The garden is home to many kinds of wildlife and we work to encourage as many species as possible. Gardens that are too clean and tidy and weeded are not very useful for wildlife. A relaxed approach with a little bit of understanding of what is needed makes wildlife gardening simple. Here's how we do it;
Background Plant Community
When the garden committee made the decision to focus the garden as a wildlife space in 2002 the garden was very overgrown. This needed clearing to make the garden usable and welcoming for human visitors but we were careful not to displace what already lived here. This meant recognising that the 'weeds' that filled the site would need to be retained in the renovations and that we shouldn't just clear the site to be a 'blank canvas'. This 'background plant community' has developed since the garden was created in 1984 and is made up of common waste-ground and scrub plant species; red campion, black horehound, ox-eye daisy, birds-eye speedwell, garlic mustard, spear thistle, creeping thistle, ivy, daisy, lanceolate plantain, greater plantain, dandelion, bristly ox-tongue, nipplewort, nettle and others.. These support a wide range of invertebrates and make up the background planting throughout the garden - many of them are attractive in flower.
Growing a diverse range of plants supports many more species than growing just a few as it ensures there is always something in flower or something growing fresh tasty leaves. The wildflower community is good on it's own but when combined with tough, reliable ornamentals is even better, as many of these flower over a longer period than native wildflowers and this extends the season - and it looks good too! Wildlife doesn't care where plants originate from and will utilise what is growing if it is to their taste. It is often surprising what flowers attract wildlife; Blue tits drink nectar from flowering red-hot pokers, Silver-Y moths drink from open lily trumpets. Grow a little bit of everything and the wildlife will make use of it.
Sun and Shade
Some animals like sun, some animals like shade. As shrubs and trees mature it is easy to out-shade sun-loving insects like solitary bees so with judicious pruning we keep the sun coming in and ensure we don't lose these species.
Water will always bring in wildlife particularly during dry spells. We have three ponds; a goldfish pond by the office, a wildlife pond in the reserve area, a temporary pond by the path. These are all used by wildlife and the garden is home to a number of pond species; dragonflys, damselflies, pond skaters. The ponds also support a population of common frogs.
We also have a number of old sinks and tubs that hold water and these smaller bodies of water are just as important for smaller invertebrates - bees will sip from shallow water on hot days.
The recycling of nutrients is the base of the food-chain and it is only second to water in importance to wildlife. Many gardens and parks are far too tidy with fallen leaves and twigs being swept up and thrown away. Here we use any dead plants to create habitats and it is clear how important this is in increasing the range of species to use the garden.
Leaves and prunings are simply left on some beds, and are added to, to create a deep leaf- litter. This is processed by thousands of worms, slugs and snails and improves the soil for the growing plants - the blackbirds happily dig through the deep-litter hunting for invertebrates.
We have three large compost bins that process all the remaining green-waste - and local vegetable peelings from local kitchens. These contain thousands of decomposers all feeding on the vegetable waste; worms, woodlice, snails, beetles - the compost bins are an important hunting ground for the wrens.
Deadwood is an important habitat for invertebrates. We have deadwood stacked in log heaps, some are buried, some are above ground, to provide a range of conditions - we see wood-dependent insect species in the garden; lesser stag beetles, wood wasps.
Undisturbed areas, both small and large, are important for wildlife to 'get on with it'. For us the challenge is how to create these habitats in a small and heavily used city green space.
These areas range from secluded and secure nesting sites for birds to crooks and crannies for breeding spiders. We have high nest boxes for birds, create rubble mounds for invertebrates - loose at the foot of hedges and as rubble-filled gabion benches. We grow thorny plants; roses, bramble, to make people and cat proof corners for birds and bugs.
At the back of the garden is a fenced 'wildlife reserve area' that is closed to the public - the small flock of sparrows use this quiet area as a safe base for their noisy forays to the feeders.