Friday 19th March 2021

This week we went wild about wildlife, concentrating on how to go about attracting more and varied critters into our gardens. Good for us, good for them, good for pollination, good for the planet.

Except not slugs, please. And preferably not squirrels. Or snails. Or Sitka deer. Seagulls are a definite no-no. (And that’s just the unwanted wildlife beginning with ‘s’.)

Something like this would be fantastic –

But possibly not good for our pets. Or the next-door-neighbour.

Well, you’d be lovely, but possibly a little out of place in Woodingdean.

Probably something more along these lines –

Just as miraculous. Just as magnificent.

Yes. We are.

But first the

Plant ident.

Prunus spinosa

The clouds of snow-white frothy blossom seen everywhere at the moment, belong to the Blackthorn tree. Appearing on dark, bare branches, the simple, delicate, open flowers attract early pollinators. Blackthorn is hermaphrodite, meaning that both male and female reproductive parts are found in each flower. Small blue-black fruits appear later – these are Sloe berries used in the making of gin. Spiny and densely branched, the trees can live for up to 100 years.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’

A strikingly beautiful tree, the Purple-leaved Plum has gorgeous ovate leaves, preceded in early spring by a profusion of pale pink flowers on bare wood. The flowers gradually fade to white. Plum-like red/yellow ornamental fruits follow later, which although edible, are not good to eat. Makes a lovely, small deciduous tree or an attractive hedge. Easy to grow, likes full sun and a well-drained fertile soil. Garden House is very fond of this one, as it channels all things Japanese. 7 m x 5 m.

So exquisite. One small stem is all that’s needed to spark joy.

Primula ‘Gold-Laced Group’

Polyanthus hybrid primulas, particularly those edged in silver or gold, were plants much loved by the Victorians. This dark petalled example is a lovely thing to have as a couple of stems in a small glass vase. Moist soil, partial shade, any soil, any aspect. Sounds like a doddle. Why not build a little theatre to exhibit them in pots alongside a precious collection of Auriculas?

Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’

An early-flowering, scented, dwarf Daffodil, and an extremely decorative one. It may be small but it packs a punch above its weight. A double form, its multiple petals virtually explode with exuberance. Grows to around 15 cms; good in containers or at the front of the border – and also makes a good cut flower. Like most daffs, its foliage should be allowed to die down naturally after flowering. Mulch annually with compost.

Scilla ‘Pink Giant’

Known also as Chionodoxa. Scillas are perennial bulbs with narrow basal leaves and erect stems , and this cultivar produces star-shaped pale pink flowers in early spring. Growing to around 20 cms, it will seed around where happy, which is in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Look great naturalised under deciduous shrubs. Divide when overcrowded.

Narcissus ‘Elka’

Quite different from the showy ‘Rip van Winkle’, but quietly stunning. A small but perfectly formed ivory Narcissus, lovely in pots or at the front of a border in early spring. Scented too. Best in part shade. Much loved at Garden House and highly recommended. 12 cms.

Topic for the Week

One of the best ways to attract wildlife into a garden is to improve the biodiversity of the environment. Easily said, but biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet as well as being the most vital. It has been said that without biodiversity there is no future for humanity; it impacts the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe.

Genes, species, communities of creatures and entire ecosystems interact and are interdependent. We ignore this at our peril.

Everyone can play a part in some way. Check to see if you have plants flowering in your garden to attract wildlife every month of the year.

We discussed the order in which 10 common plants might flower, giving some early and late flowering interest. We thought that they might roughly appear as follows (top to bottom on left, then top to bottom on right)

For the winter, add in some Holly, Ivy, Winter-flowered Honeysuckle, Mahonia, Aconites, Crocuses, Evergreen Clematis and Primroses – and, Bingo! You’ve got 12 months covered.

Herbaceous border have been found to have the most biodiversity in managed garden situations. The best flowers for pollinators tend to have single, open flowers, although some differently-shaped flowers are uniquely perfect for just one kind of insect/moth/butterfly.

