Readying the wildlife garden for spring

The garden is already attractive to wildlife, but there is always more I can do

Typical of the wildlife gardener, I’m thinking about new ways to improve the garden for its non-human inhabitants.

A feast of berries follows the blossomMy garden at home isn't large but it's a good size for a town garden. There are nine trees in it, four of them fruit-producing (three apples and a cherry plum) and seven that blossom (the four fruit trees, plus a huge Magnolia soulangeana, a witch hazel and a Kilmarnock willow). The two non-flowering trees, large thujas, were already here when we moved in and I don't much care for them, but the sparrows do and they spend a lot of time flying in and out of them. The growth is dense on the outside but spacious within, so maybe the sparrows roost in them too. If all are to thrive, planting more trees isn't really a good option.

What else? The garden already had a small pond and it is used by many species, from the frogs and newts that breed in it to the birds and small mammals that come to bathe and drink. All the ground-based water dishes have a large stone in them for insects to stand on so they can get to the water without falling in. Elsewhere, there are habitats aplenty – shrubs, nesting boxes, log piles, compost heaps, piles of stones, high stone walls with small gaps in them, some of the stone being covered with ivy.

Bed and board for bees and birds

The beds are densely planted to provide year-round food and shelter, as well as scent and colour. The lawn is a mix of grass, moss and wild flowers, the clover flowers attracting pollinators and the foliage being appetising to pigeons. On this lawn, such as it is, we can also watch the birds as they chase after emerging craneflies, sometimes running or suddenly flying up to catch them. Before the craneflies hatch, jackdaws spend many hours quartering the lawn in their search for the larvae. 

It all seems good, until I look again and see areas of bare wall. They are almost accusing in their lack of cover and will have to go. More Pyracantha can join the two already growing against the walls. I'll put in Hedera helix 'Glacier' too, for fast growing texture, shelter and nesting opportunities and Lonicera periclymenum 'Heaven Scent' to please pollinators and humans. 

The bees before they settled in for winterIn bee news, the bees have gone pretty quiet over the past couple of chilly weeks, but a few are out and about on bright days. They are still bringing in a little pollen which, according to this chart, may come from asters or autumn-flowering clematis (note to self: plant more clematis). I have taken to standing next to the hive and putting my ear against it. On dull, cold days it can be very quiet - but when the sun is shining I can hear a quiet rustling and buzzing in there.

The last hive check we did showed the hive was absolutely stuffed with winter provisions, so it's a very reassuring sound. We shan't see much of the bees again until spring, when I hope to see them browsing the dozens of crocus planted for them. Now, boots on and get planting!

Please note: the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS

Read more about wildlife gardening

Construct a pond
Create a home for frogs and newts

Feed the birds
More ideas for plants to attracts birds to your garden

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