June, 2011

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • Lapping up the Honeywort

    Funny how so many of the garden plants we go crazy over are actually thought of as weeds in the places they originate.

    And this is one that I'm growing in my garden for the first time this year. It is Honeywort Cerinthe major.

    In the Mediterranean it grows naturally on cultivated ground and 'wasteland', where the nodding flowers are two-tone, with a chocolate coloured base and a lemon yellow tip.

    However, the usual variety grown in this country, and the one I've been trying, is a natural variant called 'purpurea' where the flowers are entirely purple and the leafy bracts they emerge between have a purplish tint. You can also get a culivated variety called 'Purpurascens', and now one called 'Blue Kiwi' too, which are even richer in their colour.

    The foliage is not the neatest, a bit like a broad bean and growing up to 60cm (2 feet) high, but the flowers more than compensate. And it's not a bushy plant, so it can be slotted in little gaps.

    Their value in the wildlife garden is for nectaring bumblebees, who swing happily from flower to flower in midsummer. With mine just coming into flower now, it was so pleasing last weekend to see the bumblebees take to them so readily.

    It is an annual, which you can either start off in March in pots, or sow directly in the ground in April. I grew mine as part of my peat-free trial this year, and they did well at every stage from germination through to when I planted them out in early May. Don't over-pander them - they will grow too tall and floppy in a really rich soil.

    The flowers are likely to be over by July, but hopefully will set seed well, and I intend to collect some and let others self-seed, which they apparently do quite happily.  And next time I'm in the Med, I must look to see which weeds of ours they are growing in their gardens. Nettles, maybe?!

  • Creativity overload as final preparations made for Gardeners World Live

    Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen all the volunteer effort that has been going in to create the RSPB stand for the imminent Gardeners World Live. With many thousands of people expected to pass by the stand, it needs to look good - the RSPB has a repuation, you know?!

    The creativity has continued apace, with volunteer David Hollin now trying his hand at a bit of willow weaving!

    His task is to build a circular flower bed for the traditional garden side of the feature. He started by cutting a circular plywood base in diameter, not exactly what you’d need in a normal garden, but then this garden will be in the giant warehouse that is the NEC.

    He then cut thick hazel poles into 300mm lengths and spaced them vertically at roughly 30cm intervals, and then began weaving the willow in sections around both sides of the hazel uprights.

    The remainder of the willow is currently soaking to make it that little bit more flexible in order to bind the top edge of the flowerbed. While the willow is soaking, David is researching the top binding technique. Oh, the skills you learn as an RSPB volunteer!

    Flowers likely to feature in the flower bed, chosen for their benefit to wildlife  include: Ox-eye Daisy, Musk Mallow, scabiouses and Angelica.

    So I’ll use that fact as an excuse to also give you a nice photo of an angelica for all those people who come to this blog for a ‘plant fix’. In this case, it is the wonderful Angelica gigas or Korean Angelica. My photo shows it with wasps, but don’t fear, it is just as good for bumblebees and hoverflies. And what a plant - it just looks so goooood!

    One more update to come from the RSPB’s Gardeners World Live team before it all does indeed go live. Can't wait.

  • Nearly ready for BBC Gardeners' World...

    Here we go – it’s the final lap for the volunteers creating the RSPB’s ‘feature stand’ for this year’s BBC Gardeners World Live.

    To recap, we want to inspire people to take steps to help wildlife in their garden, or in a nearby urban space, so the garden will be divided into those two sections.

    And the latest challenge the volunteers faced was to try their hand at graffiti (below) for the walls of the abandoned ‘lean-to’. I bet that’s a skill they never knew they’d be learning!

    The team sourced used tyres from a local garage to make plant containers on the urban side.

    And I’m told this is a photo of the volunteers relaxing, but I suspect they are just exhausted ;-)

    You can see their ‘post box’, now complete, in the background.

    RSPB staff have been growing plants in peat-free compost for the garden, such as sunflowers, lavender, cosmos and runner beans. I got an email from Kathy Berkery only yesterday, who runs the new gardening club for staff at The Lodge, saying how busy she has been nurturing the plants you will see.

    So if you're planning to visit the show, do please come and visit the finished garden, which is called ‘Taking steps for wildlife’ and is stand number RHS/5

    I will be on the Ask the Experts stage in the floral marquee answering questions on ‘gardening for wildlife’ on Thursday16th and Saturday18th June at 12.30 and on the RSPB feature stand  10.30-12.00 and 3.00-4.30 both those days

    Kids can make a worm or plant a sunflower with the  RSPB in the Gardeners Green part of the show.

    And you can even try out RSPB chocolate on our stand in the Good Food section of the show.

    My thanks to Kat Balaam, the RSPB’s Events Projects Manager, for keeping me abreast of the feature’s development. I’m feeling a bit guilty – I get to just swan-in once it is complete!