Learning to love wildlife in the garden
Climate Champion Jennifer explains how learning to love wildlife in your garden can benefit both you and the environment.
I didn’t always love the wildlife in my garden and I am still learning! For me, it all started with bees- or rather, the lack of bees. A few years ago, when I began to notice there were not as many bees, as usual, buzzing around, and heard reports about a decline in the honey-bee population, I searched online for information and was horrified to realise that this decline was largely due to a range of human actions – including the use of chemicals in the garden.
Fragrant roses are among my favourite summer flowers, and I had been in the habit of spraying with pesticides to make sure that aphids did not spoil the blooms: in trying to protect my roses, I had inadvertently contributed to the loss of bees. Everyone knows how important bees are: apart from the fact that their gentle buzzing among the flowers adds charm to the garden on a sunny day, their presence in our gardens is necessary to pollinate a host of food plants including our apple trees, raspberry bushes and strawberry plants – no bees means little if any fruit to enjoy! So I decided to put away the harmful spray, accepting that I might also lose my roses. But then a lovely thing happened: I began to notice ladybirds around the garden and, although I could still detect some aphids on the bushes, the roses continued to flower. Clearly, by stopping using pesticides, I had allowed the ladybirds to flourish and Nature was able to regain its balance: both aphids and ladybirds were getting enough to eat – and I still had lovely roses. This experience inspired me to look more closely into the impact of wildlife in my garden and as a result, to discover a host of bugs and beasties which save me work, expense and help my plants to thrive. Here are some of the creatures I now welcome, and the environments I create to attract and protect them.
Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, hoverflies
Bees are not the only insects that pollinate our plants; a host of insects including wasps, butterflies, moths and hoverflies also contribute to this vital task as they seek nectar in our plants and ensure our trees and bushes set plenty of fruit.
Plants to attract Pollinators
Consider growing these nectar-rich plants, to attract bees and butterflies:
Cotoneaster, Agastache, Buddleia, Lavender and Cat Mint. Eupatorium will provide nectar as late as October for butterflies such as Red Admiral, which require sustenance before going into hibernation.
Habitats and homes to protect Pollinators
Native wild bees are solitary creatures that live in nooks and crannies around the garden. Look out for hollow stemmed plants when pruning shrubs or perennials; save these, tie them into little bundles and push them into small gaps in walls or holes in fence posts. A patch of dense ivy will provide an adequate habitat in which Butterflies will survive over winter. Or you can add to their comfort by constructing a beautiful 5 star insect hotel – the ultimate Bee ‘n’ B. This one was made from recycled coping stones.
THE PREDATORS / PLANT PROTECTORS
Ladybirds, wasps, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, bats, birds
If bees and butterflies are recognised as being helpful to have around, the much-maligned slugs and snails are generally regarded as pests! We hate when they munch their way through young lettuce or pea plants or shred the beautiful leaves of Hostas. And that’s why we need to enlist the help of some other garden creatures – the plant protectors.
Many birds, especially the song thrush, feed on slugs and snails throughout the day but, as slugs and snails are most active at night, we really need to call upon nocturnal predators such as frogs, toads and hedgehogs to help keep them under control and so protect our plants.
Ladybirds, wasps, bats and birds feed on small insects such as aphids, scale insects, mealy bugs, and mayflies which cause damage to a wide range of greenhouse and garden plants – as well as the midges which like to nibble us!
Habitats and Homes to protect Predators
Even a tiny pond will attract frogs to your garden to mate and produce spawn, but they are amphibians and don’t live in the pond all the time. Like toads, they require a cool, damp environment with some cover for protection: a rockery, a pile of logs or an open compost heap in a shady spot with minimal disturbance provide ideal homes.
Hedgehog populations have fallen drastically in recent years, largely because our farms and gardens no longer offer the conditions they require. We can help them to survive by making our gardens more hedgehog-friendly, in return, they will help us by controlling the numbers of slugs and snails. To forage for food, hedgehogs need the freedom to roam away from busy roads, so if we grow areas of natural hedges rather than build solid fences around our gardens, they will be able to wander within a safe environment. They are shy creatures who don’t like disturbance (especially between November and March when they will be in hibernation); shady, undisturbed areas under or around hedging where weeds are left to grow or Autumn leaves are heaped, are where they will feel safe. You can make a simple home from wood, or build a pile of logs with leaves stuffed into the gaps.
Ladybirds hibernate and usually lay their eggs in Spring close to a source of food, so provide some winter shelter beside the plants which attract the aphids. Bundles of hollow stems along with some straw, stuffed into a garden pot, placed a few feet above ground level in a sheltered spot will help them to survive.
THE SOIL IMPROVERS
Worms, ants, slugs and snails
Earthworms digest organic material such as dead leaves; this helps the process of releasing essential nutrients and returning them to the soil to enrich its growing capacity. As they tunnel their way underground, worms and ants also help aerate the soil and improve drainage.
And even the detested slugs and snails make a positive contribution by munching away at dead material and depositing nutrient rich droppings.
How to attract Soil Improvers
Compost heaps, organic manure, piles of dead leaves
Have a compost bin – or simply an open compost heap – for organic waste. Slugs and worms will be attracted there and help to create nutrient rich compost to put back into the garden, away from your tender foliage. As long as you leave the material to decompose completely, there should not be a risk of spreading slugs’ eggs. Or simply learn to tolerate a degree of untidiness; don’t sweep away all the dead leaves in Autumn. This is Nature’s way of recycling nutrients – why pay so much at the garden centre for bags of compost when the worms and slugs will produce it free?
Gardening can be hard work, but our pleasure and enjoyment are greatly enhanced by the glorious background music provided by birds singing and bees buzzing.
Many garden birds are in serious decline in Scotland but whether in town or country we should expect to welcome sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, thrushes, robins, blue tits, finches, pigeons, swallows, house martins and wrens.
How to attract a variety of birds.
Berry bearing shrubs such as Berberis, Roses, Cotoneaster and Holly will provide a food supply across the seasons. There is now wide availability in shops and garden centres of a range of nutritious foods to attract a wide variety of birds to garden feeders- if possible arrange your feeders in tiers so that you can cater for the particular requirements of different species. Many birds perish through lack of water in dry spells or in icy winter conditions so try to provide a source of water for drinking and for bathing too.
Habitats and Homes to protect Birds
You might like to provide nesting boxes, but simply planting trees and shrubs, or growing hedges instead of fences around the borders, will provide adequate shelter for many birds. In Spring, leave out some nesting materials such as wisps of straw or soft dog hair after grooming – and create a small patch of mud, essential nesting material for swallows in dry weather.
DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE NEED FOR BALANCE
Nature survives well without assistance from us: left alone, wildlife will establish its own balance as one species feeds upon another – but it’s a delicate balance that is easily upset when we interfere and try to take control. Each creature, however small or seemingly unattractive, has a role to play that will contribute to the welfare of our gardens – if we are brave enough to put away the sprays, granules and pellets and welcome in a host of wildlife helpers. What’s not to love about wildlife?|