Redressing the eco-balance – how you can make your garden a welcoming home for all nature’s creatures
Our natural world is shrinking – habitats are being destroyed, pesticides and chemicals are used and monocultures are grown. In these testing times for the environment, garden spaces and balconies, whether big or small, can be essential havens for wildlife. Here are a few tips for rolling out the welcome mat to the natural world:
Plants are essential in making our gardens wildlife-friendly. They are hugely beneficial for insects, including bees, wasps (yes wasps! they are a gardener’s friend in the early part of the summer for keeping pests down), butterflies, dragonflies, moths and also our garden birds and mammals. The food chain starts with pests such as aphids on plants – without these there is no food source for the beneficial insects or birds. This summer my large Sambucus Black Lace was loaded with blackfly – I could have seen them as a pest and sprayed the plant. Instead I left it alone – although it wasn’t attractive up close for a while, but the blue tits came in, picked off a lot of the blackfly then leaving the rest for the ladybird larvae. The plant was not harmed – it flowered and has done well over the summer, as well as encouraging wildlife. By leaving nature to take its course, the ecological balance was restored. I would suggest avoid chemical sprays, at least then you know your visitors will be eating a food source that is not covered in poison. If you have to spray then there are now plenty of organic alternatives to use.
It’s essential to have water in your garden – be it a pond, water bowl, bird bath, saucer or water holding sculpture in your border. All insects need to drink as well as birds, and they love to have a bath too. You will also find that frogs will frequent a water filled saucer.
If you’re considering the pollinators, bees generally head for different plants. Go for open flowers where you can see the stamens. Traditional plants such as lavender, heather, chives, agastache, rosemary, nepeta, herbs and the globe thistle (echinops), as well as trees and shrubs and climbers. The top plants for honeybees are borage, bramble, cherry, lime, aster species, dandelion, orchard fruit, rosebay willowherb, willow and clover. Bumblebees love birds-foot trefoil, knapweed, thistle, and vetch. Most people would consider a lot of these plants as weeds, but they can be mixed into a wilder area of the garden. A great book to read is ‘Plants For Bees’ by W D J Kirk & F N Howes. The birch tree is amazing for small birds such as blue tits – I have seen them stripping the bark off small stems to get the sugar sap. After all we do have our cane sugar substitute made from birch and beech wood – xylitol.
And finally, we need to provide habitats – we have tidied and spruced up our environment so much, birds and insects struggle to find habitats to make a nest. Gardens are manicured, buildings are pristine, old sheds and outbuildings converted. If you are considering any new building then think about incorporating swift boxes and bat boxes into the walls, put up bird boxes everywhere, create an overhang. In your gardens leave a pile of wood, a pile of leaves in the winter, or the fallen leaves on the borders over winter, don’t cut back perennials until February, and now you can get bee bricks for our solitary bees, made by an ethically-aware company www.greenandblue.co.uk. Or drill holes into a wood log and put up somewhere south or west facing. Create insect habitats out of anything you might just throw away. Create a living roof using sedum, or lay some wildflower turf in an area – lots of companies out there providing ready to lay wildflower turf with different mixes, leave longer grass: think organic, avoid plastic turf – it does nothing for nobody.
There are lots of companies that supply organic products to help you maintain your garden; from www.greengardener.co.uk to www.organiccatalogue.com, and it is easy to do a search on the internet for what you need.
Most of all enjoy your garden and don’t be too precious about it as creating variety you will give benefit not just for you and your family but for the visitors who come and feast.