A new book gives a new area covered by gardens in the UK. Suffolk has been dropped with Somerset taking over as its area is more like the new garden coverage in the UK! WE now have Somerset at an amazing 4,171 km2 (1,610 sq miles in 2017) [used to be Suffolk 1466 sq miles 3798 sq km!] This is an expansion of 144sq miles and 373 sq kilometers!
I visited a friend the other day because someone said ‘you have got to visit her garden, it is beautiful'. I have known this lady for a long time and she has had several houses and gardens in the area since I have known her and they are full of plants from all around the world. There are colours at all different times of the year and not a weed in sight.
We were talking birds as you do and she was on about the price of peanuts which she feeds birds with 12 months of the year. Her last bill for a small bag was £27.00 but her latest bill was for the same size bag, £44.00. Her main bird in the garden at this time of the year is Blue Tit. She now lives on the outskirts of a town while her last garden was in a village. ‘Why do I not get more bird species‘ was the cry!
That very morning I was watching a male Bullfinch and a male Siskin feeding in my garden. No, they were not feeding on peanuts or niger seed as I try to create a ‘wild’ garden where both plants and weeds can grow side by side. They were feeding on Common Sorrel. If you have ever looked at this plant in June/July it has a wonderful stem with matching red seed, fit for any garden. Some grow in the herbaceous while another bunch grows in the lawn with the mower leaving the patch as you do not walk every inch of a lawn anyway.
Like all gardening you have your ups and downs and some species want to dominate while others are quite happy to push through every year. I am not a fan of annuals, other than weeds! But a bare bit of earth between the herbaceous and lawn can offer you a seed bed for new plants and weeds to grow. What you have to do is pick out the ones you want and remove the others into the compost bin.
My first bloom in the garden is usually Dandelion. This plant is so badly managed in most gardens as it offers the first nectar for insects along with the Willow. You can now buy Dandelion in pots so someone is listening to help nature! The early spring in 2012 (if you can remember it!) was very hot and both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells were enjoying this nectar of Willow. The Dandelion has two uses, as the bloom and the seed. Redpolls and Linnets come into the garden to feed on the seed.
Like the Willow, the Dandelion is a wind blown seed and can dance across your neighbours garden to spread a little joy next door! I am sure some of you have good neighbours even if they do not think like you but as they say ‘everyones home is his/her castle’ and what grows there is his/her business, or so you think.
A local village had a new couple move in and they had ideas like me and created a wild flower meadow on their lawn which dropped down to the main road. Tongues started wagging of disapproval . Even one of the neighbours packed up her sticks and moved away saying ‘What will happen to my garden if that sort of thing is allowed’.
But how do you get it across to a mass of gardeners who have been brain washed by the wrong information via magazines and TV programes? Britain’s gardens cover an area the size of Suffolk at an amazing 1466 sq miles [ 3798 sq km] which is more than all our nature reserves put together. A change is definitely needed to persuade gardeners how to keep your garden and your lawn for wildlife.
Some of the finance involved is amazing at a time when we are supposed to be all doom and glume, especially with the financial markets around the world. You spend £5 billion a year for buying plants, cutting grass and using fertiliser to make it grow even more so you can cut it again, and that does not include your local council spending or county council budgets! Manicured lawns are the best place to increase the rabbit population in your garden and then they start eating your nitrate rich annuals and so on!
What would the RSPB or Wildlife Trusts do with £5 billion a year or a fraction of this saved by folk no longer doing as they are being told by the gardening professionals. Then you could ask ‘what are the 1.1 million members of the RSPB doing with their gardens today?’ How many are actually reducing input and working to create a real wildlife garden. Is it more than 1%?
You would have to look at RSPB member’s groups visiting the gardens with a real tick list as too many questioners can be filled in without the real answers. Then there are the readers of this magazine. How do they look after their gardens? Can they cope with the neighbours complaining about the weeds!
How could the bird food companies change their ways and still make money? They import peanuts from Gambia and niger seed from Hungary. Is that a green way of doing business! Or should they be adding weed seed! I spoke to the charity Plantlife who support wild plants around Britain and they would encourage wild flower seed if it was locally sauced and from a reputable firm but no mention of weed seed added to the packets.
I spoke to the charity Buglife and they too would encourage wild flower seed and again no mention of weed seed but then I found a possible ally in the Co op Bank. They have started a programme called Plan Bee [http://www.co-operative.coop/Plan-Bee/] hoping to create corridors of wild flowers around the country, even in gardens. It is great to see a banking business getting involved with nature. When will Barcleys, HSBC and others join in or are they too scared to use shareholders money this way!
If you put bird food into a garden do you really think you need to do any more management to make the place good for birds? The British Trust for Ornithology are now monitoring deformed bills and dying birds in gardens and I am sure that is not due to the birds feeding on ‘natural’ weed seed!
Why not start at the bottom and try increasing all the insects by creating plenty of mixture with high nectar plants helping pollinators. Weed seeds are hard to buy! You are more likely to be pointed to the wild flower seed packets at a garden nursery. Species like Fat hen, Teasel, Common Sorrel, Redshank [the plant!] and Mouse eared Chickweed seeds are easy to collect yourselves on most waste ground and who knows what may pop up in the flower beds if you leave a few green sprigs.
Back to the cost of cutting grass, I ran ‘Finance of Maintaining Lawns’ on search engines and it came up with no help on the first page but the last site (which had nothing to do with what I had searched!) was ‘The financial benefits of legal separation agreement’ making me think of the other half. You do need to have similar ideas as my other half, after 28 years in the house, does have several other views but most of the time enjoys the wildlife as well.
Remember ‘messy’ is only in the eyes of the untrained. A Bramble patch in the corner of the garden is home to many insects with fruit that you can eat and goes well with the apples in a pie. The joy of the first Garden Warbler with its delicate grass nest perched inside the Brambles for cover away from the Cats and the Magpie. Some people would pay to have this bird in their garden specially because of its song! (The northern Nightingale!) The Goldfinch (away from the niger seed) hanging from your Teasel is a joy to have. Too many Teasel re-seeding next year can be dug up and added to the compost bin making great humus or dig them in as green manure as I do. Your garden could really be a ‘Serengeti ‘with so much happening around you. Maybe not Wildebeest or too many rabbits but you can gain food, enjoy flowers, insects, birds, mammals and even walk out and be part of it.