Nature's hard working pollinators and pest controllers! 

Female dronefly (Eristalis) seems to be laying her eggs on an endive leaf.

Female dronefly (Eristalis) appears to be laying her eggs on an Endive leaf - or maybe just enjoying the sun!

 

It's great to see all the hoverflies and droneflies back in the polytunnels. There's been clouds of them in there on sunny days recently. They love the warm humid atmosphere - and I must say in this freezing weather outside I'm not averse to it myself! They're not just terrific pest-controllers, feeding on aphids, but also wonderful pollinators too. There's been masses of bees in there as well over the last few sunny days, some quite early in the mornings despite the overnight frosts. They must be so grateful for all the lovely flowers in there - and so am I - the scent when I open the doors in the morning is just amazing! They'e doing a great job of pollinating all the early flowering fruit too. So many fruits have set on the two peach trees that I'm going to have quite a job thinning them - but I won't complain - because I dread to think what would happen if all of our pollinators disappeared. So much of the wonderful fruit we are lucky enough to enjoy thanks to them would be non-existent! Where would we be without bees and all the other equally precious insects in Natures rich tapestry of life? I shudder to think. All of the wonderful foods that they pollinate would be gone forever - and our food chain would be well and truly broken! We must all do our best to take care of them by creating insect-friendly habitat, not using pesticides and by supporting organic, biodiversity-friendly farming. We can all do that - even if we don't have a garden!

 

What price fresh air?

 

I was at first rather amused a couple of years ago by a report from the Beijing correspondent of the Irish Times, saying that a jar of fresh air from Provence had made more than 600 euros in an art sale. On reflection afterwards though, I actually thought how incredibly sad it was. Pure fresh air is something we should all be able to take for granted - but sadly it's becoming increasingly rare. This time 3 years ago, one of my favourite cousins died suddenly of a heart attack. When they did the post-mortem they said he had the arteries of someone who'd been a heavy smoker all their life. He had never smoked, he was slim and very fit  - but he'd lived in Beijing for the last 15 years of his life, where many are now afraid to breathe the air and wear masks all the time if outside. Most of the time we're luckier here, although on some days I can see the city smog hanging like a depressing beige veil over Dublin down in a valley in the distance. We're high up on a hill on the Meath/Dublin border here - so most of the time fresh air isn't a problem - although occasionally I can smell pesticide sprays on the air - especially in summer. That makes me so angry! The modern spraying machines may be more efficient at spreading their poisons in micro-droplets instead of drenching things - but that also means they carry on the air far more easily - and those of us anywhere near have no choice but to breathe in that poison. Meanwhile - the sprayer operator sits high up on a huge tractor in an air-conditioned cab totally oblivious and disassociated from any other form of life that may be near. In addition - once every week, my neighbours don't seem to care that they're poisoning everyone elses air by burning plastic on the day just before recycling bin days - so there's less stuff to try to cram into the bin I suppose! Although we have bin charges here in Ireland, some plastics can be recycled free - but it seems that many people can't even be bothered to sort their milk cartons, take away and ready meal rubbish and prefer to burn it instead - polluting the air with one of the most deadly, cancer-causing and long-lasting poisons known to man - Dioxin!  

Coltsfoot already seeding in the drive - loved by seed eating birds including Goldfinches!
Coltsfoot already seeding in the drive - loved by seed eating birds including Goldfinches!

 

 

We need fresh air and so do the creatures we share this planet with. Air full of life-giving oxygen provided by all the diversity of plants - many of whose seeds are carried along by that bouyant air. Fresh air is free, good for us and should be available for all of Nature - including us. It's the equal birthright of every single creature that  lives on this planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why does nature matter?

