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Designing naturalistic, biodiverse Yorkshire gardens, part 4

Wildlife friendly gardens, part 4

As we approach the end of this first series of blog posts I wanted to turn to some of the garden wildlife whose presence we should be designing our gardens to encourage, whether through naturalistic plantings or by planting what they need to eat or hide within.

There has been quite a buzz in recent years around attracting pollinators into your garden – be they bees, hoverflies (or beetles – most people don’t try to actively attract beetles, although perhaps they should). This is obviously a good thing as pollinator numbers are declining. The bees that you are most likely to spot in your garden (the honey bee, up to 24 species of bumblebee, and 2 species of mining bees) are just a fraction of more than 250 bee species found in total across the UK. Many bees should therefore be present in, or occasionally visit, a biodiverse garden – alongside the hoverflies whose markings and behaviours mimic those of bees (and of which there are over 280 species in the UK). Their continued survival depends in no small measure on preserving their habitats and ensuring that we do not use pesticides within our gardens.

It is not just the pollinators though that we should be encouraging within a biodiverse Yorkshire garden. In particular, nature provides invertebrate predators to keep garden pests down to levels where they no longer munch through your favourite plants, and make pesticide use unnecessary. Ladybird larvae, parasitoid wasps, and the common wasp all prey on aphids and are a vital part of any garden eco-system. Centipedes can also play a crucial role – hunting pests at, and just below, ground level.

These invertebrates are then supported by a range of other predators from our garden birds, such as blue tits and wrens munching caterpillars and aphids, to those that devour our garden molluscs (slugs and snails), such as hedgehogs and frogs. If your biodiverse Yorkshire garden is anything like mine then it will be full of slugs and snails. There are certain plants that simply won’t survive the deprivations of these creatures (which thrive in our damp UK climate). I have come to terms with that and the plants in my garden are therefore those that are less palatable so that we can coexist and no chemicals (or even beer traps) are necessary. This makes gardening a great deal less stressful!

Indeed, just because something eats your plants does not mean it doesn’t have a place your garden. Butterflies and moths appear from caterpillars, and caterpillars eat plants. Of course some eat nettles (and other plants we would not necessarily miss) but others will happily eat your prized garden plants. Some nibbling of our garden does therefore need to be permitted, and the benefits will pay dividends in the future. Not just in the moths and butterflies which will emerge from their chrysalises but also when we discover a particularly fascinating caterpillar – as anyone who has ever found a puss moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) will testify.

Finally I would like to turn to the garden wildlife that you are unlikely to see unless you specifically go looking in a biodiverse Yorkshire garden. Yet they are probably the most important creatures there if the garden is to function correctly.

Worms are the backbones of the soil environment and are therefore vital to the health of your garden. I am an advocate, wherever possible, of the notion of ‘no dig’ gardening – especially after you’ve had your garden professionally designed. This is where, instead of digging over the soil regularly, the gardener spreads a thick layer of mulch over the surface, suppressing the weeds that are there, and then waits for the worms to incorporate it around the roots of the plants. The worms efforts also produce tunnels that create space for roots to explore when seeking oxygen or water, physically helping your plants to thrive. This produces a healthy soil with good structure which in turn sustains plants – and even heavy clay soil will visibly improve over time. This is not to say no dig equates to no work, but by not turning the soil there will be fewer annual weed seeds brought to the surface, meaning less weeding is necessary.

Worms don’t just frequent to soil though. A healthy compost heap will be full of them. There are seemingly thousands of posts across the internet, and even a few books, that are dedicated to composting (and so I won’t repeat that information here). However for any gardener committed to increasing biodiversity in their garden, the compost heap will act to increase that biodiversity with a range of creatures, not simply worms, that are attracted to processing the waste or making the most of the warmth generated by the process (from beneficial bacteria to Common Lizards and Slow Worms…if you’re lucky). 

Please get in touch if you think Matt Haddon Gardens can help you to design your garden and create a contemporary space, drawing upon the surrounding landscape for inspiration, and using a naturalistic planting scheme to create a uniquely beautiful and enduing wildlife friendly garden within which people and nature can coexist. 

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