I decided to create wildlife-friendly hanging baskets and summer pots so instead of selecting my usual pansies (and other bedding plants), I opted for Antirrhinum Majus (for bumblebees), Salvia (for honeybees and bumblebees), Verbena (for many different butterfly species), Marigold (enjoyed by pollinating insects such as hoverflies and solitary bees) and Geraniums (for bumblebees and honeybees). After reading up on the subject, I was surprised to find that bedding plants, although colourful, are not much use to wildlife as most of them do not produce nectar or pollen and many are hybrids.
I had turf laid in the front and back garden which is so much better than the 12 tons of shingle that had been there before – but has now since been taken away. Also, for the first time in my life, I now also have a vegetable patch. Although it is only small at the moment (12ft square) I planted runner beans, broad beans, sunflowers, carrots, peas, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, leeks, radish, beetroot, tomatoes, onions and courgette. It is incredibly satisfying when you go outside to cut fresh herbs, radish and lettuce to make a salad for your lunch, and it tastes amazing.
I have also been having more visitors and it was heart-warming to see the hedgehog again in my back garden. This one looked a bit smaller than the last one I saw, so I am hoping there is more than one. When I moved in, I thought an urban garden would be devoid of wildlife, but so far my theory has been proved wrong – in addition to the hedgehogs, there are a colony of toads apparently in the gardens of the neighbours both sides, a fox (another neighbour has seen), and a heron landed on my roof the other week.
To soften the new lawns, I have been adding in some more plants and flowers to attract insects. At the front of the house, I cut a 2ft wide flower border and in it I planted Iberis (candytuft) visited by butterflies; Nigella Damascena (love in a mist) which has flowers followed by seed pods; Lavandula Angustifolia, Munstead and Hidcote (3 types of lavender) for bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies; Aquilegia Vulgaris (Granny’s Bonnet) for bumblebees and aphids (therefore attracting ladybirds), Pulmonaria (Lungworts) which honeybees love; Hellebore Orientalis which bumblebees like, and Ajuga Reptans (Bugle) which is a source of nectar for butterflies and bees. In the front circle, I planted a Deutzia Gracilis Rosea, which is a shrub which will grow to 1.2 metres tall and wide to fill the space. I chose it because it was covered with bees when I found it in the garden centre, and because it had very pretty pale pink flowers.
The last two weeks we have had some particularly wet days which meant I was unable to mow the main lawn. In that time, it sprouted a blaze of flowers – red clover, buttercup, white clover and dandelions as well as several clumps of small brown mushrooms. I noticed that it was also full of bees. About to mow it, I decided to take some advice so I phoned Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. I was put through to Jo Worthy-Jones, who runs ‘Our Bright Future’, a lottery-funded project run in conjunction with Avon Wildlife Trust, working with 11-24 year olds to green up local spaces. She waxed lyrical about unmown lawns, as she said they were refuges for caterpillars and bees. She said if a lawn was treated as a hay meadow, and not cut until the autumn, and then cut and raked off, it would act as a wildlife habitat. She used the analogy of a cut lawn being like a bungalow, and if the lawn was left to grow higher it then became like a 2 storey house, and if left to grow really long, the lawn became like a block of flats, each new level supporting more diverse species of wildlife. She said the flowers on the grass were important for moths and butterflies, as well as bees. She said the closely cut grass did also have its advantages, as it was important for mining bees, so suggested a mixture of mown and unmown grass might be good in an urban garden. Leaving an area unmown in the centre of a lawn was what I decided to do, and will keep an eye on things to see what happens.