Monday, December 31, 2012

Planting Native Trees for Wildlife

Hi All,

This will be my last post of 2012 and it's a real shame that I can't say what great weather it is and what a hectic time I've had in the garden! The truth of the matter is that it still continues to rain and all hope of gardening has been quite literally washed away! The garden continues to be boggy and at times covered with a layer of standing water which makes all plans redundant!

As work has been non existent I thought I'd tell you about some native trees that I have been fortunate to purchase recently, and the benefits that they will offer to wildlife.

Unfortunately having spent the last couple of years trying to get the hedgerows in the garden into some kind of usable state for wildlife we have suffered on both sides of the garden with large parts of it being removed this year! As the trees and bushes in question weren't on my side of the boundary there was little I could do to prevent this happening. This was a real shame as some of the removed bushes and trees were laden with berries and I'd been looking forward to seeing what feathered visitors arrived over the course of this winter. The other negative for my family is the lack of privacy that the removal of these plants has caused (as shown below)

In this picture you can see that we are left with a simple wire fence and no cover for the birds and other wildlife. The two shrubs with labels on are a Guelder Rose and an Alder Buckthorn, both of which will grow into large shrubs/small trees and can be formed into a 'loose' hedge for wildlife.

Where the neighbours shed is now clearly visible, I have planted a Crab Apple to give height and fruit for birds. I have also included another Alder Buckthorn here and an evergreen honeysuckle, which will be trained along the bamboo framework. In time this should mingle in amongst the other shrubs to create privacy and another source of berries for wintering birds and summer nectar  for pollinators.

 Elder is a useful small tree for an informal and native wildlife hedge and I have planted several on both boundaries of the garden. The berries are loved by birds and the flowers can be used for making wine and cordials so something to keep everyone happy! (A word of warning though is that the berries can be toxic to dogs if eaten in large quantities so please be aware if planting in your garden!)

Another tree to keep everyone happy is the Hazel, which if kept hard pruned every other year should give a good supply of Hazel Nuts! More importantly another great wildlife tree to include in your native hedge or as a small tree. (A consideration here is that Grey Squirrels will be attracted to the supply of nuts)
Note that I have tagged all my bare root trees and shrubs. I have done this as they currently don't look like much more than a stray sapling growing and the tags will hopefully prevent me and more importantly anyone else from pulling it out before they grow up into a decent sized plant!!!

So before telling you about my bigger trees planted in the field, here's a quick run down of the plants mentioned above and planted in my hedge rows so far...

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), Grows up to 1.5m tall to form a small tree/large shrub, Small white flowers benefit pollinators, it has green leaves that turn red in Autumn and the winter berries are loved by Bull Finches & Mistle Thrushes amongst other berry eating birds.

Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula), Can grow 4m x 4m at full maturity but is good for creating an informal hedge. Glossy green leaves turn yellow in Autumn, the red berries that turn black will be eaten by some birds. Most importantly Buckthorns are the ONLY food plant source for the Brimstone Butterfly so we must try and get more people growing it in their gardens!!

Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) Smallish Tree with pretty pink or white flowers in Spring that are loved by pollinators and are especially attractive to bees. The Crab Apple is actually known to home over 90 species of insect! The fruits in the Autumn are loved by many birds but are particularly attractive to Robins, Starlings, Finches and Thrushes. 

Elderberry (Sambuccus Nigra) A really underrated small tree in my book, It can grow up to 10m but can be kept smaller and useful in an informal hedge, pinky/white flowers in June-July have a scent and are visited by pollinators, followed by black berries that are loved by many birds and will also be eaten by some small mammals such as wood mouse etc.

Hazel (Corylus avellana) Small Tree or Shrub that benefits from being coppiced but extremely useful either in a hedge or a small tree in a small garden. Hazelnuts will be taken by all manner of wildlife including Squirrels and Mice. Woodpeckers can be attracted to this tree as will Jays and Jackdaws who find the nuts irresistible! 

So that's a quick run down on my hedging now lets look at the three native trees that I have planted in the field at the bottom of my garden.

Wild Cherry planted as an 8foot bare root sapling in the field at the bottom of the garden.

Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) A medium sized tree that will grow up to 20m, white flowers in early Spring will be visited by early pollinating insects and the Cherries that appear in summer are a good food source for many bird species. Apparently the cherries also make lovely brandy!!! :-)

A Small Leaved Lime planted as an 8foot bare root sapling in the field at the bottom of the garden.