Break-out groups broke out. And came up with some ideas for pollinator-friendly plants:

Heuchera; hardy Geraniums (e.g. ‘Patricia’); Osteospermum; Dahlia; Argyranthemum; Hydrangea; hardy Fuchsia; Penstemon; Nicotiana; Campanula; Hebe; Erigeron karvinskianus; Hellebore; Viburnum; Sarcococca.

Native trees and shrubs will add food and shelter for local wildlife throughout the year. They are often used to provide mixed hedging in gardens, particularly in the countryside. We had a go at listing some of the many trees native to the U.K.:

Alder; Ash; Aspen; Crab Apple; Beech; Birch; Box; Blackthorn; Horse Chestnut; Sweet Chestnut; Elder; Elm; Field Maple; Hazel; Holly Hawthorn; Hornbeam; Juniper; Lime; Oak; Pear; Poplar; Rowan – here’s a Rowan

Spindle; Wild Cherry; Whitebeam; Willow; Yew.

Didn’t we do well?

Yeah, not bad

Wildflower Meadows

A lovely idea, but not simple to create and manage, especially on clay soils. If you live on an Estate, as opposed to an estate, it might be feasible. Have a chat with your Head Gardener. If you are the Head Gardener, then maybe consider just a small patch of wildflowers; perhaps plant Crocus, mini Narcissi and Camassia bulbs in your lawn and mow accordingly. Some people have experimented successfully using just their front gardens, particularly if the soil is poor and unproductive.

What can each of us do to attract even more wildlife into our gardens?

Research the topic. There are plenty of experts out there.

Plant bulbs, flowering plants and shrubs known to attract insects and birds

Add a bird house or two dozen. And feed those birds. Only tuppence a bag.

Provide a bug hotel. And a hedgehog home. We want those creepy guests.

And don’t forget the bees. Be a honey. A bee brick or bee hotel will give them a real buzz.

Plant dwarf buddleias in pots

Plant at least one tree known to be wildlife-friendly

Grow night-scented plants to encourage moths

Night-scented Stocks, Nicotiana, Jasmine, Evening Primrose, Honeysuckle, Mahonia. Get your night vision binoculars out and stand by.

Use biological controls for pests; don’t use chemical pesticides

And definitely use peat free compost

Make log piles in dappled shade – decaying wood is great for insects, fungi, mosses and lichen.

Don’t cut down dead material over winter. Leave it to provide food and shelter. Hollow stems will allow beneficial insects to hibernate in them.

Bring water into the garden. Dave Goulson, author of ‘The Garden Jungle’, says this is one of the quickest and most effective ways to introduce more wildlife.

Maybe not this…

But, hopefully, this –

this

and these great Great Crested Newts

Jobs for the Week

Let’s romp quickly through these, as we’ll no doubt be very busy creating wildlife havens this week

Plant out chitted Potatoes

Not ‘chipped potatoes’.

Continue to sow seeds

On a daily if not hourly basis. Spinach, Spring Onions, Beetroot, Carrots, Leeks, Lettuces. And Tomatoes, of course

You’ll enjoy harvesting the rewards later

Cut down Cornus stems

Maybe take out only one in three, or maybe all of them, depending on whether you want to enjoy their leaves, or grow them solely for their colourful stems.

Start planting out hardy annuals

But only once they have been hardened off. Escholtzia, Ammi majus, Ammi visnaga, Nigella and Centaurea can all be planted 30 cms apart in well prepared beds. Sow more!

Trim deciduous hedges

Unless there are birds nesting in them, in which case postpone until later

Finish any Rose pruning this weekend

Force Rhubarb

Ideally, get some of these terracotta forcing jars. Then you needn’t actually bother with the Rhubarb at all, unless you’re partial to a bit with custard.

Divide Grasses

Prune Salvias

But keep an eye out for temperatures – there may still be frosts to come and some Salvias are more tender than others

Enjoy the Hellebores. It’s their season

It’s a Buttercup, Jim, but not as we know it

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