Monday, 18 February 2013


A while ago I penned an article about having a hedge for wildlife, in this article I plan to discuss how to look after it.

Cared for adequately, hedges are good food sources, and somewhere to shelter for a number creatures.

Don’t prune hedges to often as this can cause loss of fruiting capacity and shape. Pruning a third of the current season’s growth to within 3 inches of the previous season’s will certainly encourage bushiness.

Never cut all your hedges back yearly, leave some unpruned. Many hedges such as privet and hawthorn fruit on growth formed in the previous year. To cut the entire hedge back limits fruiting. Many people I have known have never seen a privet berry as they cut them within an inch of their life, often 3 times a year.
Try to stagger cutting your hedge, maybe one section in year 1, another in year 2 and another in year 3. Then return to the first section thereafter. You will build growth of differing ages and will have a better cycle of flowering and fruiting.

Prune after berries have been consumed by birds and never in the breeding season.

If you have some deadwood in the hedge, leave it, it’s a great micro habitat in itself, and try laying a hedge if it is gappy. Again staggering this work so you have different aged growth.

The world won’t come to an end if your hedges are not cut every week. Leaving a few unkempt sections as hedges will form green corridors interlinking a number of gardens.

Go on think outside of the box a little, and watch the wildlife come flooding in.

Happy Gardening!
Stuart Mabbutt, Wildlife Gardening Specialist
01865 747243

Guest blog via English Cottage Garden Nursery

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


February is a good time to plan what you want to do in your garden this year. Perfect winter evening past time is sitting by the fire browsing seed and plant catalogues and thinking wistfully of the summer days to come! Whilst doing all this marvellous planning, though, nature would really appreciate it if you bore in mind the impact your plantings and design will have on wildlife. This blog will provide you with a really useful list of UK wildflowers that will attract and help our native UK bees.

Our bees are declining in number so anything we can do to help their survival will help.

Bugle, Daisy, Harebell, Horseshoe Vetch, Birds Foot Trefoil, Cowslip, Selfheal,Creeping Buttercup, Salad Burnet, Dandelion, Wild Thyme, Red Clover, White Clover, Germander Speedwell, Ramsons, Columbine, Garlic Mustard, Black Horehound, White Bryony, Nettle-leaved Bellflower, Wild Clematis, Wild Basil, Wild Foxglove, Hedge Bedstraw, Sweet Woodruff, Lady's Bedstraw, Herb Robert, Wood Avens, Ivy, Bluebell, White Deadnettle, Yellow Archangel, Honeysuckle, Mallow, Wood Forget-me-not, Wild Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Sanicle, Red Campion, White Campion, Betony
(Bee on Cornflower)
Greater Stitchwort, Comfrey, Wood Sage, Common Vetch, Tufted Vetch, Corncockle, Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Chicory (below), Teasel (Below):
Viper's Bugloss, Corn Marigold, Scented Mayweed, Field Forget-me-not, Poppy:
Coltsfoot, Great Mullein, Rosebay Willowherb, Pignut, Hound's Tongue:
Wild Carrot, Meadow Cranesbill, Field Scabious, Meadow Vetchling, Wild Parsnip, Devil's Bit Scabious, Tansy, Meadow Rue, Goat's Beard, Dark Mullein, Yarrow, Toadflax, Ox-eye Daisy, Greater Knapweed, Lesser Knapweed:
Musk Mallow, Restharrow, Wild Mignonette, Yellow Rattle:
Small Scabious, Bladder Campion, Agrimony, Kidney Vetch, Thrift, Clustered Bellflower, Hawkbit, Lady's Smock, Marsh Marigold, Yellow Loosestrife, Purple Loosestrife, Dropwort, Jacob's Ladder, Fleabane, Sea Kale, Rock Samphire, Yellow-horned Poppy, Biting Stonecrop, Yellow Iris.

