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Bring in the bugs!

In Ireland, the spring has been slow to start this year, as we have experienced unseasonably low temperatures throughout March.  Now, in early April it finally feels like it is underway: the sap is rising in the trees and the first leaves are breaking bud, daffodils are blooming and temperatures are rising.

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View out to the garden (from my Inspiration from Mount Usher garden)

We hope, at this time of year, to be able to move from the house into the garden to enjoy the first warming rays of the sun on our faces, finally to be out in the fresh air – even if just sipping a cup of tea or juice whilst taking stock of our plans for the coming gardening season.

Winter can seem to be a long, tough period, but it is not only a difficult season for us humans, our natural friends in the animal, bird and insect kingdom also suffer under the difficult conditions and have had a long wait for clement weather to return. Nowadays, the wider landscape can offer little food and shelter for many species, as farming and urban sprawl have significantly reduced the amount of habitat available.  Neither does our tendency to tidy up unruly vegetation, overgrown land and marginal areas.  This approach does not assist the preservation of biodiversity for, it can be these very areas, the undisturbed habitats, that provide shelter and food sources for wildlife during winter.

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Bee visiting a wild flower in the garden

One solution can be to try and bring nature into our own gardens.  An ecologically managed garden not only makes a contribution to the preservation of plant species but will also create a pleasant retreat for humans and animals with little effort.

There are many ways to make the garden more natural, but one key thing can be to choose the right plants in the right places. Today many gardens rely on exotic varieties, many of which do not easily provide habitat for local wildlife. Conversely, native trees, wild shrubs and flowering perennials are the best choice in this regard.  So whilst we love to grow exotic plants for show and effect, try to include some natives as well either among the other plants or in a specific part of the garden, in which you would like to create a very naturalistic feel.

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Newly planted boundary hedgerow and native woodland plants

One simple element in the garden that can easily improve the biodiversity is the perimeter or boundary hedge.  It not only provides shelter for birds and small mammals; it is also an important overwintering location for hibernating insects.  Mixed hedges provide nuts and fruits in the autumn and provide nesting sites for birds in the spring.  They also act as corridors linking other habitats together.  A mixed hedgerow of Whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Guelder Rose (Vibrunum opulus), Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), Spindle (Euonymus europaeus and Hazel (Corylus avellana) provides varying degrees of branching, density, and leaf colour thus optimising the range of food sources and habitat available to the greatest number of species.  The hedgerows are thick and the thorny branches provide security whilst also giving the gardener plenty of visual interest by leaf and flower colour across the seasons.  Bare-root hedgerows can be planted until the end of March, even into April during a cold year like this one.  I recommend planting two to three plants per linear metre in a staggered row.

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Wildflowers can be a beautiful addition to any garden


Another easy and efficient way to invite wildlife into our gardens is to create a wildflower area.  Leaving a strip of native flowers in front of our perimeter hedges can dramatically increase the wildlife value of our gardens.  Elsewhere, omitting lawn areas and replacing them with wildflower meadows can really increase the biodiversity value of our gardens.  Proprietary wildflower mixes can be purchased very easily (supermarkets even supply them these days) but I would also recommend contacting specialist suppliers especially if you are intending to sow a large area of wildflowers.  The meadow will need some maintenance, but it is well worth putting the effort in.  If you leave the seeds on the decaying wildflowers over the winter they are a food source for birds.  Beneficial insects that you may need to control garden pest next season will also overwinter in the wildflower area.


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A so-called untidy area of the garden can be great for wildlife

One other way to improve the biodiversity value of our gardens, is to simply not be too tidy.  Lazy gardeners will love this one!  Patches of so-called weeds such as nettles can be great for insects.  Leave sticks, foliage and logs decaying around the garden – these are all valuable habitat for certain species and help the overall web of garden biodiversity.

Even the smallest garden can create a variety of living spaces with less perfectionism and a small dash of creativity.  Why not enjoy the countless visitors in your own little piece of nature?  Your garden will be the better for it and our overall environment.

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WIldlife garden flowers

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