Gardens for wildlife

Posted: Thursday 8 August 2013
by Kate Bradbury

I’m on holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage in a village near Padstow. The sun has shone for most of the week and I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden.

I’m on holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage in a village near Padstow. The sun has shone for most of the week and I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden, slumped in a deckchair watching wildlife.
For a couple of days I was able to sit and eat my breakfast in front of the large buddleia bush, and count butterflies for Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. I also marvelled at the different bird species the garden attracted, from robins and blackbirds to house sparrows and greenfinches.
On the RSPB Homes for Wildlife website there are thousands of declarations from people pledging to improve their gardens for wildlife. From feeding the birds to installing a bee hotel, these promises form a patchwork of good intentions across the country - if fulfilled, they’ll make a valuable contribution to the nation’s wild species.
The garden of my holiday cottage already makes a great home for wildlife, but I thought it would be interesting to explore the reasons why it’s good, as well as suggest ways it could improve. Sometimes looking at other gardens helps improve your own.
1. The garden is a 1960s-style design, with a rough lawn surrounded by thin borders at the back and either side. The shrubs in the borders are large and overgrown, and look like they’re roughly cut back once every couple of years. While this isn’t something I’d like in my garden, it helps demonstrate the need for shelter. The shrubs and plants are growing so densely that birds have plenty of places to hide from predators. Robins, blackbirds and house sparrows appear from nowhere to forage on the lawn, and then disappear in a flash.
2. Another good feature of the garden is that there’s a mixture of native and non-native plants. Natives include hawthorn, field rose and burdock, while non-natives include weigela, crocosmia and buddleia. The natives provide a source of food for the caterpillars of moths (which in turn feed bats, birds and hedgehogs), while the non-natives extend the season of flowers for bees and other pollinators.
3. There’s a compost bin (I find this wonderful in a holiday rental). This provides shelter and food for a range of insects and their predators, and is an ecosystem in its own right.
4. There are sunny and shady areas, which appeal to different species (birds forage for slugs in the damp, shady areas, while butterflies bask in the sunshine).
It’s a great base for a wildlife garden, but how could it be improved? One of the first things I did on arrival was remove the lid of the compost bin and fill it with water, to act as a bird bath. Water is essential in the wildlife garden as it provides birds and other species with the opportunity to drink and bathe. Within half an hour of making my bin-lid-bird bath, a blackbird was cleaning his feathers. Proof that our efforts to help wildlife really do work.
The lawn is cut quite short. For greater benefit to wildlife it could be cut less often, or at different lengths so that wildflowers such as clover and self-heal could thrive. This would provide more food for bees, which currently have to compete with the butterflies for the buddleia.
If it were my garden, I’d plant more berrying shrubs for birds. The hawthorn had been cut back earlier in the year so had no haws, and the field rose had very few hips. At this time of year many birds switch to eating antioxidant-rich berries prior to migration. An elder, mature ivy and cotoneaster would have made a valuable contribution to existing plants.
I’ll continue to make improvements to my own garden to create more homes for wildlife. If you’d like to improve yours, log on to the RSPB Homes for Wildlife website and see what you can do. From planting more pollinator-friendly flowers to making a hedgehog house, you can be part of the growing body of gardeners creating homes for wildlife.

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Talkback: Gardens for wildlife
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oldchippy 08/08/2013 at 17:50

You lucky girl,I wish I was in Cornwall

kaycurtis 09/08/2013 at 04:35

Hi! every body, I have mentioned my garden before, really am lucky to have so many different birds and bee's, butterflies are more scarce though only a fleeting glance of a peacock as it flutters by but loads of cabbage whites, the bee's go crazy for the lavender a continual buzz all day long. Took some yew clippings to the tip the other day and a grasshopper had hitched a lift in the car next morning I found the lovely green creature sitting in my car having got a couple of miles up the road before noticing him, I turned around drove back home and deposited him back in the garden before I resumed my journey, I really love my little creatures.

flowersforbees 10/08/2013 at 15:45

Well done kay!  I'm like you - I rescue everything, except for mosquitoes!

happymarion 12/08/2013 at 19:26

One of my presents for my 85th birthday was a copy of your book, Kate, and I am enjoying it very much, mainly because it is nice to read page after page about things I agree with. The photographs are lovely and, in the second edition, I hope there will be more really beautiful wildlife garden pictures.

Kate Bradbury 13/08/2013 at 14:47

Old chippy - I'm back now. But I wish I was still in Cornwall too :)

kaycurtis - you are an angel, what a lucky grasshopper!

flowersforbees - I actually rescued some mosquitoes the other day ;)

HappyMarion! Happy birthday!! I have been thinking of you but couldn't remember the exact date... was it yesterday? I am very glad you are enjoying the book (what a great idea for a birthday present!). I will pass your feedback on to the photographer - sadly we only had four months to shoot pics for the whole book in what turned out to be the wettest summer in 100 years! I doubt I will get a second edition published but I will ensure my next book (fingers crossed!) has plenty of beautiful garden images - weather permitting!

Hope you had a great birthday and celebrated in style.


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