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 -

Follow us on the Stuart Mabbutt Gardening Ltd Facebook page (link) This link takes you to the sign up page unless you already have an account.

Or Ozoshare (link) similar to Facebook for discussion on environmental topics. Ozoshare's membership focuses on green issues only to form a green community to promote environmental responsibility. This link takes you to the sign up page unless you already have an account.