 

Quietness and peace is something else which is increasingly rare now - at least the type of quietness that is just filled with the sounds of nature - not of man made noise. It's often hard to hear the sounds of Nature now with the amount of background noise from the motorway in the distance, increasing air traffic from Dublin airport 13 miles away, lorries on our country roads, boom-di-boom music being played that you can hear half a mile away and peoples burglar alarms that no-one seems to take any notice of - going all day long! Peace and quiet is something that is vital for our mental health - and constant noise must be just as unpleasant and subliminally damaging to nature as it is to us. The sounds I most like to hear are birdsong accompanied by the low, gentle sound of buzzing from bees happily going about their work of collecting pollen for their broods and feeding on nectar, while at the same time pollinating flowers and fruit which feed us. 

 

35 years ago at this time of year, I could hear the song of skylarks and thrushes all day here, with even the odd cuckoo too. Now the skylarks and cuckoos are gone from anywhere near here and thrushes few and far between, although there are a couple of beauties having song contests here currently - I'm glad to say!  All around the country elsewhere, the insects, hedges and the habitats that songbirds rely on are decreasing every year. Since the 1970's songbird numbers have gone into free-fall, speeding up in the last decade or so, and if nothing is done, it is predicted that many will be completely extinct by 2025! That's only 8 years away now! Does it matter? Yes - because every time we lose any part of nature - we lose a part of ourselves. It diminishes us. Not just that - many of the insects that birds rely on to be abundant at this time of year in order to raise successful broods are also vitally important pollinators of much of our food, it isn't only bees that pollinate crops. Bees and other insects desperately need our help now and we owe it not just to them but to ourselves and also future generations to do something about it before it is too late. They were here on this earth long before we were - and we owe the fact that we are here at all to them. They are our ancestors - we their inheritors.

 

Bee revival

 

I revived a bumblebee, a couple of years ago in spring. It had spent the bitterly cold night clinging to some cherry blossom in the tunnel, where it couldn't find it's way out in the late evening. I had spotted it too late to help - but looked for it early the next morning. Although it looked half dead, I ran back to the house immediately and got a tiny blob of Ben Colchester's wonderful organic honey on the tip of a teaspoon. When I put it in front of the bee it stuck out it's proboscis immediately and started sucking up the welcome honey instantly - like a desperately parched man thirstily drinking water in the desert! You could see the effort as it sucked it up. After just a few seconds, it sort of shook itself, stretched and then suddenly flew up and off around the tunnel - almost as if it was on a high! Then I knew it would live to see another day - that important little life. Important to me anyway. It was one of the most rewarding things I've done for a long time. Afterwards I learnt that apparently giving bees honey is now considered the wrong thing to do. I thought that organic honey would be fine and the natural thing - but bee expert Dave Goulson says that giving them a syrup made from sugar and water is better as honey may possibly be contaminated. I bow to his greater knowledge - but I hope people don't use GM sugar to make the syrup which a lot of the sugar is now!  I'm sure that would be far worse! I made it very happy anyway!

 

1. Bee clinging to cherry blossom in tunnel1. Bee clinging to cherry blossom in tunnel 2. Here she is greedily sipping up the honey from the teaspoon2. Here she is greedily sipping up the honey from the teaspoon

 

 

Is there something you can do to help Nature survive - even if you're not a keen gardener? 

 

 Yes - and I've come up with a great new name for it - 'Benign Neglect'! When I smashed the top of my right arm and shoulder badly 3 years ago - after 2 days sitting on a hospital trolley, the doctors decided they couldn't put a cast on it, pin it or do anything else with it that would work - so as they were completely at a loss (great!) they sent me home in a sling to immobilise it - and just get on with it on my own!  Wonderful!  A radiographer friend informed me that this particular kind of 'non-treatment' had a delightful name I'd never heard of before - 'Benign neglect'!! - The 'if in doubt do nothing' approach! Sadly that didn't do a great deal for my arm, which now only 40% works and won't go above elbow height - A damn nuisance!  But do you know what? I think it's a wonderful description of what it's often best to do in the garden if you want to help wildlife! Often some of the best sites for wildlife - particularly in towns or cities - are where sites that lie empty or old neglected gardens become overgrown. Nature takes over and re-colonises them quickly and beautifully. You'll find wildflowers, wild shrubs such as elders and dog roses, and also garden 'escapees' like buddleias, mixed with any cultivated shrubs and trees that may already be there, all in a glorious jumble. I often find Buddleia seedlings around the garden when I'm weeding - I already have quite a lot of different cultivars that I've bought over the years and bees have cross- pollinated them, so I'm building up quite a collection of new, nicely-coloured ones!

