Wildlife Gardening

There are definite advantages to gardening for wildlife. When I decided I no longer wanted an immaculate garden but a garden that would attract as much wildlife as possible the first thing I did was stop the war on weeds. 

I used to start my gardening year by spending a couple of weeks crawling under bushes trying to dig up weeds. I now leave most of them and although many of the flowers are small they are still beautiful. One of the first weeds/flowers I noticed was Hairy Bittercress. This plant has tiny white flowers and is edible, tasting like cress it works well as part of a salad or in a sandwich.  http://thegoodliferevival.com/blog/hairy-bittercress

Hairy Bittercress tastes good in a sandwich.

The second plant/weed that I have plenty of is Wood Avens. These like damp shady conditions and there are many areas in my garden that it loves. The flowers are small and yellow, the seed heads are attractive and can stick to your clothes. It is another edible plant. https://www.wildfooduk.com/edible-wild-plants/wood-avens/ 

Wood Avens also known as Herb Bennet

Both of the previous plants have added themselves to my garden and so has this next beautiful yellow flower. I still do not know what it is but it grows happily in the garden and I like the look of it.

Unknown yellow flower, seeds itself all over the garden.

In the last two years I have been adding wildflowers to the borders, some grow well while others seem to disappear without a trace. Rose Campions and Betony were the first to give plenty of flowers.

This year 2020, I have added Cowslips, Oxeye Daisies, Comfrey and Borage. A large clump of Common Ragwort has also appeared.

We have allowed our small amount of lawn to grow for several weeks and by mid July only cut it twice. This has allowed clover, buttercups and some meadow grasses to appear. The bees and hover flies have been very happy.

I wanted to add a pond to the garden. Our garden is heavy clay, difficult to dig in the winter because of its stickiness and in Summer like concrete.  I started digging in March and then lockdown happened. Having no pond liner I used an old washing up bowl, surrounded it with rocks and added a couple of water plants. I placed rocks inside the bowl to enable birds to drink safely and was very pleased to notice blackbirds and robins using it regularly . Early in June I noticed a frog had moved in and now in July I have seen two frogs and several froglets.

We have a bird table, bird feeders, piles of rocks and logs and some messy corners. All Winter we were visited each day by a pair of Bullfinches and now have regular visits from families of Long Tailed Tits and Blue Tits. A Wood pigeon has nested in a hawthorn tree just beside the patio in what looks like a very precarious structure.  Our favourite resident however has to be the one legged Robin. 

Here is a list of other birds seen, Nuthatches, Jay, House Sparrows, Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Hedge Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds, Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Wren, Song Thrushes and Wood Pigeons. Other garden visitors include a hedgehog, a family of squirrels and several frogs. Butterflies include Speckled Wood, Large White, Gatekeeper, Orange-tip, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell  and Common Blue. Last summer we also saw Peacocks and Painted Ladies. I have noticed the caterpillars of Mullein moths on the Buddleia and a Dragonfly in the front garden. A useful site for identifying butterflies  https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/identify-a-butterfly

Having spent more time than usual pottering around the garden I have become aware of different bee species.  Firstly I noticed Tree Bumblebees which were first seen in the UK in 2001. I have also observed something that I have never seen before, Bumblebee’s mating. The action was happening on a gravel area. Then to my surprise the queen starting to try to fly off, she bumped up and down along a path and then managed to get airborne with the male still attached to her.  

I have grown Nasturtiums in pots and found them a most interesting addition to the garden. We have eaten their leaves and flowers in salads, the bees have enjoyed their nectar and I am saving the seeds to pickle when I have enough of them to fill a jar.

Lastly here are some books I have read and recommend.

Wildflowers during Lockdown

I have always enjoyed walking in the countryside and over the years have tried to recognise and learn the names of wildflowers. I have four wildflower books at home but even these do not show every flower as there are so many different ones in our lanes and fields. In more recent years there have been concerns about the demise of our native plants and the loss of wildflower meadows. It is thought that we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows since the 1930s. There is a lot of debate over the picking of flowers but it is important that children learn to love them and this could mean picking a few. This is what Plantlife has to say,

‘Contrary to widespread belief, it is not illegal to pick most wildflowers for personal, non-commercial use. In a similar vein, it’s not illegal to forage most leaves and berries for food in the countryside for non-commercial use.’

Path around the field.

During this period of Lockdown in 2020 we have been allowed to go out each day for exercise but asked to keep within walking distance of home. This has been quite an eye opener to discover all the flowers growing in the fields near Belper. I have been walking virtually the same route each day and have really noticed the succession of our beautiful, colourful flowers.

Looking across the fields towards the A6

Lockdown started on March 23rd and during this month I noticed Wood Anemones and Mouse-ears both small white flowers. Wood anemones grow in shady places and droop their heads at evening time or during bad weather. It used to be said that fairies slept in the flowers closing the petals around themselves. Mouse-ears seem to like a bit more sun and are considered to be a weed but I wouldn’t mind some in my garden. In the hedgerows blackthorn flowers open before the bush grows its leaves .

Blackthorn flowers before the leaves come out.

April is the month when Bluebells and Wild Garlic appear and this year the bluebells seemed to be early, probably because of the warm weather. The fields are bright with the yellow flowers of dandelions and bluebells flower around the field edges and in the hedgerows. Hawthorne flowers open in the hedges and the edge of woods look glorious with Wild Cherry blossom. Cow Parsley starts to wave in the field margins and cuckoo flowers appeared wherever the grass was allowed to grow. It was good to have the time to really observe these flowers as so much of my usual rushing around had to stop. 

In May Dandelions gave way to Buttercups, just leaving their whiteish seed heads behind. Cow Parsley continued to open closely followed at the end of the month by the much sturdier Common Hogweed (not to be confused with Giant Hogweed). Also towards the end of the month I noticed large areas of one field turning white with the opening of Oxeye Daisies. Hawthorne flowers faded and the Elderflowers came into bud ready to open towards the end of the month. On the edge of one of the fields was a large patch of Yellow Rattle the first time I have seen this in the countryside. The rest of this field was covered in the yellow and oranges of Bird’s-foot trefoil and the lovely cerise pink of clover.

June so far has seen the Elderflowers open properly in the hedges and some of the fields look red at a distance with the flowering of Sheep’s sorrel. I also notice pink Dog-roses covering the bushes and the small white flowers of Brambles are coming out.

I have really enjoyed walking over the same fields for weeks and noticing how different flowers come into bloom and change the colour of the fields and hedges. I had not really thought about this before and at the moment in June the fabulous Foxgloves are just starting to flower. The fields where the dandelions flowered earlier are now being covered by Rough hawkbit.

I am looking forward to seeing more flowers opening during the month of June and how these alter the colour of the fields.