Wildlife and the Chelsea Flower Show

Posted: Friday 24 May 2013
by Kate Bradbury

I’ve been visiting The RHS Chelsea Flower Show for six of the 100 years it’s been running. During that time, I’ve seen a sea change in attitudes towards wildlife gardening...

Sowing the seeds of Change garden by Adam Frost, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show

This week, the RSPB and other wildlife organisations published a report identifying the declines of our native wildlife. Called ‘State of Nature’, it’s a breakthrough in British conservation. For the first time, experts have worked together in their respective fields, providing a comprehensive summary of our wild species. As you might expect, it’s mostly bad news.

Over the last 10 years, 72 per cent of Britain’s butterflies have declined, including common garden species whose populations have fallen by 24 per cent. Numbers of red squirrels continue to fall, and the hedgehog is declining at the same rate as the tiger. Overall, 60 per cent of the species assessed are in trouble.

The report coincides with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which celebrates its centenary this week. At the State of Nature launch in the Natural History Museum on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think of the show gardens just a short walk away, and the wildlife that might have been at the site when the show started in 1913.

I can scarcely imagine how London has changed in the last 100 years, or how much wildlife has been pushed out of the city in that time. Expansions of cities and industry have a huge impact on wildlife, but our passions for exotic plants, tidy gardens and a general manipulation of our own slice of nature probably also play their part.

I’ve been visiting The RHS Chelsea Flower Show for six of the 100 years it’s been running. During that time, I’ve seen a sea change in attitudes towards wildlife gardening, with more and more show gardens embracing wildlife-friendly trends such as green roofs and wildflower meadows. But there are still those that focus on the majestic and the exotic, on straight lines and immaculate water features. Of course, many are designed to make statements rather than reflect real life. But what are they saying?

My favourite garden this year is the 'Sowing the seeds of Change' garden, designed by Adam Frost. It’s beautifully planted with alliums, aquilegias, foxgloves and geraniums, as well as edibles like blackcurrant, beetroot and hop. The long hawthorn hedge make me crave one of my own – how much time could I spend searching it for insects, nesting birds and hedgehogs?

Best of all were the apple trees in full blossom, which is a remarkable feat for so late in the spring. To me, they represented the needs of both humans and wildlife - the blossom for bees, the fruit for us and the birds, and the bark and leaves for a myriad of moths and beetles as well as the species that eat them.

If all gardens were designed with the needs of wildlife and humans in mind, then we would go a long way to reverse the declines of some of our native species. Put together, our gardens take up more space than all of Britain’s nature reserves. How much of our native wildlife could we gardeners save?

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