Some Other Plants (not wild)

Flowering currant, Azalkea, Berberis, Broom, Phacelia, Weigela, open-faced Roses, flowering Hebes, Heathers, Escallonia, Skimmia, Potentilla, Cotoneaster, Pieris, Hellebore,Hibiscus, Delphinium, Sweet William, Globe Thistle, Red Valerian, Larkspur, Sunflower, Hyssop, Poached Egg Plant, Lavender, Bergamot, Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Buddleia

Blackthorn, Dogwood, Willows, Sweet Briar, Blackberry, Rowan, Wild Privet, Field Maple, Wayfaring Tree, Guelder Rose.

This isn't an exhaustive list and there are plenty of other non-wild plants that bees love. The Royal Horticultural Society have a very long and useful list you can download.

Buy bee plants and other wildflowers from the English Cottage Garden Nursery Ltd
Wild About Wildflowers
Plants for Bumblebees

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

WILD PRIMROSE (primula vulgaris)

The Wild Primrose is a cheerful little wildflower, like a little splash of sunshine in a bleak wintry world, often flowering as early in winter as December.

Hardy perennial. Pretty pale yellow flowers with orange-yellow centres on short stems and a rosette of fat, wrinkled leaves. Its name derives from the Latin for “First Rose”. The plant was used in ancient times to treat paralysis and gout and was believed to be a flower originating in Paradise. The flowers can be made into jam and wine. The five petals represent birth, initiation, consummation, repose and death. A six-petalled Primrose is said to bring luck in love and marriage.

Primrose flowers are of two kinds – pin-eyed, with the style above the stamens; and thrum-eyed, with the style below the stamens. For successful pollination, pollen from a pin-eye plant must reach the style of a thrum-eyed plant, or vice-versa.

Primroses are also favoured by butterflies and moths. Particular food plant of the Pearl Bordered Yellow Underwing, Double Square Pot, Green Arches and Triple-spotted Clary moths. Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves. Ants are attracted by the sticky seeds and aid their dispersal.

Primroses are pollinated at night by moths attracted by the bright petal colours. Hundreds of years ago, these plants were grown for their medicinal and sweetening qualities, for example, it was believed that stem juice rubbed onto the face removed spots! Legend says that Primroses sprang from the body of Paralisos (the Primrose’s ancient name) after he died of a broken heart. It was also alleged that if children ate the flowers they would see the fairy folk! It was lucky to bring 13 Primroses indoors but unlucky to bring in only 1. Indeed, to bring indoors less than a handful would surely endanger one’s ducklings!! Victorians used to plant Primroses on the graves of children, and herbalists used to use the root to make an expectorant. If you keep chickens and see a single primrose, dance round it three times in order to avert ill omens – otherwise a single Primrose will lead to bad egg laying.

There is a lot of Primrose folklore attached to the ability of Primroses to let people see fairies. If you touched a fairy rock with the right number of Primroses in a posy you will be shown the way to fairyland. The wrong number would lead to certain doom. A German legend tells of a little girl who found a doorway covered in flowers and touched it with a Primrose – it opened up into an enchanted castle. Children used to eat the flowers in the belief that this would enable them to see fairies. Posies would be left on doorsteps so that fairies would bless the house and the people in it. As well, scatter Primroses outside doors to keep fairies away as they won’t cross this barrier. Don’t let Primroses die as they are popular with fairies. Carry a Primrose flower and peer over the petals in order to see fairies. Leave a Primrose on the doorstep on May Day eve to prevent witches entering.

In Ireland on May Day, Primrose balls were hung on cows’ tails to deter witches. In Hampshire, woodmen boiled Primroses in lard to make an ointment to treat injuries. Bunches of Primroses would be left in cowsheds so that fairies would not steal the milk. Primroses can be made into a tincture for restlessness and insomnia. For animals, Primroses can treat fits, paralysis, rheumatism and worms.

Primroses can be planted in sun or partial shade in rich, moist soil. They will do well beneath trees, shrubs or hedges. Divide every three years after flowering. Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering.

