Across the rec
Nature_Garden

 Nature Notes 

 Garlic mustard 

 Flies! 

 Common Alder 

 A Stroll on the Wild Side 

 Festive Foliage 

 Stinking Iris 

 Harvestmen 

 Arrival of the Arachnids 

 Alien Invader - Harlequin Lady 

 Vipers Bugloss and More Bees! 

 Red Mason Bee 

 Common Carder Bee 

 Litter 

 The Story So Far Part 3 

 The story so far Part 2 

 The Story So Far 

 Fungi 

 Wasp Nest 

 Drought 

 Dragonflies 

 Water 

 Nursery Web Spider 

 Homes for Bees 

 Crocuses 

 Winter Trees 

 Welcome the weeds! 

 2021 Nature Notes 

 2020  Nature Notes 

 2019 Nature Notes 

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Great intro! January 2024

 

I’m guessing that most people who read these notes are familiar with the Rec and have tuned into the fact that I’m pretty keen on both gardening and wildlife. I’ve combined these 2 passions for quite some time in my own small garden, but when I decided to start up the gardening group at the Rec, I saw the opportunity to do the same things on a slightly larger scale.

 

Gardening fashions come and go as with every other aspect of life. From a variety of more formal styles as in Tudor and Victorian times to the ‘naturalistic’ look of the 18th century, and more recently, prairie planting. There are cottage gardens, container gardens, desert gardens and a plethora of other styles. There is also now a momentum for making our gardens more ecologically friendly and helping to reverse the catastrophic downward trend in our biodiversity.

 

I sit firmly in the Wildlife Gardening camp and it was my intention from the start to try to improve wildlife habitat at the Rec, whilst hopefully creating a pleasant garden for the less wild visitors! Wildlife gardening isn’t about giving nature entirely the upper hand, but it does require meeting it half way. For those of us, who grew up with manicured lawns, formal bedding and everything ordered and tickety-boo, this can be difficult. But we have to remember that it often took bucketloads of chemicals, to maintain this look. Noxious chemicals to kill the ‘weeds’, further chemicals to kill the ‘pests’. Concoctions to improve the lawn, make your flowers grow even bigger and generally establish ‘control’.  We may have had beautiful begonias and dahlias but they were growing in an ecological wasteland. What we’ve been brought up to think of as untidy, or slightly scruffy round the edges, is prime habitat for wildlife. And so when designing and creating the garden at the Rec, we’ve tried to strike a balance. Let me take you on a virtual tour and you can judge whether or not we’ve succeeded

 

 Three stag beetle larvae

As you enter the garden, the most striking feature is the large circular bed in the middle affectionately, known as the Pollinator Patch. We’ve planted it with bulbs, perennials and shrubs that between them, provide a long flowering season. Most of them aren’t native species but they are designated ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ by the Royal Horticultural Society. From spring through to autumn they’re alive with bees, butterflies, hoverflies etc and we know that there are stag beetle larvae within the soil. At times, we’ve inadvertently dug a few of them up, but fortunately they were undamaged and returned to the same spot. We’re so lucky to have these magnificent insects but they are dependent on decaying wood, which the tidy gardener might be tempted to clear away. Likewise the dead stalks of the perennials, some of which we’ve left standing. The seed heads can be quite architectural especially when coated with frosts, and the hollow stems give excellent refuge to overwintering insects.

 

The four borders around the perimeter vary slightly in character. Alongside the beech hedge are certain species that are attractive to moths because they are night scented, such as Evening Primrose and Tobacco plants. Moths are thought to be even more effective pollinators than bees and also provide a tasty meal for bats, so we’re keen to attract them. We also attempted to create a nesting site for mining bees within a large pot partially sunk into the ground. No solitary bees unfortunately but a colony of ants have found it very much to their liking. The upper part of the pot is surrounded by small piles of twigs, and there are rotting logs, as well as a broken terracotta flower pot, amongst the plants. Seemingly inconsequential things but the more varied microhabitats you can create, the better it is for the wildlife.

