Here at Flatford we will be offering tours of the garden every day during RHS National Gardening Week. We will be offering advice on how to make your own garden more wildlife friendly. There will also be advice on sustainable gardening, and a chance to propagate a plant or two to take home. There will be two sessions daily from Tuesday 16th until Sunday 21st, one at 12 noon and one at 2pm, which will cost £4 per person. No need to book a place at this stage, just come along on the day.
So, come and visit our inspiring garden - following the long awaited arrival of spring, it is coming to life! The wildlife gardening tours will cover many aspects of wildlife gardening - we will be discussing:
- choice of plants
- ways to create different habitats in your garden
- how to provide natural sources of food throughout the year
- wildlife needs during the winter months
- the specific needs of various forms of garden wildlife.
We'll also have a propagation session at the end, where you will have a chance to propagate a wildlife-friendly plant to take home.
As the world outside our windows begins to awaken with the spring, our thoughts often turn to our gardens.... And what a fantastic time to get outside, what with spring flowers peeping, and birds singing with joy!
Gardens can be a great refuge for our wildlife, especially struggling creatures like song thrushes, hedgehogs, frogs and toads, house sparrows, bumblebees and butterflies. Did you know that gardens cover almost 3 times as much land as the RSPB owns? They can also provide stepping stones of good habitat for wildlife across an otherwise hostile landscape.
Often, it’s only a few small changes that are needed in order to make your garden helpful to wildlife. Here at the RSPB’s wildlife garden at Flatford in Suffolk, it’s our mission to teach and inspire people to bear wildlife in mind whilst gardening....
Five simple things you can do that will really make a difference are:
1. Choose flowers for nectar and pollen, to help our bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
2. Build a log pile, or edge your paths with logs – deadwood provides food and shelter for many small creatures, which in turn are food for bigger creatures.
3. Introduce a bit of water – whether it’s a saucer of water or a pond, water is one of life’s essentials!
4. Leave a bit of your lawn uncut. Longer grass is home for many insects and invertebrates.
5. Leave a nice, dense area of shrubby planting somewhere quiet. The thick, undisturbed cover means wildlife feels safe. If you can plant a tree or two, even better!
If you’d like more info on gardening for wildlife, our Homes for Wildlife pages are especially designed to guide and advise you!
If you’d like to see wildlife gardening in action, why not plan a visit to Flatford Wildlife Garden? It’s free entry, and a beautiful setting in which to pick up a few tips. Open every day from 29 March until 3 November.
Spring has finally sprung! Well okay, maybe it hasn’t fully arrived, but it is most certainly on its way, and what better indication than the sudden burst of colour in our gardens, woodlands, and even roadside verges? The snowdrops started lifting their delicate heads a few weeks ago, and now it’s the daffodils’ turn. These simple yet beautiful flowers are easily distinguished from other springs bulbs by the long flat leaves, and tall flower stem which ends in an elongated bud, soon to open out into that wonderful yellow and gold trumpet. Particularly rewarding are our little native daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus); smaller and far more delicate than the common cultivars that usually fill a border.
Spring bulbs like the daffodils mostly originate in deciduous woodland, where they fill a specialised niche. Nothing much grows under the dense, summer canopy of leaves, nor can much survive through the cold months of winter when the sky above them is bare. However, the warmer yet still leafless months of spring provide the ideal opportunity for our various native bulbs to commandeer the woodland floor and carpet it in colour, at a time when nothing much else is really bothered.
This is evident in the Flatford Wildlife Garden, where the mass of snowdrops put on a wonderful show earlier this month, and although they haven’t quite finished yet, already the crocuses have sprung up around them, dotting the brilliant white with splashes of purple, yellow and cream. There are also a few irises (Iris histrioides 'George') nestled in the garden; well worth looking for when you next pop by.
After the daffodils comes the second show of white in the form of wood anemone, a speciality of our own Stour Wood at Wrabness, and then to end it all with a bang, the brilliant blue sweeping of our native English bluebells. Why not replicate the spectacle in your own garden? Perhaps there’s an unoccupied spot in some shady corner that could benefit from some early spring colour, or maybe you’d just like to get an impressed ‘wow’ from passers-by when they lay eyes on the mass of colour.
It goes without saying that the flowering bulbs are a great source of nectar for our garden insects, but what makes them particularly valuable is the fact that they are in flower much sooner than anything else. On the odd early spring day when the sun shines just warm enough to wake up the bugs and bees, a flowering crocus or early daffodil can provide a vital energy boost.
The wildlife value of bulbs isn’t just restricted to our native plants, but given how they’ve developed alongside the insects that feed on them, it’s well worth looking out for native varieties when choosing your bulbs. Plant them in nice big clusters in the autumn in a shady spot where they can spread and thrive, and give yourself something to look forward to at the end of winter!