If you are sowing Primrose seeds, be prepared to be patient! The seeds need to have a period of cold before they will germinate so it is a good idea to sow the seeds in a small plastic bag of moist (not wet) peat-free compost or vermiculite. Place the bag in the fridge for 6 weeks. After that time, sow the seeds on to a tray of compost and press in, no need to cover with more compost. Protect from mice and place outside to get all that the cold weather can throw at it. The seeds will germinate in spring.

(The above provided for information only and is in no way a prescription for use. Please seek the advice of a qualified herbalist before using)

English Cottage Garden Nursery Ltd - wildflower plants, seeds and meadow mixes. Also plantable paper products
Plants For Bumblebees
Butterfly and Moth Plants
Wildflower Favours

Monday, 7 January 2013


(Guest blog by Stuart Mabbutt Gardening Ltd)

Look out into even the tiniest of gardens and most will have a hedge of some description. They can be the perfect shelter and even a food source for many forms of wild creatures.

Best planted between early October and early April, its best to choose plants that happily grow wild in the area within which your garden is situated. When finalising the choice of plants, go for a mixture which will attract more life that just one type of plant.

Dig a big trench and fill with apply quantities of garden compost. The hedge will be there for a long time so you need to give those hungry young plants the best start possible. Planting a double row if you can will provide a much denser hedge in the end.

For the initial 3 years after planting the new hedge line will be susceptible to wind rock and invasion of competing plants. As the plants grow, layer more compost and lawn mowings around them to counteract these ongoing threats.

When the hedge is well established, try planting some climbers to grow amongst it, brambles and honeysuckles are ideal.

Planting the old small tree along the hedge line will work wonders to, for example Crab Apples give extra height and fruit during autumn and winter. Your hedge doesn’t have to be totally level, so the odd tree is great.

Hedges are ideal sources of nectar if planted correctly, so have a go at growing a native mixed hedge and watch the bee’s move in.

Stuart Mabbutt

Wildlife Gardening Specialist
01865 747243

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Denge Woods, New Year's Day 2013

Today we went for a stroll through the lovely Denge Woods, near Canterbury. Dating back to at least 1600, Denge Wood is part of a semi-natural ancient wood complex on the North Downs.

Mainly sweet chestnut coppice, it stands alongside an area of former chalk grassland, known as The Warren, and this combination provides an interesting wildlife habitat, particularly for the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly, a butterfly that has seen a sharp decline in numbers over the last 20 years. As it particularly loves woodlands with sunny coppiced clearings and grassy areas, Denge Woods is ideal habitat and the butterfly exists in three separate colonies in the wood,
jointly owned by the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust
and a private individual. These individuals have set up a special project to help the butterfly thrive in the woods through a targeted forestry management plan. The
creation of a ‘wildlife corridor’ will link the colonies, ensuring the butterfly's
survival. Plans include the creation of a strategic wildlife corridor measuring 1km by 40m to link three isolated colonies of the Duke of Burgundy; woodland corridor and track-side coppicing, and clearance of invading scrub; more wildflowers including primrose (primula veris),
the Duke of Burgundy’s principal foodplant, and locally/nationally rare orchids.

There are a number of entrances where you can park up and wander into the woods. We went to an area that we hadn't been to before and were pleasantly pleased by what we saw! Wide paths enabled easy walking through swathes of trees, both upright and fallen many years ago, covered in moss.
We walked through muddy tracks as well and eventually stumbled upon a group of twitchers armed with binoculars and scopes. Questioning them revealed that they were waiting for Hawfinches to arrive and come to roost atop the trees. They had seen 4 the day before but today the hawfinches were a bit late in arriving! Hawfinches are endangered and have reached the RSPB's red level of conservation importance meaning their populations have decreased severely over the last 25 years and they are now globally threatened. Unfortunately I have no hawfinch photo of my own to post here! However, a Google search will reveal all, a lovely little colourful bird.

