“Nature did it right for millions of years until we came and boogered it up”
(Greg Judy, Missouri rancher)
We’ve tried to attract as much nature into the garden as possible. Here are some ideas, with details of how we made them:
We built this on top of the ‘pirate’ ship. It was easy enough to do (see the blog posts for full details). Essentially it’s just some pond liner, leca, logs and sedum. You can make one of those on bog structures like sheds, or on little ones like bird boxes. Whatever you choose to do it on, you’ll be increasing the plant footprint in your garden and increasing biodiversity. The more people that build one the better so that we can start making up for all the grey land. If you’re thinking of doing a green roof, do your research and make sure the structure is safe first. If it’s on your house this is even more important! Ours is in its infancy, it only went up a few weeks ago. I’ll post on how it evolves over the year.
It took a while to establish with it being so shallow. We’ve taken a different approach now, inspired by the green roof at The Sill near Hexham. Rather than seed their roof, they’re letting it self seed with local plants gradually. It’s amazing what self-seeds up there.
Bug houses are easy to make, just any sort of container (pallets work, or boxes) stacked with twigs, cones, canes etc. You can make them portable if you want to so that you can bring them inside in the colder months (the larvae can survive better). We’ve stacked pots on top of our sunny one, and there are lots of flowers around it. Generally, if you want to attract bugs go for as big a range of flowers and plants in your garden as you can. There’s lots of information online on ‘pollinator-friendly’ plants, for example https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/conservation-biodiversity/wildlife/encourage-wildlife-to-your-garden/plants-for-pollinators
This is just an old CD rack, with canes, sticks, cones, moss and old hessian hanging basket liner pushed in the holes. Our boys loved cutting up the sticks and shoving them in. Ideally these should be south facing (the bugs like the sun in the morning and it helps dry it out), and about a metre or so off the ground. Just put a little roof on it to keep it dry and hopefully the bugs will come. Below it is the sunny pond.
We made this shady one first. It wasn’t suppose to be a shady one, I just got it wrong. It probably won’t get bees but lots of other things have found a home in it. It’s just a crate on its side filled with loads of junk – corks, cones, rolled up card, pipes – anything with nooks and crannies in.
I borrowed this idea from Abi and Tom’s brilliant Halecat Nursery , it’s a good idea if you have leftover pots:
Over time the bughouses have weathered and changed design, here’s a montage:
Our first pond was a shady pond. It wasn’t meant to be a shady pond, it was just the only place we could have it at first. Ideally nature ponds go in the sun but this might not be possible in your garden. Any water is better than none though in terms of biodiversity. We stared with a small plastic box sunk into the ground, then added this one – an old hydroponic tray with the holes patched up with puncture repair patches. We added a little wooden frame and rocks, then sunk a branch in it so that creatures can get in and out. We bought some shady pond plants from http://www.puddleplants.co.uk, and let the area around it (under the blackcurrant bush) grow wild with nettles, borage, honesty and buttercups – it’s important to give the creatures some cover. Even though we got this one wrong, we’ve seen all kinds of water bugs and the boys were pretty excited when they found their first frog!
I added a solar pump this year, which feeds into an old roof tile filled with rocks. It makes a lovely sound which, if you try really hard, drowns out the sound of the M6…
The second pond was built in the sun, inspired by Monty Don’s one on Gardener’s World http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nb3vv. It’s dead easy to do. Dig a hole that slopes from ground level to a deeper section (we used a post spade, it was easier to dig). You’re aiming for lots of shelves to put different plants on at different heights. You can buy pre-formed ponds if you like but make sure they fit your hole well otherwise they’ll crack when you put the water in. If you’re digging one, pick out any stones then walk around in it to firm it. Check it’s level (see Monty’s video, it’s easier than explaining it) otherwise it won’t fill up evenly. Line it with old blankets or towels to protect the liner, then put the pond liner in (available online or we got ours from B+Q). Put rocks around the edge, aiming for lots of crevices where animals can go. We put BIG rocks round so that the boys didn’t fall in. We used a log too, which will eventually form fungi and encourage ground dwelling bees and beetles (we use logs for a lot of our edging for this reason).
When you’re happy, fill it with tap water, but leave it for a few days for the water to settle down (something to do with all the chemicals evaporating or something, find a scientist). Then, put the plants in. You can order collections, or go to a garden centre and get some plants for each level – around the edge, shallow, deep etc. Put some oxygenators in too, then leave it. You can add wildlife if you want to, but normally it will find the pond perfectly well on its own.
Here’s what it looks like now, nestled in a amongst the willow fort. It’s in there somewhere…
We’ve added scrap metal in amongst the wood (partly as a way of storing the boys’ treasure), but also because the heat of the metal might attract slow worms or hopefully meets. We’ll see.
I recently took inspiration from Adam Frost’s pond that comes off his greenhouse. Mine’s a poor imitation, but work with what you have:
Also coming off the greenhouse is an irrigation system that flows down a pipe, into the weed bucket, out of a tap (fertilised), down a pipe and into the greenhouse herb and tomato bed.
Stacks are a really easy thing to do if you’re limited for space for bug houses. They’re just piles of pretty much anything bugs will go in. We’ve done slate stacks under pots (from slates found in skips), log stacks, plate stacks (old plates that would have got thrown out or used as crock) and stick stacks (borrowed from an idea at the fabulous Brockholes nature reserve http://www.brockholes.org). They’re all in different spots, shady and sunny, and attract a range of different insects. Yes, you’ll probably get a few snails too, but we just live with it. We aim to get a balance of wildlife in the garden and then they kind of police themselves – bats eat bugs, hedgehogs and birds eat snails and slugs and so on. It’s not faultless, but it works reasonably well. There’s more about this kind of approach in Ken Thompson’s books http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/ken-thompson
I’ve recently been reading about the importance of rotting wood for microbes st fungus in the soil, so have started scattering piles of twigs around in unwanted corners, and also in beds. Good for bugs too.
The left hand side of the garden is in shade most of the time, but there are still lots of plants you can use to attracts wildlife. We use pulmonaria, Solomon’s seal, cowslip, cow parsley, woodruff, hellebores, dicentra, erythronium, and brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, amongst others. There’s lots of advice online about planting in tricky areas, but it helps if you know which colours you like, or what type of garden you want to create.
Holes in fences and gates about 15cm across will give access to hedgehogs and other wildlife – they can roam up to 2km a night! We’ve put them in boundary fences and gates. More info at Hedgehog Street, plus you can register your hedgehog sightings and holes there too.
We recently helped next door develop a little allotment in their bit of the communal path, so now we’ve had to add a dog/hedgehog flap. We lift it up at night and close it when the puppy’s out: