20 October 2014 By Matthew Haddon
I'm building a garden at the moment. The design had been done and I'm now hefting a spade instead of a pen!
As I renovate an old deck, replacing the deck boards and making it a little smaller, I find a pile of leaves, moss, and the odd feather. Peeping from within is a toad - getting ready to hibernate. Then appears another toad and a frog, one crawling the other jumping like a coiled spring. Above, a flock of jackdaws take to the air to harry a kestrel making a yickering sound of annoyance and in the woods beyond the plaintive screech of a jay.
Just spending time outside allows you to experience the wildlife that surrounds us. It was then that I realised that Wild About Gardens week had passed me by - a week promoted by the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts and this year held from 15-21 September.
It is however never too late to make a difference in your garden. Even one solitary bee which finds a spot to hibernate, and survives until next year, will make a difference not only to the bee, but also to the ecology and richness of your garden. The connections and inter-relationships between your garden's inhabitants are truly fascinating.
In her 30 year study of her sub-urban back garden near to Leicester, Jennifer Owen found over 2,199 different species were resident, or passing through, her garden. Most were invertebrates and this just goes to show the breadth of animals with which we share our outside space, if we have time to look. The value of gardens are therefore huge when it comes to habitat creation.
So what can we do? Easiest of all is don't be too tidy. As I discovered, had I just swept away a pile of leaves and moss then Mr Toad would have had to find a new Hall in which to reside. Heaps of leaves, patches of long grass and piles of logs all provide useful over-wintering places for an array of wildlife. Also don't forget to leave some nettles - with them you should get caterpillars next year that will ultimately help pollinate your garden. Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Painted Lady caterpillars all like nettles.
The more nimble fingered may choose to create a bee "hotel" from bunches of canes tied or stuffed into tubes, boxes or whatever is to hand. This can progress to some more creative large-scale structures which can form a feature in your garden.
Or perhaps plant something with wildlife in mind. The silver birch is home to 229 insect species, or plant a tree whose blossom provides early nectar for pollinators and whose fruit will feed the birds - perhaps a cherry or an Amelanchier. Alternatively sit back in your comfy chair and plan a corner where you can plant for pollinators next year - Pulmonaria or Primroses, Buddleja or Verbena bonariensis, Honeysuckle or Ivy are all fine choices.
Whatever you choose to do, you never know what you might experience...
Matt Haddon is a landscape and garden designer and writer based in Yorkshire.
For all queries contact him