The woods were very mossy in places, lending a lush green splash of colour to the rather drab brown of the bare trees. The photo below is sphagnum moss, and very pretty it is too!

Our meanderings led us to what can only be described as an avenue of broom! This was a lush oasis with both sides of the path swathed in broom plants. When in flower, these plants produce masses of yellow pea-like flowers loved by bees. I must remember to come back here when they are in flower, I am sure the sight will be spectacular and humming with bees.

There were also attractive dead seed heads of Willowherb and Foxgloves, which created interest amongst the other plants.

The sun was out all afternoon and at one point struck a lovely old gnarled tree and lit it up.

We returned back to the car a bit muddy but full of further love for these wonderful woods.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Sorry it's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front from us. However, we have a guest blogger this month - Stuart Mabbutt.
Stuart has been an Oxfordshire (England) Gardener for over 24 years and now specialises in wildlife gardening. He makes wildlife programmes for Radio Cherwell Oxford Hospital Radio and writes articles and features in other local media. He gives lively talks to groups showing how small as well as large gardens can be a haven for wildlife. With light hearted observations he looks at the psychology and sociology behind what makes an effective wildlife gardener as opposed to traditional gardener.

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular contribution here. My aim is to work your mind slightly differently so that when you are out there looking after your garden, you spare a thought for the wildlife that is and, could be, using that space with you.

Gardens are not just about having well manicured lawns with crisply trimmed edges, bedding flowers in nice tidy blocks of colour or perfectly straight rows in the vegetable garden. Just as much enjoyment I believe is gained by sharing the space with other living creatures from birds to moths, bats to badgers.

You don’t have to have a large garden to attract wildlife - small gardens are just as important especially when you put together an entire row of small gardens that in the eyes of wildlife, looks just like one big linked up habitat. They don’t care if there is a fence dividing your garden from your neighbours. Wildlife sees it as one block of space uniting entire communities.

A good place to start is to have a lawn that has varying lengths of grass in different areas, not just mown within an inch of its life all over. Although birds like to feed on short grass, insects love longer areas. To increase the bio-diversity in your garden, build from the insects up as they are near the foot of the food chain, then everything else will follow.

Grow as many varieties of plant as possible and leave some seed heads when you are dead heading as this will increase the insect and bird life in your garden. When pruning down all your herbaceous perennials in autumn (once they have finished flowering), leave about 5 inches of stem uncut above ground. Not only will this protect the crowns of your plants from the severe winter weather but it will also give insects somewhere to hibernate. This again is a good food source with which to attract birds in winter.

Perhaps you have room for a small tree that fruits or berries, this again can be a good food source for birds. If you are growing trees and shrubs try and focus on native plants that grow naturally in this country, they are more attractive to native wildlife.

Ponds are great ways of attracting wildlife to pay a visit to your garden but never plant overly invasive plants that will soon overrun. Also keep in mind that fish in a pond will reduce some of the insect and amphibian populations you may wish to attract and enjoy.

The main thing to consider when you are gardening with wildlife in mind is, not to be too tidy - wildlife doesn’t like too much housework to be done. Leave some piles of dead wood and some piles of rocks, to give small creatures places to hide and, if you have a large garden, standing dead wood is very valuable. By this I mean if you have a tree that is dead or dying, leave it standing for as long as possible unless it is dangerous. This encourages insects and other animals that live higher up and off the ground. Green Woodpeckers love standing dead wood as they have very soft bills so can’t hammer very easily into hard wood. This is often why you can observe them feeding on the ground as they trying to find ant nests in your lawns and borders. Gardens stocked with numerous flowers producing evening blooms are called ‘Moon Gardens’ - great for people who work all day!

Moon Garden plants are usually white which reflects the moonlight even more and are fragrant in the evening too. Foliage is also sometimes white which adds to the reflective quality of the garden.

Evening Primroses, Yucca and Night Scented Stocks are good plants for evening enjoyment. In the herb garden, mint, thyme and even basil often flower in the evening.

