Sowing the seeds of change: don’t moss around, find a bit of peas and quiet and get a twiggle on!
January can be a funny month. The fun and festivities of mid-winter festivals are over and it can feel like a long time before there’s anything new on the horizon. The darker days of January and February are also known to be quite bad for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Whether you suffer from SAD or not, getting outside and active is always beneficial to your health, and it’s the perfect time of year to take stock of your garden. When fewer things are in full growth it’s easier to see where you might want to make some changes. Gardens can become stale over time and switching things around a bit can both prevent you feeling bored with your view and encourage different wildlife species to visit. The best, and simplest way to encourage more wildlife in to your garden is to plant different things. Here are some ideas to help you increase the biodiversity of your home patch.
If you don’t already have a wildflower spot, now would be a good time to start thinking about where you could put one. Is there a slightly worse-for-wear square of grass in your lawn that you could liven up with some colour later in the year? It’s too early to sow seeds outside (even for the hardy bunch of wildflowers we have in the UK) but you can start to plant inside so you have small plants ready to put out after the first frosts. You can also scatter wildflower seeds in late spring. Most wild flowers in the UK are annual or biennial so you’ll need to replenish every year to ensure a continuous flourish of loveliness.
To bring in some plants that you would struggle to grow you can add containers. These have the added advantage that you can move them around to change the view or make the most of changing climate conditions in different parts of your garden. If you have naturally neutral or alkaline soil you can fill pots with ericaceous compost (which is more acidic) and will allow you to grow plants that you wouldn’t do well in your normal soil. Ericaceous plants include azaleas, camelias, and blueberries. You can even try growing a small Acer (Japanese Maple) in a larger pot.
Is there a damp, shady corner that you tend to ignore? How about making a log pile to make a natural “hotel” for the beneficial creepy-crawlies such as beetles, woodlice, and slugs? Gardeners tend to have an aversion to slugs but honestly, if you provide them with enough space and food you are happy for them to munch on, they should leave your hostas and cabbages alone! A few well-positioned upturned crock plant pots can provide shelter for toads, who will also eat the slugs that you have so thoughtfully provided for them. If you are plagued with slugs and snails, please never, ever, *ever* use slug pellets. Try crushed eggshells, or coffee grinds, or cat litter. You can also partly bury a jar of beer. Check your jar every morning. It will be gross, but you’ll see evidence that your trap is working.
You might have a “difficult” area in your garden. That place where nothing seems to grow, however hard you try? This might be your opportunity to make a rock garden. These will support plants that have adapted to survive in poor soil. Once established they need very little maintenance and should attract specialised wildlife which will help with pollination.
If you are feeling particularly energetic you could make a pond. Introducing water into a garden is by far and away the best thing you can do to encourage biodiversity. This doesn’t have to be extravagant – an upside down dustbin lid will work. Regardless of the size of your pond make sure it’s easy for accidental visitors to get out. You don’t want to drown the very things you are hoping to bring in!
Generally resist the urge to tidy up and prune too much over the winter. Some twiggy debris and fallen leaves will provide shelter from the cold for all sorts of bugs and tiny monsters that are the gardener’s friends. And any remaining berries and old seed heads on trees and bushes will feed the birds that don’t fly south for the winter. These welcome visitors to the garden always brighten the day and need all the help they can get through the winter months. A high birdtable will protect seeds and fat balls from the local rat population (yes, you have one, wherever you live) and if it bothers you that squirrels “steal” everything, you can buy bird feeders that claim to be squirrel-proof. It should be noted that “claim” is doing a lot of the heavy-lifting in that sentence… 😉 You may be better off acknowledging that you are now feeding the local squirrels as well as the birds!
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Andrew Salisbury (principal entomologist at the RHS): “The power of a garden lies in its very smallest inhabitants.. Gardeners who look after them will have the greatest positive impact for biodiversity.” As with many things in life; don’t sweat the small stuff.