Butterfly in the garden
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Wildlife in the garden

From Sarah's garden to yours

While a garden is what we create to give ourselves joy, to provide beauty to look at, and something wonderful to eat, it isn’t ours alone. A garden is part of nature and as such, it is intrinsically linked to the local wildlife.

When we think of wildlife, often our first thoughts go to the beneficial creatures, the cute and desirable. Bees and butterflies are at the top of the list. Not only do the butterflies look beautiful as they flit about the garden sipping nectar, but alongside the bees, they are pollinating our flowers so performing an essential task.

Birds, for the most part, when they aren’t stealing seeds or taking nips out of lettuce seedlings, are a welcome addition to the garden so some of us set up bird feeders to encourage them. A garden filled with birdsong is a garden filled with life. They also help out in the garden by eating insect pests that are determined to put holes in our plants or suck the life out of them.

But there is more to wildlife than these delightful characters; wildlife includes everything, those we barely notice, those that wreak havoc and those we consider undesirable and try our best to eliminate. They are all part of an extensive ecosystem, an entire universe, going about their business in your garden.

Beneath the soil toiling away are a myriad of micro communities munching through the organic content of the soil converting it into molecules our plants can use, improving the soil structure and creating a favourable environment. It is said that these communities make up 25% of the planet’s biodiversity and in a teaspoon of soil you can find up to a billion bacteria. In a gram, there are hundreds of metres of fungal strands called hyphae as the fungi go about their business of breaking down organic material.

Bird in the garden

Alongside the micro-organisms in the soil there are other creatures such as earthworms and nematodes, as well as insects who live out a part of their life cycles in the soil and those who flourish on the surface of the soil clearing up fallen debris. The soil and its surface are teaming with wildlife, some working hard for the greater good of the garden and others have more nefarious intentions.  A healthy soil with plenty of organic material and good drainage helps to keep the balance of life on the right side of good and evil.

Above the ground, there is plenty of life to be observed under closer inspection.  While bees and butterflies get all of the kudos, the team of beneficial insects is vast and not all are as cute. Even the dreaded wasp can work for good in the garden as it plucks caterpillars off the plants and feeds them to their young. While you don’t necessarily want to encourage wasps into the garden, if they are there, it is a good thing. That being said you may want to destroy any nests in high traffic areas where people may be harmed.

If you do encounter a problem in the garden with an insect pest intent on destroying all you have worked for, before reaching for a spray, take some time to observe what is going on in the garden. You may find the problem can be easily solved with a bit of squishing or setting the hose to jet and blasting them off. You may also see the community at work and will find the beneficial insects and birds marching in for a feast, saving you the hassle of deciding what to do.

Sometimes a problem can become too much for the community to manage on their own and will require some intervention from you. Make your choice carefully; use a spray targeted at the insects you want to get rid of, so the rest remain largely unharmed and remember to spray at a time when bees and other desirable insects aren’t about, such as early in the morning or late in the evening.

Bee in the garden

Other things you can do to encourage a healthy population of beneficial insects is to plant the kinds of plants they will enjoy or provide a host to different stages of their life cycle such as flowers with a high nectar source for the summer and nooks and crannies for them to hibernate in during the winter. Leaving a corner of the garden ‘wild’ – a little weedy and untidy provides a habitat that allows wildlife to exist more as they would naturally – out in the wild.

It is also a good idea to provide a water source, from a simple tray of water with gravel providing landing for small insects, to a bird bath enjoyed by birds and insects or even a wildlife pond planted out to look nice and create a home for aquatic creatures. Frogs deserve a special mention since they are a great addition to any garden plagued with slugs and snails.

While it might not seem like it, the garden you created is teaming with life and most of them are on your team, making it a positive environment you can all share.