Gardening for wildlife

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!
  • The glories of the cornfield

    Last week I mentioned that my bats were enjoying circling over my cornfield wildflower glade, so I thought it was nigh time to show you how the glade is looking.

    It was rotavated and sown in February on an area that had been under a dense thicket of half-dead apple trees and damson and plum suckers. I figured it had been so dark under there for years that it was worth just going for it without waiting to see if there was a terrible weed problem waiting in the soil. Here's how it looked back then.

    My hunch proved a good one, as the only weeds to germinate in any numbers proved to be Swine’s-cress and Common Cudweed, both small and easy to ignore.

    A quick reminder that an area of cornfield wildflowers is not a meadow. Meadows are perennial mixtures containing fine grasses on poor soils that don’t need annual cultivation, whereas a cornfield mix is a range of annual flowers that can be grown on richer soils and where the soil is cultivated each year.

    I sowed a mix at a rate of about 2 grams per square metre with seeds of Cornflower, Corncockle, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Field Poppy and Opium Poppy, and augmented it with about 2 grams per square metre of a mix of wheat, barley and oats to get the true cornfield effect.

    Boy, it took time to get going! Each day I’d wander through it watching for the signs of germination and willing the little seedlings to grow, grow, grow. I even had moments when I doubted it would ever come to anything.

    There was a point in about late May when the seedlings seemed to knit together into a green carpet. And then the Corn Chamomile threw up thousands of flower buds. But they too appeared to stall, tantalising me.

    Finally, in mid June, it all came good. Out came the thousands of daisy-like Chamomile flowers, soon interspersed with the pure sunshine of Marigolds...

    ...and then the electric blue of the Cornflowers.

    And you can see wildlife has started to arrive, with a female Common Blue butterfly above, plus bumblebees, hoverflies, and damselflies coming into the massed flowers to hunt the flies.

    Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Robins are enjoying raiding the ground beneath, and I'm hoping finches and House Sparrows will then come to the developing seedheads of the cereals. We'll see - but for now it is just a matter of enjoying the spectacle.

  • I've got Batman visiting my garden

    The only direct contact I’ve ever had with a bat was when I worked in Woolworths and one day a live Long-eared Bat turned up, exhausted, in the pick ‘n’ mix.

    How it got into a high street store in full daylight remains a mystery, but I was known as the ‘wildlife boy’ and so I got called over.

    I picked it up, put it in a cardboard box and took it home, not banking on the fact that it would squeeze out between the staples and end up flying around my bedroom. (If that happens to you, by the way, don't do as I did but call the Bat Helpline!).

    Apart from that, my only experiences of bats are those I see as flickering silhouettes across the dusk skies, but every sighting is still exciting.

    So it has been thrilling to find that my new garden is visited every evening by small bats. Usually there is just one, but occasionally I see two at one time, (although of course it is impossible to gauge whether in fact there is a stream of several individuals passing through).

    My bats love feeding in the lee of the larger trees, and in particular they concentrate on circling the new glade I’ve cleared and filled with cornfield wildflowers.

    I presume they are some kind of pipistrelle, of which the UK has three species. But a couple of weeks ago, I was watching them when suddenly a much larger bat appeared.

    Whereas the smaller bats have the wingspan of perhaps a robin, this one appeared to be the size of a blackbird. The wingbeats were much slower, so that I could make out the scalloped outline of the wings. But its flight speed was incredible – it appeared to cover 50 metres of airspace in just a couple of seconds.

    It was like having Batman pass over!

    Bats are notoriously difficult to identify in flight, but I’m pretty certain with this one. There are only three very large bats in Britain, and only two are at all common – the high-flying, Swift-like Noctule and the lower-flying Serotine, which is a southern speciality.

    So, after several more sightings in the last fortnight, I’m pretty sure it is the latter, which is thought to breed and sleep almost entirely in suitable old buildings.

    I like to always adorn my blog with my photos, but on this occasion there is no hope of me getting even a blurred shot. So I’ll leave you for today with a photo of what I think it may be feeding on – as I see these flying over the garden most nights too!

    And if you are having bat experiences in your garden, do share them.

  • Throwing everything including the kitchen sink at wildlife gardening

    The RSPB team which created, set up and ran the stand at this year's BBC Gardeners World Live have now sent me the photos to share with you all.

    "Apologies for the delay," Claire wrote in her email. "We were in the NEC for 13 hours on the last day setting it up and we were all a bit delirious!" Anyone who has been involved with setting up something like this will know how they feel!

    The team had taken the theme of 'Giving nature a home' quite literally, and created what I'm going to call a 'fusion' of nature-friendly gardening and household objects. Note that a kitchen sink did indeed make an appearance, brimming over with plants, in the first photo.

    I do like the wardrobe kitted out as a solitary bee hotel. You'll be pleased to know that all the 'kit' was recycled, much of it thanks to donations from RSPB staff at The Lodge.

    But perhaps my favourite photo to come through is below. One member of staff clearly no longer has a bathroom!

    I've been blogging about my garden boudoir which is just an upturned dustbin lid - this surely takes it one step further! It is great to see a bath being used as a pond rather than ending up on landfill. And note the wooden ramp to allow creatures to get out that might have fallen in. This would look lovely sunken into a garden. Has anyone out there tried it? I'd be really interested to know how you got on.

    I'm told that thousands of people visited the stand and took great interest in all the features and ideas, and hopefully went home inspired to give nature a home.