Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Secret Gardeners- Wildlife

I am a massive lover of wildlife in the garden. It’s where wildlife belongs and our gardens should belong to the wildlife. Not only is wildlife great from an aesthetic point of view- not many people would grumble at seeing a butterfly or bumble bee in the garden- but also from a necessary biological point of view. All creatures whether beautiful or ugly and slimy have a job in the garden, they all have a reason to be there and a good gardener should understand these reasons and utilise the wildlife to their advantage.

One of the great workers in the garden is the bumblebee, obviously one of the first that comes to mind when thinking of garden insects. The bumblebee has been in the focus of media and campaign groups recently due to its decline in numbers over the last few years, and rightly so. Bumblebees play a massive part in pollinating our flowers in the garden, but not only that they also cross-pollinate all our veg, especially beans. No bees to pollinate your runner bean flowers equals no beans! Its quite easy to encourage bees into your garden, start off by planting lots of bee friendly plants and flowers such as traditional cottage garden plants and wild flowers. Also a nice patch of wild nettles is great for bees. Another great member of staff to encourage into your garden is the ladybird. Again ladybirds have been in decline recently due to the increase of foreign, invasive species such as the harlequin. Ladybirds are fantastic for veg and bedding plants as both the larvae and the adults feed on aphids, saving you the expense of treatments or hand picking yucky aphids off. Most gardens will entice ladybirds, but help them out by planting native wildflowers and leaving areas of garden “untended” to give them plenty of cover. Other insects that prey on aphids and green fly are hoverflies and the dreaded wasp!

Slugs....hmmm...this is a tough one for me, to say that I dislike them may be an understatement. But I know that they belong in the garden and are an equally important piece of the eco-system as anything else. Slugs and snails may not play an obvious role in the garden and may seem like an unwanted pest, but in the larger scheme of things, slugs and snails do a great job at consuming and helping dead and decaying plants to rot down into the soil to be turned into humus. Worms also carry out this vital part of garden activity. These all also play a big part in the food web, being a great food source for toads, frogs and hedgehogs. By having a pond or water and encouraging frogs and toads into your patch, slugs will become much less of a problem.
In fact having a pond in your garden is a great way of encouraging lots of wildlife and at this time of year garden ponds are literally brimming with newts, frogs, toads, damselflies, dragonflies, water boatmen, pond skaters and much more. All of this wildlife playing a vital role in the food web and helping you to garden more naturally with less use of pesticides.

If discouraging insects from the garden is a must for you, then there are lots of natural ways to do so. Such as planting certain species of plant to discourage insects rather than harm them. Tagetes and marigolds make great companion plants for veg to discourage slugs, whitefly and aphids. Planting mint species can persuade ants to take up residence elsewhere. Sage and rosemary are said to deter both carrot flies and cabbage moths. So hopefully this can encourage you not to banish wildlife and insects from your garden but to actively encourage it and take advantage of their natural capabilities.

-- Tom Williams

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