 

Not using chemicals of any sort in the garden is one of the best things you can do. Gardens where chemicals are not used are becoming increasingly important habitats for all wildlife. We can each do something in our own gardens - however small - even if it's just a small tub or a few pots. Flowering plants and wild corners in the garden attract all kinds of insects which small birds feed on. Many of those flowers later on bear seed which is equally important for them. Even leaving a few humble dandelions to grow in your lawn or around it's edges is wonderful for goldfinches and other seed eaters. They're already feeding on dandelion and coltsfoot seed here. And let's face it - you don't even need to sow those wildflowers - they happen by default or 'benign neglect' - to use my newly acquired phrase. And often that's the best way, because then those wild plants that are best suited to your particular soil conditions and climate will thrive and seed themselves! So you won't have to do anything at all except maybe give it a helping hand by collecting seed and sowing a few more! A so-called 'weedy' lawn, full of dandelions, daisies and clover is perhaps one of the best habitats for all kinds of insects. Long grasses are the preferred nurseries for many important moth caterpillars. If it bothers you, then you can always mow a meandering path through it - 'Country Living' style!  When you do that, magically, it suddenly it appears as if it was a completely intended and well-planned wildflower meadow - rather than something you just didn't get round to weeding or mowing! Plant a few single flowered perennials or biennials like meadow geranium (geranium pratense), ox-eye daisies, some scabious and sweet rocket, some garlic mustard (Jack-by-the-hedge) or other wildflowers through it that butterflies love, and sow a few annual wildflower seeds like Flanders poppies in modules to plant here and there in it later on. You get the picture? Then just sit back, relax in a hammock, congratulate yourself with a nice cool drink and enjoy the view - as nature's fantastic free spectacle unfolds! Far better than stressing out over a few weeds, or worse - using deadly poisonous, cancer-causing, 'selective' weed 'n' feed lawn weedkillers that kill bees and are damaging to all wildlife and also any pets!.  

 
Melianthus major, Ceonothus Trewithan Blue, Eucalyptus and wild dog rose, on my 'B&B' bank.
Melianthus major, Ceonothus Trewithan Blue, Eucalyptus and wild dog rose, on my 'B&B' bank. 
 
Contrary to what a lot of people think - you don't have to restrict yourself to just growing native wildflowers in order to help wildlife. They appreciate the nectar, pollen and seeds of non-native flowers and shrubs just as much. Even that of some really exotic looking plants. Remember everything is a wildflower somewhere. It's usually just native plants as food for their larvae that our native butterflies, moths and other insects need to be really specific about. I took a walk up the garden this morning to see what was flowering on my B&B bank (bee and butterfly). This is one of the most satisfying areas of the garden - where everything that likes a dry and well-drained position really thrives. Even really tender plants. When we originally made it I dug in tons of gravel and bark chips after the soil was all moved into place. It was very poor soil too - mostly subsoil from another job were were doing. It's in the shape of a question mark - the top curve being the widest point. In the curve nestles a banana shaped bench where we sit on warm summer evenings to watch bats swooping low overhead catching the moths attracted by the Verbena Bonariensis and the white flowered Nicotiana Affinis which has overwintered there now for 6 years without turning a hair. 
 
 
Euphorbia and Geranium Maderense on the bee & butterfly bank - alongside nettles full of butterfly nests!
Euphorbia and Geranium Maderense on the bee & butterfly bank - alongside nettles full of butterfly nests! 
 
