewhere warm while the snow piles up in drifts.

I was really looking forward to life coming back into the garden. Now it feels a bit like Narnia, always winter but never Christmas.

 

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?

Breaking Bud

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.

Lost Lavender

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.

Worm’s the Word

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.

Nectar of the Gods

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.