Wildlife gardening

St Albans

I spotted this wildlife home at Notcutts in St Albans recently. It wasn’t for sale, but it looked pretty do-able – I’ve got an old wine crate, and I might give it a go.

This summer, I’ve been thinking about ‘wildlife gardening’ and what it means. I’ve been quite shocked at the amount of wildlife I have in my garden, a lot of which is the ‘wrong’ kind for gardeners. Something ate all my strawberries in one fell swoop (ripe and unripe – I’m still not quite over it), and a mystery creature is digging up my lawn. I have earwigs everywhere (except, weirdly, on my dahlias) and omnipresent slugs, snails, greenfly and whitefly – more than I remember from previous years. I live close to countryside, so heaven knows what’s coming into my garden when I’m not looking.

I’m satisfied that I’m doing my bit for bees, as I’ve seen plenty of them. But I’ve seen only a few butterflies, and very few birds. I don’t think I have enough cover for them – or maybe they have plenty of food in the countryside?

I don’t use chemicals, and I don’t like killing things – I  put caterpillars, slugs and snails in my green bin in the hope that they’ll munch on stuff in there. I know, of course, that losses will occur, but sometimes I feel I need to build a fortress of chicken wire and insect-proof mesh over my crops so that I can actually eat something. I’ve got many of the elements that wildlife gardens are supposed to have – trees, an edible hedge, nectar-rich plants, even a patch of nettles). And yet I wouldn’t say my garden has the ‘natural balance’ that is supposed to keep pests in check. Or is the idea of a ‘natural balance’ a myth? Do I just have unrealistic expectations?

Next year, I’m going to experiment with companion planting, and I might give up on some of my more vulnerable crops. I’m going to make a log pile, and an insect hotel. I hope it attracts the ‘right’ insects, though. If I end up making accommodation for even more earwigs I won’t be too pleased…

7 thoughts on “Wildlife gardening”

  1. I will bet good money it is a mouse who is your strawberry thief and you will find a sad pile of mouldering fruit sometime when you are clearing up. Taking them while green is bad enough but they seem to promptly forget where they have left them, grrr.

    I have always been slightly bemused by bug hotels as how does one attract the right sort of guests? At the moment the garden plays host to a wide variety of widlife and I love that so don’t feel the need to provide another b and b (though it does look really attractive) and the natural balance is vaguely working. However, I am resigned to growing my strawberries and carrots up on the staging of the greenhouse, covering the broccoli with fleece and hanging netting at the greenhouse door to stop the squirrel stealing the tomatoes. If the blackbird develops a taste for blueberries I give up.Natural balance is right out the window as far as slugs and snails are concerned, there is also a huge frog and toad population which doesn’t seem to make
    the slightest difference to the dreaded molluscs.

    Oh well, maybe next door’s cat will catch the mice. Does that count as natural balance? Always enjoy your writing.

    • I think you could well be right about the mouse, Sheena! It was definitely something small, but with a large appetite. I do have a cat, but she doesn’t catch things! Interesting what you say about the frogs and toads – I thought they’d definitely help with slugs and snails. But it sounds like nothing will keep on top of those. I like your idea of growing strawberries and carrots high up – maybe I could try that. It sounds like you are philosophical about your losses, and I need to become more like that myself!

  2. Thrushes are the only eaters of snails that I’ve seen with my own eyes. I’m dubious about anything else, that isn’t starving, eating them – especially those huge brown or black slugs.
    I’ve just pulled up all my tomatoes due to the blight, which looks to me more like a medieval curse than a pest!

    • Oh dear, that’s a shame! It’s been quite dry in your part of the world so I’m surprised you have been affected. I’ve got loads of huge orange slugs. Only something pretty big would be interested in eating them!

  3. It has been very interesting to see the difference in garden pest/nature levels in a much colder rural location (Scotland) compared to a warm urban location (London). I had assumed I would be inundated with creatures eating things but, remarkably, there’s very little loss or damage so there does seem to be a natural balance in the Scottish garden. I do find a few slugs but they don’t seem to get a chance to do any damage – probably because there is such a healthy bird population. We have butterflies (mostly peacocks) but not many cabbage whites, and I have seen virtually no aphids of any colour or variety – presumably the swifts and house martens keep them under control. No ladybirds, either, though. I think the much colder winter temperatures reduce the number of pests that can survive from year to year. The blackbirds and thrush do eat some strawberries but there were more than enough for all of us, and the wasps are now feasting on the apples. But, again, it’s all manageable. On the downside, the weed problem is colossal because the seeds blow in from the fields, and are transferred by the birds. Putting up a bird table has really kept the birds coming, and the wood pigeons are far more interested in bird seed than my brassicas. Last year, I grew everything under nets; this year, I didn’t bother and there was very little difference (except that everything was much easier to pick and keep free of weeds!) You may find it’s a fox that’s digging up your lawn, Veronica – apparently they eat worms!

    • Hi Aileen – interesting. I think the mild winter definitely played a part in the number of pests that survived. I too have a lot of weeds, blown in from the nearby fields, but I’ve been chuffed to find a couple of stems of wheat, which look rather pretty, and some cow parsley! I think I definitely need more birds and will put up more bird feeders to entice them. I think it’s either a fox or a badger that’s been digging up the lawn as I also found some rather disgusting poo – I’m going to have a Google to identify it! Hope to see you soon x

  4. I tend to avoid those things.. I used to have butterflies fly around our garden everyday, but not anymore. That is a shame. My mother likes to plant orchids on old tree blocks around the gardens. However, it is rarely blossom. Haha. But sometime it was good times when I saw my mother feeling of achievement when some of them blossomed. She seemed very proud. I might give a go in gardening. I don’t know.


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