Thursday, 26 March 2020

Wildlife-Friendly Gardening Notes

In these unsettling times you may be able to spend more time in your garden. Why not make it more wildlife friendly with these tips from Dr Hilary Ash.

White-faced darter dragonfly. Photo: John Balcombe


Have you bought your potting compost for spring sowings? Remember to buy only bags labelled “peat-free”. Peat bogs are marvellous places. They store lots of carbon, indefinitely. They store rainwater, lessening flooding downstream. And they support some unusual wildlife such as sundew and butterwort, both insect-eating plants. Ponds in peat support white-faced darter dragonflies, which Cheshire Wildlife Trust recently re-introduced to Delamere. Digging up peat releases all that stored carbon and water, as well as destroying the wildlife. So only buy compost labelled as “peat-free” – these days compost is just as good as peat-based brands. And if you buy plants, ask for ones grown in peat-free compost.

Bumblebee on pussy willow catkins. Photo: Linda Moving Ahead, Flickr

Pollen and Nectar – Spring

Insects coming out of hibernation need food. For many that food is nectar for energy and pollen for protein to make their eggs and feed their young. Look around your garden and neighbourhood: are there flowers around to supply their food? If not, maybe you could plant suitable flowers in your garden. Good early spring ones are pussy willow, creeping comfrey and bulbs such as daffodils. Follow on with primroses and cowslips, tree and soft fruit, and spring-flowering shrubs such as hawthorn and cotoneasters. Remember to avoid double flowered varieties, which often lack pollen.

Cocksfoot grass. Photo: Ian Alexander,


Our climate is famously variable. Most invertebrates need somewhere to hibernate in winter. Even in June a wet day can mean butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other creatures need somewhere to hide from the rain. Look round your garden – are there places to shelter? Maybe a dense hedge or group of shrubs, a loose pile of large stones or bricks, or a”log-pile” of larger prunings. Dead leaves heaped in a corner are useful to some species, as are tussocks of unmown grasses such as cocksfoot. If space is limited, how about an evergreen climber up a wall or fence.

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