In the past couple of weeks, the sun has started showing its face and things seem a little warmer. Being the fair-weather gardener that I am, this was my cue to get outside and start grubbing around in flowerbeds. By happy chance, this is also National Gardening Week, so I thought I’d write a blog update on my garden.
Some of you may remember that when I moved to this house (just over a year ago), I had grand plans for my garden, and all the wildlife I was going to entice into it (you can read about it here). Turns out growing a wildflower meadow is a lot harder than you think, especially when your garden is entirely composed of highly nutritious, water-retaining clay. With lumps of builder’s rubble in it. Wildflowers like chalky, light, sandy, well-drained soil, and thrive in soil with very few nutrients. When the soil is rich in nutrients, other more vigorous plants tend to dominate. If you want a working example of this, you can come and look at a sad, square, almost bare patch of mud in the middle of my lawn. It was my test-site before I dug up the whole lawn, and it has failed abysmally. None of the wildflowers I sowed have grown, and the weeds are just starting to poke through instead. I have not included a photo because it is just too depressing.
So I had to put my wildflower meadow on the backburner, and instead turn to my flowerbeds. For reasons best known to themselves, the previous owners had put down weed-resistant membrane and covered this liberally with bark chips, and then planted nothing. I waited a year just in case secret and wonderful plants were lurking, biding their time, planning to emerge in Spring or Summer and surprise me. They were not. So this year, I began to plant the flowerbeds.
The big question was what to plant. My first requirement was that everything I planted had to be pretty. I am tired of staring at plain brown flowerbeds, I want colour, and shape, and nice things to look at. The second requirement was that the plants had to benefit wildlife in some way. Some plants, like the hellebores I planted under the oak, provide winter nectar for bees. They are still flowering now, and the bees seem to like them just as much in the Spring. The buddleia bush will draw in masses of butterflies once it flowers, the berberis is great for pollinators, and the cotoneaster gives a double-whammy of wildlife goodness – flowers for bees and butterflies in Summer, and berries for the birds in Autumn. I am even happy to sacrifice the leaves of my Kilmarnock willow to the caterpillars – they seem to be enjoying it and the willow always grows back.
I have also succumbed to the lure of the ‘Sale’ table at B&Q and Homebase. Yes, neither of these shops is renowned for its gardening expertise, but plants are expensive, and I’m not confident enough of keeping things alive to spend a week’s food budget on a plant. I covet the tulips my mother-in-law grows, but I fully acknowledge that I am not dedicated enough to spend £10 on one tulip bulb (even if it will produce the most gorgeous blackish-purple bloom, or petals with pink and white candy stripes), and then nurture it and coax it into flower. I would forget about it, leave it in a shed, and wake up swearing at 3 in the morning as I remember it. A sad end for a tulip bulb. So instead, I buy the plants that are a bit scruffy, or a bit down on their luck, for 99p, and plant them and see what they do. There is of course some rapid searching on my phone to see whether the plant has wildlife benefits, but more and more often, the shop or producer will have labelled the plant as ‘great for pollinators’ or ‘bee-friendly’, which is very helpful.
Some of these bargain plants have not done very well, but the majority seem to have thrived on my policy of neglect, and I hope that as Spring and Summer march on, and the flowers come out, my garden will be full of pollinators – bees, moths and butterflies – and if it is, you can be sure I will be photographing and writing about them.