Plants that are flowering and fragrant during the day usually attract daytime insects but plants with evening and night interest attract insects that are on the wing or active in the evening too. One additional advantage to having evening and night flowering plants is that they stand out in the moonlight and make it easier for pollinating insects to spot.

My point behind all this is that if you attract and keep these insects in your garden in the evening, you can then expect to attract predators like bats! Bats use huge amounts of energy and can hoover up vast quantities of insects therefore, try to grow native plants to Britain and you will attract native insects and native bats.

Growing trees and shrubs in a linear fashion help bats to find their way around. They memorize where the features are to help them navigate where to go. Removing a feature breaks that line of growth and may confuse them so that they may not cross that void to get to the next tree. Often early flying bats don’t like to break cover because there are more predators around so losing part of a row of trees may disrupt their movements. Later flying bats are often more adventurous and fly in more open pastures, probably due to less predation from owls etc.

So go on, have a go at Moon Gardening and watch the bats share it with you! Have a go at gardening a little differently and see if you too can attract more visitors into your garden.

Happy Gardening
Stuart Mabbutt
Wildlife Gardening Specialist
01865 747243
Web address (link to listen live over the internet) for the page dedicated to our wildlife programme on the Radio Cherwell Website -

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

BLUEBELL BULBS (hyacinthoides non scripta)

There is nothing more quintessentially English than a woodland carpeted with Bluebells - beautiful.
Bluebells are perennial. Member of the Lily family. Clusters of bell-shaped flowers from April to June. Grows to about 12 ins (30 cm) high. Found in woodlands so looks good planted under trees. Unrelated to those plants in Scotland called Bluebells – these are actually Harebells.

Popular nectar plant for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Leaves provide food for autumnal and 6-striped rustic moths. Preferred food source for the Brimstone and Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies. Pollinated by long-tongued insects, such as bumblebees, and some hoverflies. Honeybees have short tongues and so have to steal the nectar by pushing apart the base of the petals.

Pliny said that Bluebells sprang from the blood of Ajax. Another legend dedicates the plant to Hyacinthus, who was loved by Apollo and Zephyrus, the god of the West wind. Hyacinthus, though (a lad, by the way), loved Apollo more and so Zephyrus killed the lad in jealousy. From his blood sprang Bluebells.

White juices from the stem make a useful glue. During the Middle Ages it was used to stick feathers on to arrows, and during Elizabethan times, it was used for laundry starch and glue.

Bluebell fields can be dangerous as they are full of fairies and concentrated magic. The flowers ring to summon fairies to midnight revelry. Anyone who wears a Bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. If you hear Bluebells ring you will soon die – thus they were known as Deadman’s Bells in Scotland.

It is important to make sure you plant true English Bluebells, and not the very invasive Spanish variety, which are a real threat to our native Bluebell populations. Spanish Bluebells are not really woodland plants are are more often found in open ground. Spanish Bluebell flowers are on one side of the stem, which is also thicker than that of an English Bluebell. English Bluebells have creamy-coloured pollen, others do not. English Bluebells have a strong, sweet smell and narrow tubular flowers with rolled back petals. Planting dry bulbs – Plant as soon as possible after receipt. If you can’t plant straightaway, store them in a mesh tray with sawdust or shredded newspaper to stop them going mouldy. They will also keep a bit longer if you store them in the fridge. For a more natural look, scatter the Bluebell bulbs and plant them where they land. Make sure they are planted to a good depth (about 4 inches). If you have any leaf mould plant them with some of that to imitate the natural woodland floor. Bluebells grown from seed take 2 – 3 years to flower.

In the green – plant asap! Bluebells in the green are planted January to May and have green leaves when planted. When planted later in their flowering period they may consist of the whole bulb, leaves and flowers. If you are not able to plant within a day of the bulbs arriving, temporarily plant them in trays or pots of compost until you can plant them out. They can be kept outside.