 
 
N.Affinis is the most heavily scented Nicotiana, with a stunning fragrance at night or in the shade. It closes it's flowers in bright sunlight. Few people know that it's actually a perennial with roots a bit like a dahlia. It's grown mostly as a half-hardy annual. But if you overwinter it in pots in dry soil just like dahlia tubers, or in very well drained soil, it can survive really freezing temperatures - getting bigger each year. You can split up and re-pot the tuber-like roots from pots as they fall apart easily to make new plants. I've kept some going for well over 20 years this way, occasionally discarding any that look virused (with deformed leaves)and they're starting to put on a lot of strong young growth again now. To me their evocative exotic scent is the scent of so many summers.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Full moon setting - looking south west over the meadow at dawn
Full moon setting - looking south west over the meadow at dawn
 
I love to get up really early at this time of year, after the clocks go forward. I almost feel as if that first hour in the morning is 'stolen' and mine alone!  Just as the moon is setting in the south west. Despite the slight chill to the air - I always open the top of the half-door that leads outside from the kitchen - so that I can hear the dawn chorus at around 5.30 am.  The sounds are so soothing. At that moment everything is peaceful and the birdsong that echoes around my tree filled garden is hauntingly beautiful.  As my first cup of tea is brewing - I lean on the half door for a few minutes - drinking in all the early morning sounds of invisible flutterings and trying to pick out individual songs. Heavenly! - A  thrush or two, chaffinches, a robin, various tits, blackbirds, pigeons cooing, a wren scolding and a cock pheasant calling his harem. Sometimes so many at once it's difficult to distinguish them all. A cacophony of the most wonderful sounds the earth has to offer. The sparrows are very late risers - they're always the last. When they finally get up they greet the morning with a sound like the chattering of noisy schoolchildren bursting out of school at break time! Some of my swallows arrived back from their long voyage recently. That event always brings tears of joy to my eyes. Each one is a precious miracle that has flown 6,000 miles to return to the very nest where they were born. No matter what problems I may have, as I lean on the door drinking in that peace which is balm to the soul, I always think how very lucky I am in this moment to be able to hear and see such beauty. 
 
 
Why would you want to be anywhere else but in a garden on an April morning? Or for that matter, on a dusky evening - "When peace comes dropping slow" as Yeats so eloquently put it. 

 


Organic farming is the only sustainable way to help wildlife
 

The dawn chorus is already a lot quieter and less diverse now than it was even 20 years ago! So many people are so caught up in their busy urban lives that they don't even notice. They may not even give a moment's thought to the precious diversity of Nature that we must not lose.  All the latest research being published now is pointing to organic farming as being the only sustainable way for a secure food supply in the future. Preserving soil, and the diversity of life in it, is one of the best ways to capture carbon and combat climate change too. Industrial farming interests say they can't manage without pesticides synthesised from rapidly decreasing fossil fuels - but that is absolute rubbish and is fast becoming an outdated way of thinking. They could if they made the effort. Their chemicals are destroying the precious soil we need to grow crops in - they can't go on cutting down more native forests to grow their GMO crops! They will soon have to learn how to do things differently as there'll be no choice!  If they don't - it won't just be the bees that will disappear. It will possibly be humans too! 
 
 
It's no good us just burying our heads in the sand and hoping it will all go away! It won't!  It's hypocritical to get all fuzzy and warm about the lovely wildlife programmes we're watching on TV - while we're allowing Nature to be poisoned out of existence all around us daily, by doing nothing.  Or worse - by using chemicals in our own gardens through laziness or ignorance, thinking that just our little bit won't hurt! All those little bits add up! Soon the only place that some wildlife will be seen is on repeats of old TV programmes. 
 
 
We can't pretend to be 'green' and care about the environment and then support destructive industrial farming by buying chemically grown and genetically modified products in our local supermarkets - or even in the local farmer's market. I know organic is often more expensive - but so much of what we buy gets thrown away. If we all reduced food waste a bit, ate a bit less meat and grew even just a few simple organic veg ourselves, it would really make a huge difference. It's estimated that at least 50% of the bagged salad leaves we buy in supermarkets are thrown away each week. That's a shocking statistic - but so easy to do something about. For 50 cents you can buy a packet of 'value' lettuce seed with the potential to produce over a thousand lettuces. I think that would be more than enough for several families for a year!!
 
