#StayWild Tip: Lift up a log. Look under fallen logs to discover weird and wonderful creepy crawlies. Place it back carefully!
I think I’ve written before that I’m not much of a gardener, although I have tried hard in the past. I’ve reached the opinion that gardening, at least formal gardening, is a curious pursuit in that it strives to assert control over nature in order to create civilised wilderness. What an easier life we would have if, an age ago, someone had decided that tall grass, unclipped hedges and dandelions were the pinnacle of the horticulturalists art.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many of the things that make a “great” garden, in the decorative sense, are anathema to wildlife. Short, shapely lawns offer little refuge for butterflies and other insects. Tidy, well-manicured beds restrict diversity and, worse, are treated to kill “pests”. Double-flowering plants and non-native flowers bamboozle our native bees who can’t reach the nectar and pollen (if they even produce any at all).
Ten years ago, we started to reshape our garden into something a little more friendly, and the result is something substantially more wild. The lawn is regularly allowed to grow to a length that would be embarrassing, were it not for the richness of life. An abundance of daisies, clover, speedwell, forget-me-nots and other wildflowers grow amongst the tall stems, and it is home to countless micro-moths and other beasties. This time last year, there was even an orchid growing in the middle of the lawn.
Other simple steps to encouraging garden visitors include various log piles, which are in different stages of decay. This stack of birch and alder logs are waiting to have holes drilled into them, and in the meantime have attracted an assortment of insects and fungus.
At the other end of the log-pile spectrum is this one in the darkest, wettest part of the garden. It is heavily decomposed and consolidated with humus, moss and fallen leaves. It smells wonderful, and is teeming with beetles, centipedes and millipedes.
We routinely have hedgehog visitors, with up to three at a time some evenings, and at least once a hedgie has made his home under the log pile. At the moment, there is one living under the shed – you can see his entrance in the picture below on the right hand side. I have a couple of hedgehog houses too, one of which is wired up with a small infrared camera, and in winter 2014 I had the enormous joy of studying a hibernating hedgie from the comfort of indoors.
Speaking of hedgies – one of the simplest things you can do to help these animals is let them into your garden in the first place. Many gardens are almost hermetically sealed off from the wider world with tall fences and wire. Create some small holes at the bottom of your garden perimeters, about four or five inches across, and welcome these adorable spiky mammals into your space.
If you put food out for them, avoid bread and milk – they are carnivores, normally eating beetles, insects and molluscs, so prefer something a bit more meaty. Cat food is very popular (if you avoid fishy flavours) or try putting out a plate of mealworms, which are attractive to both hedgehogs and garden birds.
Letting your garden “go wild”, even a little, can have a huge impact on how attractive your garden is to wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts have some terrific resources to help you go wild in your garden, and the RSPB also encourage making homes for wildlife as part of their ongoing campaign. Many of the activities can be done in a very short space of time and it’s so easy to get kids involved – the question is what to do first!