 

The bed beside the tennis court has a lot more shrubs, some native and others ornamental, but all offering shelter and food for birds and insects. At one end is a small hornbeam hedge, created out of self -seeded saplings in the bed itself. And to enhance the border’s insect appeal, we’ve installed a bug hotel, and scattered a number of logs in varying stages of decay. The bug hotel is regularly used by nesting solitary bees, who can be seen coming and going in the early summer. We have really tried not to throw things away if we can make use of them; hence the hornbeam hedge. We’ve moved plants within the garden, divided others and shared them with various groups and individuals. And at the end of the day, we now have our own compost bins to recycle whatever is left.

 

 Plan of pollinator patch and surrounding gardenThe remaining two beds become gradually less formal as you move towards the far corner of the garden, which is our ‘wild spot’. Thoroughly overgrown with brambles, ivy and decaying wood, it’s the area that we intentionally leave undisturbed as a place of refuge for creatures such as hibernating hedgehogs. Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder and this is where we have to suppress our desire for order, and welcome in some super scruffiness. Try to imagine it through the lens of a toad or wood mouse…..paradise in the park, no less!  It would be a favour to our wildlife if every garden could have a small undisturbed patch where Nature can do her own thing……..albeit slightly less unruly than ours!

 

The bed opposite the school has many trees and shrubs that were well established when we started out. We’re still in the process of trying to clear some of the bramble up against the fence line; good as it is for wildlife, it is brutally invasive and isn’t welcome everywhere, and we’d ideally like to confine it to the corner. The words ‘bramble’ and ‘confine’ seem contradictory, especially when you’re determined not to use herbicides, but we love a challenge, and do our best!! SCC planted the space around the flagpole with a variety of shrubs and perennials and behind it, a small section of mixed native hedgerow, which mainly survived the drought in 2022 and is starting to flourish. We cleared the area in front of this hedge to plant cornfield annuals, but to our surprise, we had a healthy crop of cosmos and marigolds amongst the cornflowers and corn chamomile……ah well, all good for pollinators!

 

And finally, the back bed is a mixture of the wild and the not-so wild. There is a log pile festooned in ivy and other native plants on one side and our Pocket Wood on the other. Hazel, Goat Wllow, Guelder Rose, Spindle and Birch are underplanted with native bluebells and the adjoining bed contains species intended to give the feel of a cool woodland edge. We have provided water in a saucer on the ground for insects and mammals, and a bird bath for our avian visitors There are also a number of artificial bumble nests amongst the hydrangeas, made from upturned flower pots. These are meant to replicate the abandoned mouse holes the bees normally use for nesting. I haven’t seen too much activity since they’ve been there, but we live in hope! The back of this bed is again a little on the wild side to give a naturalistic backdrop, but we do try to avoid any forward encroachment. Anyone who’s stood in that corner for a while will have noticed the birds that occupy the hedge behind the fence, in the car park to the flats. Our resident flock of starlings are particularly entertaining as they engage in their cacophony of tweets, shrieks and whistles. If not in the hedge, they can often be seen high up in one of the Rec’s trees or in the garden of number 2, partaking of the bird food on offer!!

 

Finally you may have spotted the snowdrops in the far corner. We planted 1000 bulbs about 3 years ago. They are taking a while to establish but will hopefully spread year on year to create a carpet worthy of any National Trust property! These beautiful harbingers of spring are beloved by humans and early pollinators alike.

 

So although certain parts within the garden area may not be entirely to your taste, I hope I’ve explained why they are as they are. And if you can possibly make a bit of wild space in your garden, there are plenty of critters who will find a home and be extremely grateful.

 

There’s one thing for sure, EVERYONE OF US NEEDS NATURE!

Words and pictures Denise Long January 2024

 

 

 

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