Go Wild - Spring Gardening
LET’S GO WILD!
Wildlife in the garden has not always beenviewed as being particularly welcome but, today, attitudes are definitely changing.
Garden designers are inspiring us to develop initiatives that encourage wildlife to exist and thrive in our gardens. Only minor adjustments need to be made to improve the wildlife status of most gardens, they don’t have to be totally wild, just incorporate a welcoming area. For instance, a neglected corner would be an ideal starting point for collecting materials such as logs, twigs and anything that can be recycled. Wildflower borders or sections of a grassed area are perfect for attracting insects and birds. Choosing plants that have open flower heads help to give these visitors good landing sites. Many seed packets now show symbols that indicate bee-friendly flowers and wildflower mixes can be bought online. Generally speaking, it is better to sow wildflower seeds in the autumn so they experience a cold spell over winter, after which they will germinate as soon as it warms up. Of course, there is still time to sow now in early spring. For best results rake over the ground first, removing as much of the grass and weeds as you can, then sow direct and cover lightly with soil. Mark the area so the seedlings are easily identified. This area can now be left to go wild until late summer after the seed heads have dried and scattered for next year.
A few years ago no-one would have thought that bug hotels would be given space in our gardens but they are becoming very popular, especially for children. There is no better way to encourage their involvement in the garden and learn about wildlife. Our 5-Star Bug Hotel was constructed in 2018 and has been a great addition to our garden. There are many smaller, more modest designs that will fit into a wildlife theme in a smaller garden space or even a courtyard.
Since moving to France I have been amazed at how the French country folk love their wood piles, and how attractive they can look in a garden. I have seen such a large variation of stacking styles, even using wood that has been left to season as a division in grazing fields to keep the animals in small enclosures. Whatever the method or style of stacking, these piles provide a perfect habitat for insects, nesting birds and small creatures. Even a small collection of twigs piled up in the garden will provide hibernation opportunities.
The best hedges are those of a mixed variety that are an attractive feature all year round with berries, flowers and cover for nesting birds. Hazel and Hawthorne are a good combination if mixed with shrubs such as Photinia Red Robin and the Evergreen Viburnum Tinus. The Blackbirds just love eating the berries from this shrub, we have one that visits us every day for feeding and also nests here in the spring, quite a family gathering. Hedgerows are also a favourite nesting, breeding and hibernation spot for hedgehogs.
As well as an attractive garden feature, ponds are a real boost to wildlife gardens. If you are fortunate enough to have a natural water source such as a stream or even a lake, this can be developed to include plants that are suitable for boggy areas which are perfect for wildlife. If you aren’t so lucky then a small pond or water feature can still be created if you choose the right site. An open aspect without any nearby trees is best. This will help to avoid leaves falling into the pond, discolouring the water and encouraging algae. The size will depend on the overall size of the garden but try to aim for a minimum of 5m². A variety of liners are available from butyl, PVC or even concrete. The construction is the fun part, then just wait for the pond life to arrive. You can find more than 1,000 species of animals in ponds from frogs, toads, newts and water boatmen through to beetles, dragonflies and, of course, regular visitors such as birds and dragonflies.
Early spring gardening jobs
Sue Sargeant guides us on the jobs to think about right now.
• Prick out seedlings and plant separately in larger pots, ready for planting out in May. Harden off well established seedlings in the cold frame.
• Dead head spring flowering bulbs and make sure you snap off Tulip tips after flowering.
• Move and divide Snowdrops whilst still green.
• Mulch and give shrubs and Roses a general-purpose fertilizer.
• Redefine the edges of the lawns and remove any debris or moss. The moss can be put in old plastic fat ball nets and hung in trees as nesting material for birds.
• Prune shrubs like Hibiscus which flower after June. Leave early spring flowering shrubs such as Forsythia until they have finished flowering.
• Once new shoots appear, remove last years’ stems from perennials such as Penstemon and Echinacea. Large clumps of perennials can be divided in spring or autumn and the off-shoots potted up or replanted. Do this every two to three years to keep them flowering.
• Plant out Tomatoes in April when the soil is warm and there is no chance of frost. This can be a bit of a gamble as a cold snap can cause terminal damage to plants. Keep some large plant pots to hand to cover the new plants just in case the temperature drops overnight. Some gardeners leave planting out until May to be sure.
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