Photos: Daffodil (Shirley Boyle); Snowdrops; Crocus (Sarah Manning)
Well, we certainly got our fair share of ice and snow this year, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the warm days of spring. However, the cold weather of winter also brings with it a flurry of migrants from the continent, travelling to warmer climates in search of food. Amongst these are members of the thrush family; most notably the redwing and the fieldfare. Song thrushes and mistle thrushes, though sadly declining, are resident in the UK and so can be seen all year round. They are also typical garden birds, meaning that if there is a good food source nearby then you have a good chance of seeing one in your garden.
The thrushes have a varied diet, and snack on worms, snails, insects and a wide range of berries. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of any of that around, due to the rather heavy rainfall in the summer which damaged a lot of flowers, meaning that a lot of insects went hungry, and the plants themselves weren’t able to produce very good crops of berries and fruit in the autumn. However, this shortage of food in the wild means that if you have a holly bush full of berries, or a healthy population of worms, then there’s a good chance that some of these thrushes will find their way to your garden.
But who’s who?
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
One of our most familiar birds, and the gardener’s friend. The song thrush is probably best known for snacking on snails—just listen for the knocking of a shell being broken on the bird’s favoured anvil. Remember though, that they need a suitable hard surface nearby to do this. Pop a large stone amongst your garden snail community and see if a local song thrush is obliging! Unlike the other thrushes, they tend to feed alone, and given their furtive movement through the undergrowth, you’re less likely to see one than you are hear the repetitive, flute-like song high in a tree.
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
The mistle thrush is another resident of the UK, but the population has been declining since the 1970s, meaning they’re far less likely to be spotted than the song thrush. How can you tell them apart? While similar in looks, the mistle thrush is larger than the song thrush, which itself is no larger than a blackbird. They are also paler overall, and have a distinctive pale edge to the wings, which often seems patchy at a distance. They also like to be part of a flock, and have a song that is described as ‘dreamy’, rather than the clear tones of the song thrush.
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
The field fare is a little smaller than the mistle thrush, and has distinctly grey head which stands out from the chestnut brown wings. In flight, the white underside of the wing and the pale grey rump are very distinctive; their ‘chack’ call as they fly overheard in flocks is unmistakeable. When feeding, they often like to accompany redwings, and can easily be told apart by their larger size and very upright posture.
Redwing (Turdus philomelos)
Smaller than the song thrush, the redwing, like the fieldfare, is a winter migrant from Scandinavia, and can often be heard on migration at night, with their distinct ‘tseep’ call piercing the air. They travel and feed in flocks, and can often be glimpsed in the branches of a berry-ladened bush; if you saw a flash of red, it was probably a redwing! As the name suggests, they have a flash of red on their flank, and a very distinctive eyestripe. They are also rather partial to apples, so if you have any to spare, it might just be worth trying to tempt these beautiful visitors into your garden.
Hopefully this year’s summer will be dry, and our birds won’t be facing another food shortage like last year’s. In the meantime, however, why not plant some more berry-bearing bushes in your garden just in case? They certainly won’t go to waste!
Photos: Song Thrush - Tony Hamblin (rspb-images.com); Mistle Thrush - Mark Hamblin (rspb-images.com); Fieldfare - Graham Eaton (rspb-images.com); Redwing - Chris Knights (rspb-images.com)
Imagine me, reader with a very smug expression on my face. Today, I am vindicated.
Each Autumn, I grit my teeth and withstand the overwhelming urge to tidy the garden up as it slowly lapses into tatty grey winteriness. I grit my teeth even harder at the occasional disapproving glances received from passers-by looking over the garden fence... I imagine their thoughts - "Bit of a mess, eh? I would have cut those perennials down weeks ago!" But today, it was all worth it to see a desperately hungry chaffinch fly down to the standing flower stalks of our Jerusalem Sage plants, and delicately winkle a seed out of the rather elegant dried seedhead.
I haven't seen this behaviour before, although we have often had flocks of goldfinches taking seed from standing teasels in the winter, and I have heard reports of bullfinches taking evening primrose seeds as well.
Looking out the window now, at 5 inches of soft, deep snow, it strikes me that Nature isn't stupid. The Jerusalem Sage seedheads stand beteen 3 and 4 feet tall, meaning the stored seeds are well above the smothering snow, meaning the poor hungry little birds can actually access them.
Of course, my untidy habits in the autumn garden benefit more than just seed-eating birds - the autumn leaves never lie for long, as the earthworms are quick to drag them underground in neat little spirals - perhaps you've seen these in your garden? The leaves are food for the earthworms, but the side effects of this process mean that the nutrients are recycled right back into the soil from which they first came. And the thick blanket of perennial growth over the borders forms an insulating layer that means that many insects and invertebrates are much more likely to survive the winter. As these creatures are often the first few links in the food chain, they will then kick-start the garden ecosystem in the spring.
So, gardeners, deferring the big autumn tidy-up until early spring is one of the easiest things you can do to improve the lives of the creatures that share your little patch of land.