Small Leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) A large tree at 25m with small heart shaped leaves, In summer it produces a mass of sweet smelling flowers that attracts a huge number of pollinating insects looking for nectar. I'm hoping that this tree will be a great attractor of new insect species to my wild flower meadow/lawn. The dense foliage creates safe hiding places for many bird species. Apparently it is said that honey from bees feeding on the Small Leaved Lime tree is the best tasting honey that you can find anywhere! Many years ago this tree was also used for various medicines and teas to treat colds. fevers and inflammation as well as high blood pressure! 

My Common Alder Sapling, which I'm very excited about...

Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Now this is a magnificent tree with the potential of growing very large! It is a lover of damp or waterlogged ground so our low lying position should suit it beautifully! Many years ago the Common Alder would have been a common site in this area so having the opportunity to plant one myself is a real thrill. Alder can grow to 30m although are generally smaller than this. They reach maturity at 60 years and will live for 150years! They support a wealth of wildlife including many birds that feed on the catkins produced by this tree. Species commonly found will be Finches, Redpols, Siskin amongst others. The Alder Moth caterpillar feeds on its leaves as does the Alder Kitten Moth caterpillar! I'm hopeful that over the years we will see both of these moths and other species from this and the other trees planted.

Quick Tip

If you are planning to plant bare root trees in your own garden, make sure that you tie them to a good sized wooden stake which is set firmly in the ground. Use a properly designed rubber tie and fasten it near the base of the trunk. This will prevent 'chaffing' of the bark and allow the tree it's natural movement in the wind whilst holding the root system stable.

I hope that this post has given you an insight into what I'm still striving to achieve for wildlife in my garden, whilst giving you ideas of plants and their benefits for wildlife that you can take away and use in your own garden?

To finish off what has been a bit of a disastrous gardening year here are a few pictures of my feathered friends including a first and a new record for the garden making 2012 a very good 'wildlife year' in the garden....

This female Blackcap has been a daily visitor to the garden for quite some time now and is partial to the fat balls and sunflower hearts that I put out for the birds. A male Blackcap has now also started to visit quite regularly although the female will often chase it off!

Once again my Reed Buntings have made a very welcome winter return to the bird table and favour the loose mixed bird seed from the table.

This Brambling is the first to the garden since the winter of 2010 so a very welcome winter visitor!

 This Siskin is a brand new record for the garden and a great way to celebrate the end of another year of 'Higgy's Garden Project' The arrival of a new species in the garden is so thrilling and makes all the hard work so worth while! 

So that is about if for 2012! It's a shame that the weather has been unkind to us and we haven't achieved quite as much as we planned at the start of the year. However our wildlife count has gone through the roof with so many new species visiting us, our bird species tally is up to 45 and butterflies to 16 which is amazing! Other insects have found their way to the garden and I look forward to seeing some of the moths and butterflies from the different caterpillars that I've recorded this year!

The garden has allowed me to continue to develop my passion for wildlife photography and you can see some of the results on my new website that I recently built from scratch here....

Amazingly this blog was also picked up by BBC researchers who are now interested in possibly using the garden in a new 'gardening for wildlife' program set to be shown in summer 2013! I await to find out if we have been successful, which is very exciting for me and my family and a fantastic reward for what we have been trying to achieve in the garden!!

My last job of the year is to thank all my readers and followers for staying with me and sending me some great comments and feedback! It's this interaction and feedback that enables me to keep writing and developing both the garden and the blog to make it interesting and I hope informative to you all? Please do keep the comments coming as I'm always so glad to hear from you...

So I wish you a very HAPPY & PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR and hope to see you all here again in 2013!!?....


Higgy :-) 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Somerset Native Wild Flowers & A Big Garden Wash Out!!...

Hello All,

I thought that it was about time that I actually put 'finger to key' and typed an update on what has, or mores the case, hasn't been happening in Higgy's garden!

Well to be honest There isn't very much to say, the wet weather has really put a stop to any sensible gardening as our low lying garden has been extremely 'squelchy' to say the least! In fact we have had days when the garden has sat pretty much underwater with only my (not so dry) dry riverbed preventing the rest of the garden from flooding as you can see below!...

 At about 2 feet deep you can see how my dry river bed became a reservoir with all the water from the garden running into it and draining away! The shear 'wetness' of the garden generally has brought gardening to a stop this year! 

