Wednesday 1 February 2012

Establishing your own Wildlife Garden - Part 1. Planning

Just after the New Year, David Schenk asked if I would write an article on wildflower gardening. Apologies for being a bit slow David, but this is part 1 of a short series where I will write about my experiences of trying to set up and establish my garden.

I am NOT an expert by any means and would classify myself as a well intentioned novice. I will share my thought processes, my actions, what has worked well, what hasn't, my mistakes and some of the things I am pleased to have achieved.

So if this isn't your thing for the future, then look away now and look forward to some great images from Dave instead.

So where did it start for me? From the moment that I viewed this house almost five years ago this coming May.

The rear garden was quite large, certainly by modern house standards as my house is the same age as me - old!!

I knew that I wanted to make a large wildflower meadow so that I could attract birds, butterflies, insects and all sorts to photograph without having to get in the car.

So first step achieved. You need to want to do it, but make sure you know why and what you want to achieve.

Take a look at natural habitats and go to other gardens where you can and see what you like and what you dislike.

The next thing you need is a plan. I started scribbling on bits of paper, placing features such as ponds, waterfalls, feeder ponds, reflection pools, banks and seating areas on A3 graph paper.

There is so much available web resource - google is your friend to find examples of what you like and dislike

RSPB advice here, plus another link here, but best will be your own searches.

When you set out your plan, make sure you do it to scale, make sure you place the angle of sunrise and sunset so you know where to put features for optimum light.

I also had a couple of tree stumps as feeding perches so again, think about your backgrounds and the distance to those backgrounds so you can get them as diffused as possible.

I knew that I wanted to provide banking so I could tier the planting from low to high to make photographing butterflies and insects easily. The angle of the sun was important to the alignment of those banks and I sought to make them as south facing as possible.

I made some wrong decisions with my tree stump placing with one of the backgrounds so I will move that in the next month or so before the growing season starts in earnest.

I will share my plans with a series of photographs in subsequent blogs in this series.

As part of your planning process, it is worth thinking about the growing seasons so as well as a paper plan, you have a timed work plan.

I knew that I wanted to plant in the late Summer/early Autumn, so my programme worked backwards from that.

As another part of my planning, I made a planting plan.

Edges of the garden were to be planted with native hedgerow such as Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Holly, Dog Rose, Guelder Rose to give a mix of berry and fruit bearing oppportunities for birds and insects to feast on.

I also made the conscious decision that I would only plant with native UK wild species. I made a single exception and left an existing Buddleia in place as a useful shrub for the birds to use as cover, and for the butterflies to nectar from. Otherwise, everything else had to come out that wasn't native. Three existing fruit trees were also retained as again they provided a useful food source both for me, and the wildlife.

The rest of the areas were then mapped out with different types of wildflower conservation mix seeds.

I sourced these from Nickys Nursery based in Sussex. A good service, and exceptionally good value for money, an exceptionally wide range of mixes and I can recommend them.

I opted for a butterfly mix, in different heights for my areas of sunny disposition hedgerow, shady, woodland, pond and water edge amongst my choices.

I wish that I had spent a bit more time planning, although as I prepared the site, which was a long and arduous process, as it was all done by hand, it did enable me to fine tune on the way. So unless you plan to pay for someone else to do it, or you hire in expensive bits of kit then you can be a bit more flexible and let it evolve.

I found as I spent the time out there clearing the site, digging deep and preparing the elevations, I flexed my plans.

That will do for Part 1.

So to summarise.

1. Be clear on what you want to achieve.

2. Look at habitats and examples of what you want to replicate

3. Start planning by using an accurate scale drawing of the features you want

4. Make a planting plan

5. Plan your growing season, and work backwards

6. Give yourself plenty of contingency time - everything will take longer than you think.

7. Keep your plan flexible and let it evolve as you start the work.

In the next part, I will take you through the hard work of preparation and the pitfalls and stresses of the getting the groundwork done.


1 comment:

  1. Martin, many thanks for taking the time to write this. I look forward to the other posts in the series.

    With wildlife under so much pressure from development and the resulting loss of habitat, modern chemicals and so on, I feel it is very important for anyone with a garden and who cares about nature to do what they can to garden sympathetically to improve their environment.

    I have found the website that I mentioned before, where you can find out what species have been recorded growing in your locality. It is from the Natural History Museum:

    David Schenck