 

Going peat-free helps the climate and biodiversity too

 
 
The increasing destruction of bogs in Ireland is another major contributing factor to the flooding we are seeing more frequently now. Bogs act like giant 'sponges' holding large quantities of water and releasing them gradually into river systems. If they're destroyed they can't do that, so then water runs off quickly causing flooding. Bogs also release far more carbon into the atmosphere than the same equivalent area of rain forest when destroyed - quite apart from the massive loss of all the biodiversity they support.  Funny how most people get far more upset about losing rain forest than they do about losing bogs. Buying an organic peat-free compost, like the Klassman Deilmann one I recommend is something else positive one can do. Not only that - it's far better than any peat compost I've ever used. It has to be - because all the many organic growers who use it rely on it to produce plants for their businesses.
 

 

Don't use chemicals


Many influential scientists are now calling for swift action by the UN, saying that a wide variety of synthetic endocrine-disrupting chemicals in consumer products and pesticides are playing a role in the ever increasing incidence of reproductive diseases. cancer. obesity and Type-2 diabetes world wide. The scientists also include the authors of a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Environment programme (UNEP), which underlines the urgent need for global action the address the dangers of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC's).  It has been found that among the harmful effects of these chemicals is damage the hormonal (endocrine) systems in humans and wildlife. At the moment serious pressure is being put on governments currently considering whether to ban certain pesticides by lobbyists for the interests of multinational chemical companies! These global companies say that only they can help us to feed the world and that we need GM crops to do this - while conveniently never mentioning the fact that 50% of all the food grown in the EU is currently wasted! These faceless companies don't care if our children don't have bread tomorrow - as long as they and their shareholders have jam on their bread today!  Morally bankrupt politicians who are making the decisions are also offered attractive financial inducements by chemical and pharmaceutical companies to influence their decisions! A BBC Panorama programme a couple of years ago year showed that our doctors are constantly targeted by pharmaceutical companies, being offered bribes to prescribe this or that drug. It's what's best for us we want if we need vital medicines - not what's best for the health of the big pharmaceutical companies balance sheets!
 
 
As I thought about this, some words from the late Rachel Carson sprang to mind. She was the author of the book 'Silent Spring' - which was published in September 1962 and is credited with starting the environmental movement. Although that was over 50 years ago - her words ring just as true now.  Have we learned nothing? She had no idea of the looming spectre of Genetic Modification. (She sadly died of cancer in April 1964.) Have we really learnt so little in the last 50 years?
 
Here is an extract from a CBS TV programme she presented, which was broadcast in April 1963 - it was entitled  "The Silent Spring of Miss Rachel Carson" :

 
"We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man's attitude towards nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.........Now, I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery - not of nature, but of ourselves."
 
 
Rachel Carson 'lit a candle instead of cursing the darkness'. Each one of us has a responsibility to keep that flame alive for the sake of our children.  Even if you don't have a garden - even something small like growing a pot of single flowers by your door or on your balcony will feed a few bees and other insects and make a difference to their small lives and chances of survival. Do something now for wildlife - don't leave it until tomorrow or it may be too late. Don't leave it to somebody else - do something yourself now!  You may not think that your tiny bit can make a difference - but all of those tiny bits - added up in gardens throughout the land and throughout the world will make a huge difference. It isn't necessary to use chemicals - I haven't used any in over 40 years - but I still manage to grow all my own food and have a beautiful garden, full of rare and beautiful plants and wonderful wildlife. It's also full of weeds too - or plants that people call weeds!  So many so-called 'weeds' are host plants to many native insects which keep pests away from my vegetables and fruit, and they also make food for birds. All part of nature's intricate and beautiful tapestry. I went out to pick some nettles for soup yesterday, as there are so many lush clumps flourishing in various corners - but when I looked at each one they were covered in butterfly nests. I was thrilled and gladly went without my soup - butterflies are far more valuable than soup! I made it with spinach instead.

