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!
  • Come on kids - win your school a wildlife-friendly mini garden!

    I'm convinced that the time to engage people with nature is from the very start. Kids have a natural love of wildlife, and even if they wave it goodbye when the hormones kick in, most will come back to it.

    So I was delighted to be asked to play a part in a competition that Aldi has set up with the RSPB in which 25 schools will be able to win a mini wildlife-friendly garden.

    "Adrian, would you like to help design and make the prototype of the garden?" Well, try and stop me!

    Working with my brilliant colleague in RSPB Urban Policy, John Day, we came up with what we wanted, sourced all the materials and plants, and then it was down to me to see how easy it was to turn our idea into reality in my garden.

    Here is the space I chose with my morning's work about to begin. Every school must have an unloved gap like this somewhere.

    I even got to film its creation, which was slightly unnerving as I'm not the world's best carpenter and there was always the chance it could go terrible wrong making the raised bed.

    I'm pleased to say it was child's play! The bed is superb quality, the little pond that goes in it contains 55 litres of water which makes for a really decent wetland home, the plants are all peat-free from Cave's Folly and I chose ones that I hope will attract bees and butterflies, and the ton of compost the schools will get to fill it is of course peat-free, too.

    For your chance to win a wildlife garden for your school, simply get your teachers to post or tweet a photo of where your mini garden would go on Aldi Facebook or @AldiUK. Tag your photo #AldiwildlifeWatch.

    But they need to do so by 11 October. After that it's just 'luck of the draw' with 25 winners being pulled out of the hat.

    I have to say I'm loving my 'little garden in my big garden'. Here I am yesterday, getting it a little water, and it's coming on a treat!

  • Michaelmas brings out the best of autumn

    This week we had the autumn equinox on 23 September, the day when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night.

    While the prospect of longer nights is sobering, at least it is the prelude to Michaelmas on 29 September. As well as being a Christian festival, it was the date in Medieval England that marked the end of harvest, while for me it is a big, brightly-coloured flag that it must be time for Michaelmas daisies. Hoorah!

    So, on a well-timed trip up to my mum's last weekend, I took the opportunity of visiting the national collection of Michaelmas daisies at the Picton Garden in Colwall in the lee of the beautiful Malvern Hills.

    You never know quite what to expect with a national collection, but this blew me away.

    It only opens from August to 20 October, so all the planting is designed to be at its glorious best right now.

    As well as Michalemas daisies (which they've been growing since 1906), there are a host of other choice autumn perennials.

    But it is the Michaelmas daisies that shine...

    ...and with them come the insects that love them, including many bees and hoverflies but also autumn butterflies such as this Red Admiral.

    The garden is quite bijou and the car park even more so, but if you are in the Midlands and fancy a treat,then grab your chance.This is the kind of garden I love - one that revels in being a beautiful garden but which gives nature a home at the same time.

    And if you can't go, then just grow a Michaelmas daisy in a sunny spot and enjoy the life it brings.

  • All the things a bat could want

    In my new garden, I have a whole list of wildlife targets, creatures I'd like to see moving in in droves under my watch.

    Up there on the list of new tenants that would be very welcome are bats.

    During this first year, I've been able to head out at dusk most evenings since spring to check whether I am already being visited. Sure enough, on most warm evenings I get to see a bat, and on a very few evenings I see two, most being small pipistrelle types.

    As with any creatures, I like to work out what their Home Needs are - what are they looking for that their little brains say, "This is the place for me; it has exactly the things I need."

    What my garden already offers them are mature trees arranged into gladews. These are both a highway for bats to travel along but also a 'wall' of vegetation in the lee of which night-time insects tend to gather. So my one, or two, or three bats tend to wheel and loop, as if on an invisible roller-coaster, in front and around these trees.

    What I didn't have were many places where I feel bats could roost. None of the trees were dead or hollow, and they don't have access to my loft. So time to put up some batboxes.

    This is one of the RSPB's, made of untreated timber (essential) and with two cavities up into which bats can scramble if they wish - a big cavity at the back for larger bats and a smaller one at the front. You can also buy single cavity boxes, or of course build your own, although it can be difficult to find a source of untreated wood.

    The key in terms of location is to put them somewhere sheltered, but with a clear flightpath in. Recent research suggests they don't have to be placed very high, but in gardens with cats it is best to put them head height up or more.

    I've put up four boxes in different positions and haven't had any sign of any bats moving in yet, but it is early days - it takes them a while to find them, and even then they may only be in residence occasionally through a year..

    But what I don't have yet is a pond. As a magnet for night-flying insects and hence for bats, it is a must.

    You'll be pleased to know that digging is well and truly underway! So by this time next year, I'm hoping my one and sometimes two bats will have turned into three and sometimes four...