With the garden so wet any thoughts of further projects become impossible! In some ways the wet weather preventing me from getting out hasn't necessarily come at a bad time, as my health hasn't been very good over the last couple of months and I have been laid up for much of it with a bad back and painful hips!

Despite the treacherous wet weather and health issues I have still been secretly planning a few things in my mind and will hopefully share these plans with you over the winter months.

Two things that I have been able to do recently is order wild flower seeds for my wild flower meadow and order a few native trees to plant out along the garden's boundary to enhance the hedges and provide food for insects and birds alike!

So with little else to report this is what I will be trying in 2013...

Wild Flowers 
As last year I will be sowing seeds direct into my meadow and also growing some as plug plants to be planted out in Spring. I have again generally gone for seeds that are native to Somerset or at least the South West where possible. Below is my latest list of seeds that I have ordered from my same supplier as last year Emorsgate Seeds I have listed the common name with a link to Emorsgate description of each plant and finally its area of origin...

Common Spotted Orchid (Somerset)
Small Teasel (England)
Corn Marigold (Cornwall)
Cat's-ear (Somerset)
Pheasant's-eye (England)
Wild Mignonette (Somerset)
Bladder Campion (Somerset)
Meadow Crane's-bill (Somerset)
Yellow Rattle (Somerset)
Night-Flowering Catchfly (England)
Small Scabious (Hertfordshire)
Greater Knapweed (Dorset)
Common Poppy (Somerset)
Cornflower (Herefordshire)
Corncockle (England)
Square-stalked St john's-wort (England)
Hedge Bedstraw (Somerset)
Nettle-leaved Bellflower (Somerset)
Lesser Burdock (Somerset)
Scarlet Pimpernel (Somerset)
Common Knapweed (Somerset)

As you will see from the above list the large majority of plants that I have chosen are from Somerset or England generally. However there are a few rogue plants in amongst them, which might at first glance seem strange! There is actually some logic to this as I will try and explain. Common Knapweed grows very well in this part of North Somerset and did extremely well for bees last year, so I've included Greater Knapweed in the hope that it will also do well. Attracting more moths to the garden is something that I'm keen to do also so I have included Night-flowering Catchfly which should provide night time nectar for visiting moths! Corn Marigold is a native to Cornwall but having used it for several years I can honestly say that it is one of my best wild flowers for pollinators and only this year I kept it in flower from May until the first 'heavy' frost which was at the beginning of December! So I suppose the conclusion is that I am trying to keep as native to this region as I can, however there are valid reasons and benefits to certain species by adding a few other things into the mix also, so do your research and obviously be prepared to be a little 'flexible' once you've had a season or two and you start to build a picture of what works for you!

The only other thing that I have achieved recently is to get my native trees but I won't bore you with more details now and save it for my next post when I've got some pictures of them to post alongside my rambling words!

Finally I'll leave you with a run down of a few visitors to the garden that have kept me entertained whilst off work with my current injuries....

This Great Spotted Woodpecker is a fairly regular visitor to the garden now. I have also had a couple of visits from a Green Woodpecker although it generally sits in the large Oak tree at the bottom of the garden and out of range for a decent picture!

In November I found several 'Ruby Tiger Moth' caterpillars in amongst the long grass of the wild flower meadow. Having not seen one of these moths before I'm extremely excited to see what other types of species we get in the garden next summer!

My Blackcap pair have continued to visit and seem at home on the fat balls or generally hanging out in the bushes and hedges in the garden! 

It has to be said that it has to be everyone's favourite, the Robin and they never fail to disappoint. This little chap follows anyone who ventures out into the garden (including the dog!) and has also taken to sitting on top of some trellis by the kitchen window so that he can stare in at you as if asking for some food!

Finally some kind of mosquito or gnat which was sat warming itself up in the sun. At only a few millimetres long impossible to ID with the naked eye so I took a quick snap. Unfortunately despite a reasonable picture I still don't have an ID for it! Please feel free to ID this one for me if you can!!?

Well that's about it for now,  lets hope that the weather starts to improve and gives us some decent periods of dry weather to dry the ground out a bit and let us get out into the garden again! I'm really not sure how plants will do with all the wet around their roots and I'm sure next summer will be interesting seeing what has survived what hasn't and if anything has actually thrived from all the wet!?

Next time I will give you a detailed look at my Native trees and my reasons for the species I picked and how they will benefit wildlife in the garden.

As always a huge thank you for reading and following my ramblings! Please do leave comments and feedback as they really help me develop this blog and hopefully make it an interesting read for all to enjoy!?