 

Here's a few more suggestions for things YOU can do to encourage insects and help wildlife 

 
You'll definitely find something here you can do - whatever size your garden. It's particularly important to grow pollen and nectar producing plants to feed vital insects - which all wildlife higher up the food chain are dependent on. You can put up bat nesting boxes too at this time of year, and also grow lots of night flowering, scented plants, to attract moths and other insects which will, in turn, attract bats in to feed on them. Bats can eat up to 3,000 midges in one night. They don't have to be native plants either, as long as they are single flowered and produce nectar for insects to feed on. The tall, white flowered Nicotiana Affinis is brilliant for attracting moths - they adore it, and the scent in the evenings is gorgeous! Moths are particularly attracted to white and mauve flowers. The dwarf coloured type of bedding Nicotiana isn't much good in my experience, and has no scent either - which I like!
 
 
The same applies to butterflies. Many of which are increasingly endangered. Scabious and Verbena Bonariensis were top of the list of favourites in my garden last summer. I counted over twenty feeding on a single verbena flowerhead on one occasion. I think Orychophragma is going to be a favourite from now on too. When it's flowering early in the tunnel it's usually covered with bees, Orange Tip butterflies and Early Cabbage Whites all day. Hesperis Matronalis (sweet rocket) and Lunaria (honesty) are two other biennial favourites you can grow easily from seed now, which will flower early next year. Bees love all those flowers, they also love dandelions too despite the fact that they are seemingly very double flowers, they are actually compound flower heads of lots of individual flowers, and bees can access the nectar and pollen easily. They're a very valuable early food plant for them. There are millions flowering everywhere at the moment. I know a lot of people look on them as lawn weeds and an awful pest, but if you've ever watched a goldfinch, literally at your feet, pecking the seeds out of a dandelion head while you hardly dared breathe, then you wouldn't want to banish dandelions forever!  Pure magic! It's something you always remember - the tiny bejewelled birds are just so exquisite!
 
 
Ladybirds sunning themselves on Acanthus spinosus leaves
Ladybirds sunning themselves on Acanthus spinosus leaves 
You can put up bee and insect hotels, which you can buy in many garden centres - or you can make one yourself, using all sorts of things like lengths of bamboo cane, air bricks, flowerpots stuffed with straw etc., stacking them into breeze blocks, pallets or wooden boxes. This will provide a home for all sorts of beneficial insects which will work for you in the garden. I only start to tidy up the borders a this time of year because until now all sorts of insects are using the remains of last year's plants to shelter from the weather. I started tidying up the acanthus clumps the other day and found dozens of ladybirds sheltering in there - just coming out to enjoy the morning sunshine! I look around the rest of the B&B border and saw literally hundreds racing up other plant and grass stems to soak up the sunshine! Nature's perfectly uniformed army of pest controllers just rarin' to go!

 

 

 

Make a small wildflower meadow

 
 
If you want to make a wildflower meadow or patch in your lawn, don't waste your money scattering seed into the grass, as most will be wasted. Fill plug trays or seed trays with a low-nutrient peat free compost mixed with some garden soil, and sow into that. Don't feed the grass in your lawn. Mow it a few times with the box on and compost the grass clippings with other plant wastes to use on your vegetables. This will reduce the nutrient content of your lawn and allow wildflowers more chance to grow without competition from more vigorous grasses. Then plant out your plant plugs when they're big enough. Wildflowers hate any sort of fertiliser. The huge amount of artificial nitrates spread by intensive agriculture is responsible for the loss of many wildflowers, which then of course has a knock-on effect on biodiversity, as there are then fewer insects and then fewer seeds for birds. Weedkillers naturally have the same effect. Worryingly - a recent survey in the USA showed that one of the biggest chemical pollutants found in household dust was glyphosate weedkiller. It doesn't stay where it's put as the manufacturers state. People bring it inside on their shoes.
 
 
Last year I even saw a landscape contractor in a white protection suit spraying in a supermarket car park in south Dublin at midday - with what was obviously a weedkiller - with absolutely no warning whatsoever! Unbelievable! People, children and dogs were walking around on the still wet chemicals totally unawares, picking it up on the bottom of their shoes and carrying it into their homes! 

