Tag Archive for: Garden

Gardening with nature

In recent years “gardening for nature” has been a hot topic, and rightly so; as we invade and pave over wild habitats, we need to provide spaces for the species we have dislodged in the process. Be it by putting up a bird box or planting bee-friendly plants we can all play a role in providing a home for nature on our doorsteps. The difficult part once you start is gardening with nature. You want to make sure that you are doing what you can to protect your garden as well as let it flourish with species that can add to the surroundings. There are ways that this can be done from small to large, for example, if you are worried about large rodents coming into your garden then you may want to look at installing an arbor with gates that are attached to your current fence or wall so you have that extra protection whilst making your garden look appealing. This is just one way as there are plenty of others that can be utilized.

I should first explain a little about our situation: We are lucky to have inherited a beautiful mature garden from the previous owners of our house, who were a retired couple with a keen interest in keeping their garden immaculate. They had bird boxes and feeders up, and naturally, some of the wonderful flowers in the borders were ideal for bees and butterflies so they hadn’t created a sterile space by any means. There have been a few changes since they moved out though and I’d like to think they are for the better. We are planning a pond, have put up some more bird boxes, and installed an extra feeding area for the birds. My husband recently made a hedgehog hideaway for me and we are slowly replacing some of the leylandii hedging with a mix of species, including things like buddleia to attract pollinators and cotoneaster to encourage winter migrants. As explained by pest control experts in GA and other specialists in this field, we won’t replace all of the hedgings, as we realize its value as dense foliage in which the birds like to hide from predators, hunker down in colder weather, and nest in during the summer months, but we do feel that there is potential to make a few alterations which benefit other species too. We will try planning the garden in such a way that it can be safe haven to visitors, but at the same time ward away all kinds of pests that could potentially harm the plants and surroundings.


Another feature that we have introduced is a no-mow section on the lawn. It began in spring because there are bulbs in part of the lawn and so it often can’t be mown completely anyhow. Since we stopped though there are a wealth of other species creeping in which I am really pleased to see. Flowers like clover, lesser stitchwort, common speedwell, buttercups and self-heal are already coming through. In time to come though, I hope to encourage other hedgerow species like red campion which has already self-seeded in other parts of the garden. To help with growth, we have looked at things like Zoysia grass fertilizer as well as others like it for the surrounding area, but for now, we want to see how this can be done as naturally as possible for the bulb’s sake.

So, now that I have told you how we are trying to garden for nature, let me get back to my original point: gardening with nature can be a real challenge! So much so that I hardly know where to begin…

The parts of the lawn which we do mow (though less regularly than our neighbors, as I like the clover to come through for the bees), are full of ant nests. These are a real pain if I’m honest, but I daren’t do too much to get rid of them because we so enjoy seeing green woodpeckers hopping around gorging themselves on the ants.


I like to try and grow a few vegetables to supplement what we buy from the shops – in my opinion, anything we can do to help reduce our dependence on supermarket produce is a good thing, not to mention they taste so much better! The problem is that we have nothing to stop the wildlife from coming into the garden. I like this fact because it means we really do get all sorts wandering in, but it does mean that my broccoli has been eaten off by hares, my beetroot nibbled by muntjac and my peas scratched up by partridges, pigeons and pheasants. If this prolongs, I may have to look into pest control services such as those offered by Houseman Services. I would happily fence just the veg patch if it didn’t mean that I’d be keeping out the hedgehogs too and they provide valuable pest control by eating lots of slugs.


As for the redcurrants, I’ve resorted to netting them this year as I didn’t see a single berry get the chance to turn red last year, but that still hasn’t kept away the blackbirds completely as I watched one hovering to get at the berries just within reach through the net… It is an improvement but I suspect they will find the strawberries in due course!

Then comes the question of weeds. The age old saying goes “a weed is a plant that is in the wrong place” and in many cases this is true. I for one don’t mind clover in the lawn unlike some, but I don’t really want it in the borders too (that said, my borders have a lot more weeds than they used to!). There are some plants which we don’t want in the garden full stop but where do we draw the line? Nettles and brambles are a particular bugbear; both have their uses for me and for nature – think blackberry jam or nettle soup. Bees love bramble flowers, whilst I must share the berries with the birds, and small tortoiseshell butterflies rely on nettles as a food plant for their caterpillars along with several other species. Are these useful plants really weeds? Do I deny them space in my garden? I know full well that both will gladly take over if I’m not careful, and both are unpleasant to deal with because of their natural protection of thorns and stinging hairs. Would it therefore be easier if I got rid of them completely and found somewhere to forage them from instead?

Common Carder bee

I have to admit that I have recently done this with nettles. I only have to step outside my garden a few feet and there are plenty which are freely available to me, but the patch in my garden was becoming tiresome and spreading too close to where we regularly walk. There are still a few brambles in the hedge though and here I am happy for them to stay among the hawthorn and honeysuckle. I keep them carefully trimmed so that they don’t spread too far, but I am still able to pick a few blackberries each year and I seem to have obtained a balance I am happy with.

