Biodiversity is the genetic variety of life on earth; all types of plants and animals. We should work to protect and conserve wildlife – our natural heritage – for its own sake and for future generations. The desire for a sustainable world and one rich in wildlife amount to the same thing. The species, habitats and ecosystems of our wildlife are also the building blocks that make up the healthy, functioning environment on which we all depend.
The new extension to the St Ives Green House will be fitted with a green roof for a variety of different reasons, including rainwater run-off and insulation, but primarily to encourage biodiversity. Also know as a ‘living roof’ this will create a habitat of flora and fauna for certain types of wildlife from self-sustaining planting, which will help to reduce the environmental impact of the extension.
The gardens of our two houses provide an ideal opportunity to encourage wildlife and they will also be productive with a small selection of succulent fruit and vegetables growing right outside the back door! Managing your garden for wildlife adds an extra dimension for the enthusiastic gardener (or even the less enthusiastic gardener!) It can be exciting and help our native wildlife by providing food and habitat that may be in short supply in the wild. Even a small garden can be managed in such a way that birds and mammals become a part of the fabric of the garden, rather than occasional visitors.
Simple things can make a huge difference:
- Plant some wildflowers – this will increase the numbers of invertebrates visiting your garden, and all other wildlife associated with these native wildflowers will benefit.
- Make a nectar border – choose carefully, some good nectar plants, using information from a wildlife gardening book. The more nectar/pollen producing plants you have, the better your garden will be for wildlife.
- Plant a tree – if you have room for a native tree, such as a silver birch or rowan, so much the better, but if not try something like an ornamental crab apple. You will be amazed at how birds will come to the garden if there is a tree to provide them with perching and roosting places, shelter, and food in the form of seeds and fruit.
- Make a wildlife pond – any water in the garden is better than none at all. Even an upturned dustbin lid with fresh water will encourage birds to drink and bathe, but a proper wildlife pond with gently sloping edges and wild flowers will be a delight for you and your wildlife visitors. Frogs, toads, newts, mammals, birds, and dragonflies will all benefit.
- Put up a nest box – creating special places to encourage wildlife is very worthwhile, so a nest box for birds, a bat box or a log pile in a cool place will help. Don’t forget to feed the birds all year round.
Grow your own food
Growing your own fruit and vegetables at home is just about one of the most sustainable things anyone can do, it saves on food miles, tastes delicious and couldn’t be any fresher.
The first big question is: ‘Will I have room?’ And the answer is: ‘Yes.’ It is possible to grow vegetables in anything from a window box or tub to a raised bed. It’s not essential to have a large greenhouse or acres of land.
A small area means you can grow small numbers of different crops and it’s very important to make use of all three dimensions; plants that will help you do this are:
- Salad crops – beetroot, lettuce, radishes and onion are wonderful to grow in raised beds and taste so much fresher pulled straight from the garden.
- Strawberries – grow very well in pots or raised beds.
- Productive climbers – rasberries take up little space and can crop well and runner beans are a brilliantly productive “aerial crop” but remember they can grow to at least eight feet tall so may cast a lot of shade.
- Larger plants – tomatoes, artichokes, rhubarb, or even courgettes can be used as a lower layer of robust productivity
Other ideas for sustainable gardening:
- Collect rain water in water butts and reduce the need for watering by improving your soil and growing appropriate plants
- Use grass clippings as mulch around plants in borders and established vegetables, such as runner beans and cabbages it keeps moisture in the soil saving on watering.
- Compost – If you don’t already make your own compost from garden and kitchen waste, you can get started right away. You can make your own compost bin from four posts in the ground, surrounded by chicken wire and lined with cardboard. You can also buy one at a reduced price from the council.
St Ives Garden
The Back Garden
The rear garden is an average size urban garden of which we have integrated six different habitats into. These habitats are woodland, hedgerow, meadow, wetland, aquatic and “garden” habitats.
The woodland has made use of an existing mature hawthorn and we have added silver birch, rowan, hazel wayfaring tree and wild rose to this area. It is underplanted with ferns, foxgloves, spring bulbs such as bluebell and snowdrop and a number of other shade tolerant plants including bugle, aquilegia, hellebore, sweet woodruff, red campion, and yellow archangel. A hedgehog hibernarium has been added to the edge of the woodland and small gaps under the perimeter fence have been left for these animals to come and go.
