WILDLIFE GARDENING with JENNY STEEL

 

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 The Wildlife Garden at 'The Crib' South Shropshire

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After 12 years creating a wildlife garden in my native Oxfordshire, I moved to pastures new in 2005.  Gardening on the edge of a very large Oxfordshire village, where my garden was surrounded by other gardens, was an interesting exercise, and over those years the wildlife that came to that garden and made its home there was fantastic - within three years we had attracted 24 species of butterfly.  In Shropshire I was faced with almost a blank canvas.  During the 12 years we have been here I have created a beautiful wildlife garden with wildflower meadows, 'mini-meadows' nectar borders, wildlife ponds, a vegetable plot, a woodland garden and an orchard.  

The original part of the existing garden at 'The Crib' had two very small flower borders, but otherwise was simply lawn.  However it was blessed with three apple trees and the mixed native hedge instantly provided a good habitat for a few bird species and small mammals.  A year in the life of this garden, documenting its creation, maintenance and wildlife, can be found in the iBook A Year in the Life of a Wildlife Garden. Progress in terms of the wildlife we are attracting has been rapid - especially regarding the bird and insect life.  Here you can see just some of the birds, butterflies, moths mammals and other wildlife we have attracted so far.

The Long Garden


The challenge in this garden is to preserve our fantastic views.  In my Oxfordshire garden the objective was to screen the uglier views around us to create a protected wildlife haven within a not terribly attractive area.  In Shropshire we have the opposite but enviable task of including the beautiful surrounding landscape of the South Shropshire Hills into our garden. The picture of The Long Garden shows just a glimpse of our view towards the South Shropshire Hills.  In the twelve years we have been here we have made excellent progress towards our aims to create a really wonderful and attractive wildlife garden, full of interest all year round, that sits happily in the surrounding landscape.  Over time we have sown a large wildflower meadow and created smaller meadow areas by allowing lawns to grow and adding small wildflower plants.  We have planted a herb border and  nectar borders, created two very large wildlife friendly herbaceous borders with a variety of nectar plants and grasses, established over 40 fruit trees, created a bog garden with a winter stream and made a wildlife friendly vegetable garden. 

Over 400 native hedging shrubs have also been planted.  An existing small copse, where we have located our Teaching Cabin, has been thinned and its original woodland flowers encouraged to spread. We have laid hedges and sown grass paths. Three ponds, now teaming with life, have also been created. Our wildlife visitors continue to grow - the number of butterfly species in particular has increased tremendously and the birds have risen to 81 species in the garden, including a few national rarities.  Gardening of any kind takes time, and patience is essential, but we have already made a huge impact.

The Big Pond


Garden update last year

2016 was a mild and rather unremarkable year weather-wise here but there were several new wildlife visitors, especially moths. Surprisingly we had a new butterfly species - a small heath. I have been expecting a marbled white as the meadows develop but there has been no sign yet!  The ponds again did very well with huge numbers of frogs spawning in March but it was in general a poor year for meadow butterflies especially ringlets and meadow browns. Wall brown butterflies were still present. The Big Meadow thrived and the Common Spotted Orchids continue to increase. Again those that had sown themselves into paths were moved to mini-meadows in other parts of the garden, and they continue to seed on the living roof on top of the Log Store. The new small meadow area created around the bee hives in the Fruit Garden developed well, and again there were huge amounts of soft fruit here, especially raspberries. We continued to create an area of scrub and shelter for nesting birds on a north facing bank which was used last year by a chiff chaff.  Perhaps the highlight bird-wise in 2016 was another successful spotted flycatcher nest on the potting shed.

The mini-meadows that we create around various areas in the garden were especially successful last year, as the common spotted orchids make a home wherever they can. Our plans for 2017 include continuing to develop the woodland garden area in The Copse and finding more places for spotted flycatchers to nest!

The Copse



Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017