Growers Corner: Gardening for Wildlife
Julie Smith reflects on how we can create growing spaces that are productive for both people and wildlife.
Make some space and they WILL come: nothing could be more true about wildlife: if you provide the right space, with food and shelter, wildlife will miraculously appear. Ask anyone who dug a pond and found frogs in it the next week. How do they find it? It’s a mystery, and it’s quite beautiful really.
Get some water: if you have space and some time, build a small pond as it’s the most effective way to attract a wide range of wildlife, from damselfly to frogs and birds. It doesn’t have to be big to do good- check the rspb website for great advice.
The yellow warrior: if you are looking at a companion plant that attracts garden pest eaters, is bright and colourful through spring to autumn and has soothing and healing properties, pot marigold, or Calendula officinalis, is your plant. Sow liberally around your vegetables to attract lacewings whose larvae will munch on aphids.
Purple is the colour: bees, bumblebees and most pollinators don’t see the world like us: they are most attracted to shades of dark purple that appear almost luminescent to them. Their top favourite plant is the Purple Giant Hyssop or Agastache scrophulariifolia. This perennial herb has thick spikes of purple flowers and its edible leaves taste like liquorish.
The sacrificial plant: nasturtiums are stunning plants, and their leaves, flowers and buds are edible - and rather spicy. They also attract aphids which tend to prefer nasturtium to other plants. You can grow nasturtium under fruit trees or beans, and take them out (sacrifice them) once they are covered in aphids.
Thirsty bees: bees (as well as most insects) need water to survive, and they can easily drown in lakes and rivers. Help them by creating a bee drinking station: a shallow tray filled with gravel/ stones and water. Insects can drink safely while standing on the stone/ gravel. Now sit down and watch all sorts of six legged friends coming to have a sip.
The tomato’s friend: The classic companion plant combo is French Marigold (Tagetes patula) and tomato. French Marigold exude bioactive chemicals through their roots. These chemicals are known to suppress root feeding nematodes, and keep your soil and your tomatoes healthy.
Re-wild your garden: keep your home drawers tidy if you must, but don’t apply too much tidying to your garden. A healthy garden is a complex ecosystem that includes loads of insects and birds. And these thrive in untidy places: leave wild areas, have an insect house or an untouched pile of old wood, don’t mow all your lawn, plant a hedge etc.
Variety is the salt of life: and of a healthy garden too: make sure you choose a variety of plants, and avoid big patches of monocropping. Pick different type of plants from herbaceous to small trees, climer and ground cover, and varieties that flower at different times of the year. For example: rosemary, apple, honeysuckle, lavender, Ivy and winter aconite flower at different time.
Growing food in London? Check out Capital Growth who are currently planning an online series of workshops to help people growing at home during Coronavirus.
They have also published guidelindes for Community Gardens during lockdown.