When I first moved into my new home in January 2017, one of its selling points was its large south-facing garden. The garden measured in excess of 60ft and it boasted numerous rose bushes, a potting shed and a summerhouse. For a keen novice gardener like myself, it seemed to be full of promise – it had an area perfect for a vegetable patch, a sunny outlook and a large and lovely flowering cherry tree.

The concrete and shingle driveway

I had been at my previous house for 17 years, and had created a small but teeming wildlife garden through the boycott of all chemicals and pesticides. It was overrun with slugs but was full of large and small garden birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels, hedgehogs and the occasional fox and stag beetle. The garden was a buzzing place, always full of life. It was near open fields, with gaps under two fences from the adjoining neighbour’s cottage, which seemingly acted as wildlife corridors. I made a bug-house from rotting logs and dead leaves which attracted a variety of insects. I didn’t profess to know the Latin names of plants, and thought of myself a slightly ‘let’s leave it and see what happens’ type of gardener as opposed to a gardener who liked orderly perfect rows of pansies and primroses and not a weed in sight!

Having to reluctantly downsize, I chose a 3 bedroom 1950s semi in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac. When I first moved in, I looked out of the window into the garden and felt despair as one-third of it was shingle, one-third lawn and the remainder was part shingle and slate. The fences had spikes along the top as the previous owner had wanted to deter cats, but I wondered whether that also made it a hostile environment for wildlife. There were no gaps under the fences, which rose up high on three sides. I walked to the end of the garden and it felt devoid of life. The front garden too had been turned into shingle and it all felt like an ecological wasteland. I bought a bird table, but was disappointed that no birds visited my garden except the occasional magpie, and no small birds came at all.

 

The back garden – showing extent of shingle cover

This is a documentary of my challenge – to prove that wildlife-friendly gardens can be created in urban areas. My plan was to remove all the shingle and slate, and replace them with soil, grass, plants, bushes and flowers. I figured that wildlife needed this in order to forage for insects and that shingle was an unnatural resident. I bought an RSPB book entitled ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ to educate myself about which plants and bushes to buy to act as pollinators with the aim of bringing the garden back to life. I plan to document the metamorphosis over a period of two years, and to illustrate the changes with photographs. When introducing new plants and flowers, I plan to carefully label each one with both the Latin and the English name, in order to educate myself, but also to allow me to monitor which ones are most effective at attracting wildlife.

I hope that you enjoy reading this and the progress that I make with my project. If you have any ideas, suggestions or advice then I would love to hear from you. My contact details are on my staff profile page.

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