Letting the wild edges in
In our super fast, super efficient lives it is so easy to let nature pass us by, to relegate her to a separate part of our busy lifestyles. We hide in our brick houses, walk along concrete streets and do everything we can to keep the bugs and what we perceive as 'dirt' locked outside. We've created pristine and sterile environments for ourselves, hiding away behind concrete and glass. How often does a child come home with pockets full of stones, random sticks and interesting shaped leaves. They understand the importance and wonder of it all which so many of us are too busy to remember.
The absurdity of all this is that we are nature. We are not separate from her at all, but are part of that intricate and wondrous web that supports our beautiful natural environment. So why not do what we can to welcome nature back in? With our urban environments expanding the way that they are and with our population growing as fast as it is we should be utilising every little bit of space that we can to create mini, well balanced and productive ecosystems. It doesn't matter how big or small a space is – if well thought out it can add a huge amount of value.
And that is where our gardens come into play. From a single indoor houseplant to a collection of balcony pots or a garden full of perennial flowers and grasses, shrubs, fruit trees and vegetables – there is always something that can be done to welcome nature in and support our urban wildlife. If well planned and cleverly designed, a garden can become a self-functioning space that works for us while also providing so much for the bees, butterflies, beetles, hedgehogs, birds, foxes (the list goes on and on) that we so often frighten away.
We shouldn't have to separate ourselves from nature by ring-fencing a separate wildlife area. With considered, well thought out design we can create spaces that tick all the boxes and that allow us to co-habit our green spaces with our urban wildlife.
The most important considerations when creating a wildlife friendly garden are to provide food/forage and habitat throughout the whole year. It's no good just having flowers in the summer months – there are creatures that are active all year round and so it is important to think about creating a succession of wildlife friendly plants. For example, the gorgeous, dark green leaved Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' has dainty pink to white flowers which appear throughout the winter months. Not only does this lovely plant provide visual interest and colour to a garden throughout the winter, but it will also provide a source of nectar and pollen to any insects that are out foraging in the colder months of the year.
As well as choosing the right plants it is also helpful to have slightly wilder areas. Of course if you only have a small garden this isn't so practical, but there is often room for a bug hotel or perhaps even a bird nesting box.
In my own garden we have a couple of log piles and 3 compost heaps. All of which, as well as performing a useful function to us, also create habitat. When I prune larger branches from the apple tree I leave the branches to rot underneath a shrub, hidden away at the back of my main borders. This provides valuable habitat and the branches can't be seen as they are hidden away under the shrubs. I also have a nettle patch tucked away behind the green house – this is an invaluable source of food for certain moths and butterflies and also useful to me – I make pesto from the new leaves and also steep the leaves in a teapot with hot water to make a tea which is great for alleviating some of the symptoms of hay fever and is packed with so many other beneficial vitamins and minerals.
I'm lucky to have a space where I can allow some of the edges to become a bit wild but understand that log piles and a nettle patch will not work in everyone's garden and are not to everyone's tastes. In a garden where a little more order is required look to entice wildlife in other ways. A small garden tree or selection of neatly pruned shrubs will still provide a hiding place or nesting for birds and even with a small balcony or courtyard garden you can still do so much. Choose plants that you know the insects will love, practice no dig gardening as advocated by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty, avoid using any chemicals on your garden, set up a bird feeder (there are thousands of different types available to fit all outdoor situations) or build a hedgehog house.
When Choosing plants for your garden, pick perennials that will come back year after year and let your choices be guided by plants that are useful in more than one way. For example, I have several different types of thyme (Thymus vulgaris) growing in my garden. I use thyme for cooking, the flowers on thyme are excellent for insects, the leaves let off a gorgeous aroma when crushed and the evergreen foliage is so useful for ground cover or to allow to creep between gaps in paving stones. Thyme is also beautiful to look at and fits well into so many planting schemes, with flowers ranging from white to pink to pale purple depending on what variety your choose.
And as with everything (and I know I repeat this over and over again) plan. Do some research, talk to other gardeners, listen to Gardener's Question Time, ask for advice. Have a trawl through the RSPB and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust website and read through their pages on wildlife friendly gardening and all the ways that we can let nature back in. We are lucky to have a lot of resource available to us and it really doesn't take much to entice the wild edges back in.