Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Parade of Plants #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer

    Did you enjoy this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show (my 10 year old self would never thought I would be saying that)? Some top plants there and a bit of plant envy on my behalf. Which were your favourites? It is great to see such a variety of plants from around the world, inspiring the designs. I particularly liked A Space to Connect & Grow, Hedgehog Street  and the outdoor living Al Fresco garden. I think my Mum and Dad must have done a good job on me (see pictures at the end of this post) as I have managed to pick up loads of plant names over the years – even the science names. Which makes me chuckle that I geek out on that just like a birder does with names like Calidris canutus.

    The beauty of pretty much starting from scratch in a garden is that you get to choose a bunch of lovely plants (sad for the wallet though – although Mum has promised a load of freebies from her garden).  The first on my wish list were the herbs – practical for cooking and also great for the (good) bugs. I also followed the advice of Mister Titchmarsh and planted some wildflower mix in rows so I could distinguish what was a weed and what wasn’t. To be honest I think it looks a bit weird and happily accept most weeds into the mix – after all the definition of a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. These will compliment the other bright flowering plants like the beautiful blue Agapanthus inspired from my trip to the Scilly Isles.

    Next up in the Murray family plant parade were the more hardy greens. Firstly the horsetails for the bog garden, which I love because they haven’t changed since the dinosaurs, and then the succulents, which will cope with the sun trap and poor soil. Have I shown you my sedum hanging basket yet?



    As the parade continues the first casualties have fallen. Slugs & snails loved my poppies. The centre piece so far is my lovely tall bay tree which I picked up for a bargain from the plant sale at the Lodge nature reserve & gardens (highly recommend popping along if you are travelling through Bedfordshire). Unfortunately as soon as a brought this untamed beast home – it started turning yellow and all the leaves starting dropping off. Time to refer to the experts http://www.gardenfocused.co.uk/herbs/bay-tree.php


    Speaking of experts, have you seen the latest videos that were put together by our dear friends at RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden – not only can I pick their brains about plant choice but they have these Top Tip vids to help me give nature a home.

    So with the beginnings of my plant wish list underway and after removing all the horrible pea shingle from our horrid 1980s near-dayglo patio, by Georgia I think we are underway. Next time we will be looking at laying down a bit of the hard landscaping and finally looking at giving all those beasties a home (thanks to Shirley's film debut).

    If you have been inspired by what you have seen recently then please leave your comments below. In the meantime enjoy these pictures of my son (July 2014) and I (July 1981) doing the obligatory watering of the plants.


    Next time: Going hard(landscaping) and finally Giving Nature a Home

  • Getting Dirty and Creative #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer

    If I had been lead to believe what I was told at school and that all I could have a job in conservation was as a scuba diving marine biologist or jungle living monkey lover (tried a bit of both – leeches and seasickness scuppered both) then I would have given up ages ago. I am a font geek/brand checking/queue watching/pop-up cafe loving conservationist. Not only that but at work I get to learn cool stuff like what stag beetles and hedgehogs love.

    So I embraced this new science knowledge and my creative flare (a bit of a split personality thing going on) and started to design our garden and tackling Phase 3 of Operation Wild Times.

    Phase 3: Adding in the new (family or wildlife friendly) stuff

    □     Get creative and design your garden

    □     Love your soil

    □     Find some helping hands.

    □     Lay down hard landscaping

    So here it is, after many late nights of browsing the internet, my mood board (yes I said a mood board, stop your chuckling).

    You get the general idea, a modern contemporary feel with practical stylish solutions to family and wildlife needs. Key take-home messages are, use recycled/reclaimed materials when possible and look to other sectors of the market for clever ideas.


    This manifested itself with my first mini project – my Hanging Herb Garden of Norwich. Good soil is limited in my garden and I can’t afford to bring in tonnes of top soil like my brother did so instead I looked up and started gardening on the vertical. I used a wire curtain hanging system and bathroom toothbrush pots to make the most of a sunny wall to grow some “micro-greens”.


    Got me thinking about the importance of our soil and that most of my garden is under a good few inches of concrete – not family or wildlife friendly. Take a look at this video to see what I mean from the soil advocates.