The hedgerow is to include hazel, hawthorn, holly, wild rose, dogwood and spindle which fits well in to this habitat and is an excellent plant for bees. Hedgerow plants such as cow parsley, red campion, and hedge garlic have been added to give the hedge a natural base which can be used by a variety of insects and small mammals.
The meadow contains a variety of herbaceous plants which were once found throughout the grasslands of Cambridgeshire. Oxeye daisy, birdsfoot trefoil, yellow rattle, lady’s bedstraw, ragged robin, meadow cranesbill, cowslip, meadow buttercup were once common especially around this area.
The pond margins have been planted with a variety of native plants such as kingcup, water forget-me-not, purple loosestrife and rushes. Several non-native species have been added that are known to be good nectar sources for bees and butterflies. The primula and lobelia are excellent nectar sources supplying from February (the kingcups) well in to the autumn (the lobelia).
The pond has been seeded with the native aquatic hornwort from a local pond known to be rich in wildlife. It has also been planted with water lily – a smaller variety than our native white water lily which would be far too big for this pond. The pond is .75metres deep at its deepest but has a wide shallow margin for plants.
The gentle gradient at the pond edge will allow any small mammals that may fall in to the pond an easy way out. It also provides birds with a variety of bathing places. Some prefer slightly deeper water like the doves and blackbirds whilst others such as the bluetits and robin actually prefer the tiny pools within the waterfall. The waterfall is an attractive feature which both aerates, filters and circulates the water. The aquatics and the marginal plants will take their nutrients from the pond and this will help the pond water to clear. Small areas have been sectioned off to allow frogs, toads and newts to breed.
We have already recorded water boatmen in the pond along with diving beetles and dragonflies, and damsel flies have been visiting the pond regularly from the first week of its construction.
The garden area has been planted with a variety of herbaceous perennial plants known to be good for butterflies. Some British natives have also been included in this border where they are known to provide nectar (red valerian) or seed heads (teasel) known to be good for wildlife.
The vegetable garden has both a shed and a greenhouse which was no longer required by its previous owners. Three large raised beds allow for crop rotation and from its construction in June the beds have provided, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas and beetroot to those who have been tending them. Cabbages, sprouting broccoli and kale have been providing the local cabbage white population with food despite our best efforts to keep them caterpillar free but a good crop of parsnips is expected.
A wide selection of fruit bushes have been planted around the perimeter of the vegetable garden which will help screen off this area from the rest of the garden. Grape vines, blackberry and Tayberry are all growing well on the trellis and raspberries will be grown around the outside edge of the kitchen garden. Red currants, white currants and gooseberry will add to the shelter and screen around this area.
Sunshine, shelter and sustenance are the basic pre-requisites for a good wildlife garden. This garden has all of these features. There are foodplants for nine species of butterfly known to visit local gardens and nectar will be available to bees and butterflies throughout the year. Bird, bat and bumble bee boxes, and the hedgehog home will provide shelter for these increasingly threatened but well loved members of the British fauna. It is our hope that the rich biodiversity of this garden will provide a safe and productive haven for wildlife for many years to come.
The Drought Garden
This area has been designed to be a minimum maintenance garden which are drought tolerant. The garden faces south and is a warm and well drained site. Plants have been selected which are known to be well adapted to these conditions. Some of them come from the Mediterranean area and are native to southern Europe. Lavender, sage, rock rose, rosemary, Santolina, Verbascum, bay, catmint, marjoram, and thyme, many of them culinary herbs, fall in to this category.
Other plants such as the ice plant and house leek have been selected as they are succulent and will resist long periods of drought. Some of our British natives such as sea holly and the horned poppy, sea kale and sea pinks, as their names suggest, grown near the sea on sand dunes or shingle ridges. The deep roots of these plants will easily tap in to any available water.
The mixed grades of shingle give a variety of texture and colour to set off these lovely plants throughout the year. It will also help to keep the soil beneath moist but protect these plants, which hate being wet, from rotting in the wetter winter months.
The low fence surrounding the garden marks out the boundary and a diagonal path through the planting allows easy access to the front of the house to those arriving on foot. The driveway and paving around the front of the house is permeable paving. This allows water to drain away freely over its entire surface.