I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce a new member of the RPL Garden Design family; Sarah Burhouse. Our resident wildlife expert and 1st Class Honours Zoology graduate. Sarah has been helping to ensure our designs actively promote biodiversity through planting, and careful consideration of the location of hard landscaping features. Here is Sarah’ first blog on the subject of wildlife gardening…..
A common misconception is that a garden can be too small or unsuitable for attracting wildlife, however wildlife gardening can make a difference in the most obscure locations. My 10m2 area of decking in the inner city area of Sneinton is an oasis for wildlife such as goldfinches, hawker dragonflies, comma butterflies and lime hawk-moths. One of my garden’s biggest attractants is the nine foot buddleia growing out of the cobbled bin store, a wonderful example of nature taking back its home. Buddleia is a well-known attractant at this time of year, not just for butterflies but also for bees, wasps and hoverflies. Be sure to deadhead your buddleia throughout the season to ensure flowering into early autumn.
Small interconnected gardens are great for pollinating insects and in turn beneficial to insectivorous birds and mammals. It is not just the plant diversity in gardens attracting pollinators but also the structural diversity provided by hedging, trellises, grasses and plants. Most pollinators, especially butterflies, are poikilothermic. This means they are heavily affected by changes in weather. Providing warm and sunny but also sheltered areas such as tall grasses is perfect for butterflies of varying species. Many species use tall grasses and shrubs to oviposit their eggs and to shelter from strong winds. At this time of year ornamental grasses develop attractive seed heads which can be a feature of your garden for both you and local species to enjoy. If you have a lawn, now is a good time to allow it to grow a little longer to help it survive the dry weather and gift insects with much needed shelter.
Diversity of plants will provide flowers in bloom throughout the season. If you want to attract specific species to your garden it is possible to select host plants.* Due to their long flowering time it is tempting to plant cultivated flowers to attract wildlife throughout the season, however the benefits of these species are lesser than those of their ancestral forms. The seed abundance and specific structure of non-modified plants have evolved to best host nectar feeding insects. For example the corolla tube length of lavender is specially adapted to suit the proboscis. Selective breeding will alter these traits which have co-evolved between flower and insect.
Taking time to build a home for wildlife in your outdoor space can have a huge beneficial impact on local populations. If you haven’t space for a compost heap or log pile it is still possible to attract decomposers and saprophytes. Insect hotels can be easy to create and can even be hung from walls to avoid taking up valuable ground space. Fill wooden compartments with bamboo, dead wood and vegetation to give insects somewhere to hide and provide a great food source for higher species. No garden is too small for a pond. By adding a small plastic planter to an area of soil and pond plants such as Canadian pond weed you can attract species with aquatic larvae such as hoverflies. Surround this area with grasses and over hanging stones to increase your chances of attracting amphibians.
If like many of us in the city you have too many other commitments to give your garden the time, money and attention to create an award winning garden, methods as simple as sowing a wild flower area can make a great difference to your outside space. Your local garden centre will sell cheap boxes of seed specifically chosen for pollinating insects that can be thrown down on a section of soil and left to care for its self. Recently I’ve seen a number of butterfly species on my low cost wild flower areas including small copper, green veined white and small skipper. With a little time spent in your garden you’ll be surprised how many species you can spot. Make sure you log your sightings for the Big Butterfly Count at http://www.bigbutterflycount.org.
Sarah Burhouse BSc Hons
Conservationist, Ecologist, Landscape Consultant
*General attractants for pollinating insects
Beetles and hoverflies: fennel, geraniums, saxifrages
Bees: foxglove, campanulas, antirrhinums
Moths: honey suckle, nicotinia, rododhendrons
Butterflies: buddleia, nettles and thistles
If your interested in turning your garden into a haven for wildlife please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us and we’ll be happy to get have a chat with you.