 

What can you do for Birds right now?

 
Don't stop feeding your birds just because it's spring! Life is tough enough for them, particularly over the last couple of weeks of sharp night frosts. Every bit of energy saved by not having to hunt for food will help them to breed more successfully, and help to keep them in your garden where you want them to do your pest control. Don't feed peanuts unless they are in a feeder, but small seeds, meal worms and fat balls are all good - make sure that you remove the netting from fat balls and put them in a feeder - you don't want a nest full of blue tit chicks starving to death because mum and dad got their feet caught in a fat ball net, as can easily happen!  Make sure they've got a clean source of water at all times, and clean bird baths as often as you can - every day if possible. Make a small mud patch somewhere, to help returning swallows and house martins to build their nests. Three years ago the Swifts in the Naul left early without breeding because there were no insects early enough, the better weather arrived too late for them - it was so sad. Today, six or seven swallows are swooping and twittering excitedly to each other in the yard - they must be so glad to be home again after their long flight!  Do they stay together most of the time I wonder? They always remind me of Yeats's lovely poem 'The Wild Swans at Coole'. If you don't know it - it's worth a read sometime. Leave piles of moss, animal hair (if you have it) and dried grass for nest material somewhere where the birds can help themselves. At this time of year, my hens seem to scratch up a lot of the thatch and moss that collects where I've left the grass box off the mower in previous  years - this makes great comfortable nest material, and avoids having to scarify the lawn - if you do that sort of  'O.C.D.' sort of thing!
 
 
A butterfly nest with tiny caterpillars emerging and starting to feed on nettles
A butterfly nest with tiny caterpillars emerging and starting to feed on nettles
 
 
Don't 'spring clean' the garden too much - leave that untidy corner you've been meaning to get to for years - I've got lots of those and they're really valuable places for wildlife!  I had a mad 'tidy up' in one spot many years ago - I think it was in May or June - and disturbed a hedgehog nest - (more next month).  If unlike me you're already a tidy gardener then make one or two wild corners with log and leafy twig piles if you can bear it!. Or if you have a very stony soil - make a mini 'cairn' or dry stone wall somewhere - great for sheltering all sorts of insects. If you have room, think about putting in a small water feature or pond to attract frogs which will eat your slugs (and with a sloping ramp for non-amphibians who fancy a drink or a bath and can't get out again up steep sides! I even have mini ponds in my polytunnel - they're great for frogs and the hoverflies that normally need water to breed in like the one pictured above that I photographed just this morning! You could even go so far as to leave a patch of nettles somewhere - great food for butterfly caterpillars, great liquid feed, and even great soup - a positive paragon of a plant!

 
 
 
Even the smallest garden or balcony could grow a few herbs like lavender, sages, thymes and rosemary in a tub or a hanging basket - leave them to flower - bees and other insects love them and they're useful in cooking too. Grow a few climbers like ivy, to provide more food and shelter - the list is endless, and don't forget the more green plants you grow, the more you offset some of your carbon emissions too! So there's lots you can do!
 
 

And don't forget that everything we do for Nature - ultimately we're doing for ourselves. 

 
 
If you garden organically, without any sort of pesticides, you'll encourage Nature to help you and then your thoughtfulness will be more than amply rewarded. There's so much that us gardeners can do to help preserve the wonderful diversity of wildlife that we have. The more you can do the better. Nature repays even the smallest effort a hundredfold with it's abundance and beauty. 
 
 
That's why I write this blog - to share my thoughts, ideas and practical experience with all of you who read it - in the hope that it will also help you to find the fascination, joy and satisfaction I have done over many years of organic growing. The great thing about gardening is that no matter how difficult life is or how small your garden - you can always grow something, which is so positive. The best thing about gardening is that it grows the spirit too - planting a garden is planting hope. 
 
 
I HOPE YOU ALL HAVE A REALLY HAPPY MAY DAY - AND THAT YOU ALL HAVE TIME TO GET OUT INTO NATURE AND ENJOY YOUR GARDENS!

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