Garden writer and soil ecologist Becky Searle of Sow Much More has been looking at wildlife in her garden...
All the gardens in the UK combined are roughly equivalent to a third of the size of Wales, a vast area by anyone’s standards. If granted, this amount of land in nature reserves, it would be a tremendous gift to us and our wildlife. This means our gardens have huge potential as a resource for nature.
Habitats include somewhere to shelter, somewhere to sleep and something to eat. Many U.K. gardens provide this already, but they might be even better than you think…
Jennifer Owen, a gardener from Leicester, conducted a remarkable 30-year study of her small urban garden, in which she counted all the species she found. She was no professional, just a keen amateur naturalist. She published her findings in a book called, Wildlife of a Garden. During her study, she found no fewer than 2,673 species. By her own admission, hers was not a “wildlife garden,” just an average garden with a few flowers, some shrubs and trees and a lot of love from its gardener. This is a staggering amount of life for a small garden or any small patch of land, be it wild or otherwise.
At this time of year flower beds are a fantastic resource for nature. They provide nectar for bees, wasps, moths, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects. Their foliage can shelter insects and small animals, and their root systems provide food for soil organisms. Many of our beautiful perennial flowers will produce seed heads that are rich forage for garden birds later in the year. Flowering shrubs offer similar treats for our garden wildlife.
Whilst June is in full bloom, it is easy to berate ourselves for the parts of our garden that are less than picture perfect. I had an untidy spot in my old garden behind the greenhouse, away from the main garden. It was where my compost heap was, in the shade of an apple tree and an old Leylandii hedge. A clematis clambers lazily over from next door, its flowers like little purple bells festooning the fence. There were a few grow bags for my potatoes and a pile of what – to most people – would seem like rubbish. It was, in fact, a collection of pots and cloches, greenhouse shading, bamboo poles and a compost sieve. The area was well hidden, and I even put a little gate in to close it off to the outside world, fearing that someone may discover my inability to have a good old clear out and sort!
But as it happens, this was one of the richest pockets of life in a garden that I had designed and maintained with wildlife in mind. There were birds in the hedge, including nesting goldfinches and slow worms in the compost heap. A family of hedgehogs lived somewhere behind the heap, and a frog stationed himself in an upside-down terracotta pot with a chip out of one side. You could barely move for wildlife. I certainly had to tread carefully. And this part of my garden was by no means unique either. Many people will have similar areas in their gardens.
Whether we intend it or not, our gardens are full of habitats, some small, some large, some beautiful and some hidden, but they are all worth celebrating, and the wildlife will thank us for it!
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