    After grubbing around in my treasured dirt and getting creative I came up with my final design. Drum roll.... here it is (I recommend an old graph school book for drawing yours to scale).


    As you can see there are a few restrictions to consider; getting our Little Gem’s buggy from the back gate to the back door is the main one – hence the minimal hard landscaping covering my precious soil.

    Final step in this phase is knowing your limits and bringing in the big muscle and professional skills. Now as a newcomer to Norwich/Norfolk/East Anglia I did not know where to start with finding a reputable garden landscaper so I jumped on that Rated People website and came across Michael of M. H. Garden Design. He is a lovely chap who is very enthusiastic about wildlife gardening and jumping at the chance of doing something different from the usual driveways and rockeries. You can find examples of what people usually ask him to do here.

    Next time: Patios and the Parade of Plants!

  • Wish Lists and Destruction #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer

    Things are hotting up. Next step is looking at what you have in your garden and what you would like to keep and what would be on your new wish list of goodies.

    Phase 2: Embrace the wildlife and removing the not very [wildlife] friendly stuff

    □     Design your unique garden

    □     Remove the non-native shrubs

    □     Remove gravel and some concrete to improve drainage and stop my 3 year old throwing gravel everywhere.

    So before I went any further I had to be practical. Not only do I want my garden to be a home for wildlife but I need it to be family friendly. Interestingly, someone on Twitter yesterday asked me what family UN-friendly would look like. How about this?


    Mrs M and I sat down and thought about how to give our garden that unique personal touch. We came up with a list of all our favourite plants and “happy place” items. This didn’t include our old swimming pool we had in Fiji or a coconut tree but you get the general idea from our wish lists. We did initially ask our Little Chief but his thoughts were less structured shall we say.

    Click here to play this video 

    For the Family Wish List

    □     Patio for dining

    □     Outdoor kitchen

    □     Shade above patio – sail?

    □     Lawn for playing

    □     Shed for storage

    □     Hammock – need posts to hang?

    □     Path to back gate for buggy access

    □     Vegetable patch

    □     Herb patch

    □     Fruiting tree

    □     Den, tepee, climbing holds, rope swing, roly-poly grass mound ?


    For the Wildlife Wish List (refer back to original Giving Nature a Home FREE guide)

    □     Pond

    □     Lawn with long grass edges

    □     Nectar rich flowers

    □     Deadwood piles

    □     Feeding station inc. water bath

    □     Wildlife homes – bird box, bug homes, frogitat, hogitat, bat box, swift box

    □     Gabions with hidey holes for wildlife

    □     Green roof on shed


    Plant List

    □     Cherry tree

    □     Nectar rich flowers

    • Poppies
    • Alliums
    • Dahlias
    • Honeysuckle
    • Cornflower

    □     Succulents e.g. sedums

    □     Echinacea purpurea

    □     Ferns

    □     Cowslips

    □     Teasels

    □     Snakes head fritillary

    □     Snow drops

    □     Blue bells

    □     Jasmine

    □     Agapanthus orientalis

    □     Michalmas daisies

    □     Horsetail

    □     Grasses

    □     Frangipani?

    □     Hibiscus?

    □     Bamboo?


    Now we knew what we wanted we took a look out the backdoor and thought about how we could work with what we have (including our budget). This is what I came up with in the first instance.

    I think you will agree, not too shabby, considering – maybe I should become a Duplo garden designer ;-) After getting the nod from Mrs M – I brought in the muscle – well my brother, sister and I. Cheers Matt & Em. We used my limited tools (amazing what you can do with one rusty spade and 6 "guns") to rip out all the shrubs that were taking over the garden, leaving behind our amazing ivy/hawthorn/a.n.other hedge for cover for the birds and bugs. I should add at this point that this occurred a few months ago (checking for early nesting birds) and the apocalyptic pile of evergreen shrubs then sat in our garden for about 6 weeks until I finally found a weekend that I could visit my friendly recycling depot. Please refer back to my first blog post in the Operation Wild Times series, the clue is in the title.

    Next Time: Phase 3: Adding in the new (family or wildlife friendly) stuff

    For more information on some top wildlife friendly plants take a look at this BBC blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/22433553