Of course there are plenty of other weeds which are less useful to me but that doesn’t mean that some form of wildlife or another isn’t reliant on it; ragwort, groundsel and Jack-by-the-hedge to name a few. My theory on these is less clear cut but I tend to leave a few plants and keep an eye on them. As long as they are benefitting wildlife I can hardly remove them all and I wouldn’t want to. For me, a garden without wildlife is a garden without joy – I love seeing what species will make the most of my efforts next. I can’t wait to put the pond in and see what moves in first!

Give Nature a Home

There is a laudable trend currently to “Give Nature a Home“. I believe the phrase was coined by the RSPB in a campaign to get everyone involved in wildlife conservation and the idea is certainly a good one. It got me thinking and I have several anecdotes which I’d like to share with you about giving nature my home.

This morning I released yet another Ladybird into the garden from the confines of our dining room. As I write, there are 3 more wandering around on the ceiling in there… they will have to wait!

Growing up in the countryside and continuing to do so as an adult, nature has always played a central role in my life and not always outside the house. Not only did we have similar influxes of ladybirds in my childhood home, but they would often be joined by butterflies, lacewings and all sorts of other critters too. They weren’t invited as such, unlike the frogspawn in a glass tank on the kitchen table in spring, but we didn’t turf them out until the weather warmed again.

Summers were no different, solitary bees would try to build mud nest chambers on the posts of my parents’ four-poster bed when the window was left open during the day, and swallows would use the curtain pole as a perch. I was forever rescuing butterflies and bumblebees from the conservatory too.

My parents didn’t seem to mind too much and in other aspects were keen to encourage wildlife to use our house, putting up concrete House Martin nests, a Swift Box and a variety of other bird boxes and feeders. The House Martins took to it well, though I think it was used by Sparrows last year, the Martins choosing to build their own mud construction. The next boxes have been used by Spotted Flycatcher, Robin, Wren and all sorts of others. There was a Blackbird nesting in the creeper one year and Goldfinches in the climbing rose outside the bathroom window.


Night time was no different either; moths would flutter in, attracted by the light, and continue to bash themselves off the lampshade in characteristic fashion. I was particularly stunned by an Elephant Hawkmoth in the kitchen one summer. Meanwhile a pipistrelle bat developed a habit for flying in through the open bedroom window and completing a circuit of the house, before coming to rest on the spare bathroom lampshade. There has been a bat colony in the roof as long as I can remember but this one clearly decided it would like to be in more comfortable surroundings!

Though it’s fascinating to see such things, I’m aware that when there are a lot of them, they can spread diseases or parasites. Because many of their natural roosting sites have been lost, it is becoming more common to find bats roosting in human structures. So, if you find a large number of bats in your home, you might want to contact a trained bat removal specialist who can inspect the situation and locate the points where bats are getting into your home and get rid of them as soon as possible. Though while doing that, my heart would definitely cry, I don’t think I can ever jeopardize anyone’s health because of my passion!

Anyway, in the house itself there are ample spaces for wildlife in the garden and farm buildings too. I will never forget helping my parents to clear out the hay barn one summer and coming across a nest of Hedgehogs, the babies still pink and soft spined. We carefully placed old bales around it to protect them from predators and left them while we had lunch. On returning we found that the mother had moved them all (probably quite sensibly) so we continued with our work. It was one of the last times we saw Hedgehogs in the area for nearly twenty years, but I’m pleased to report that they are back as discovered by the Labrador who barks at them when she comes across them on the lawn in the evening!

There are 2 ponds in the garden as well as a natural stream and I always enjoyed pond-dipping in them as a child. There are also plenty of areas left un-mown which encourages lovely wildflowers including Self Heal, Common Spotted Orchids, Lady’s Smock and Knapweed, all beloved by bees and butterflies. On Easter Sunday this year you may have also seen that I tweeted about an Easter Bunny, a leveret to be precise, and the first Hare I’ve seen there for a while which was lovely. I want to decorate my garden area even more after seeing all of the natural beauty and visitors. I’m thinking about putting in some Landscaping Rocks near the pond to make a pathway or just to add a decorative border to it. The landscaping rocks may give the appearance of a larger, more luxurious yard or a more intricate and beautiful patio. They can provide a sense of calm or excitement as well.

Over the years I’ve had some interesting visitors to my own house too: Leopard Slugs, Mason Bees, Privet Hawkmoth, Violet Ground Beetle, various Shieldbugs and a Wood Mouse on the outer living room windowsill to name a few. I also once found a Sea Slater on a friend’s living room carpet – they do live on the coast but that was rather a surprise nevertheless!


I have yet to finish all the touches in my own garden to encourage wildlife, but having already added plenty of bird feeders and nest boxes I am currently watching some chubby looking Blackbird fledglings hopping around on the lawn. We regularly get Muntjac in the garden too and I’ve marked out where the pond is going. Progress may be a little slow but it is underway and so far so good. I am always on the lookout for ideas to encourage wildlife so do get in touch if you have any you’d like to share. In the meantime, I will continue to share my own home with the Ladybirds!