ENSURING A GOOD LIFE FOR WILDLIFE

PUBLISHED: 16:35 03 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:46 01 September 2017

Planting to encourage wildlife, not only makes good sense for the environment, it also creates an ever-changing vibrant garden, writes Louise Danks...

Gardening with wildlife in mind is vital for biodiversity and pollination. Nowhere is this more in abundance than at Meadowside, near Redruth. It’s no surprise that Rebecca David; volunteer open gardens coordinator for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and her husband Charlie who has a background in countryside management work their six-acre garden and smallholding with wildlife husbandry as a priority.

We removed a number of large leylandiis when we arrived, it really opened up the part of the garden nearest the house,’ remembers Rebecca. Where the polytunnels, fruit cage and potting area now stand bears no resemblance to what Rebecca and Charlie inherited five years ago when they moved in. A large swathe of invasive bamboo has been successfully eradicated, not an easy task but one necessary to increase light in the garden.

Taking time to select the right plant for a particular situation is an important part of creating a new border or garden as a whole. Rebecca and Charlie have given over the area at the front of their property to a gravel garden. Now that it is established, it is low maintenance and looks striking.

Gravel gardens are becoming increasingly popular as people become aware of the importance of water conservation. Considering and planting a dry garden is a great way to keep down the cost of watering and be more environmentally aware at the same time. Gravel as a mulch is decorative, light reflective and an added bonus is that you are able to hear visitors approaching as they walk on it. As with all mulches, it keeps weeds down and water in. Many gravel gardens are planted with drought tolerant plants purely because the thick layer of gravel works wonders in water retention.

At Meadowside, silver foliage prevails and is very striking against the gravel, lavender, cistus and nepeta work extremely well over a gravelly foil. Depending on the colour of the chosen gravel, there is a flexibility to add colour, light or warmth to an area of the garden. Low maintenance and as part of an intensive working area such as this smallholding, anything that cuts down on tasks like watering and weeding is a bonus.

The walled garden to the side of the house has characterful stone walls capped with stunning granite coping stones, a small privy completes the nostalgic feel. Rebecca has planted it with mixed shrubs and herbaceous perennials, an existing swamp cypress adds a stately air to this space I still have a lot to do in here,’ says Rebecca. We’ve cleared a good two feet of ivy off the top of the wall, now we have a lovely view and can appreciate the stonework of the wall.’

All good wildlife gardens contain a watery habitat of some sort and Meadowside is no exception. An existing pond received a makeover You couldn’t see it when we arrived,’ adds Rebecca. We cleaned it out and now it’s a haven for wildlife.’ A large L-shaped border entirely planted with herbs, makes great use of the space away from the house. A strongly geometric herb garden forming a perfect right angle adds a modern twist to a traditional border highlighting the versatility of herbs. I grow a lot of marjoram, partly because I love it but also because it’s great food for the bees,’ explains Rebecca. Much of what does well here is great for pollinating insects too.’

Beyond the walled garden under a couple of mature, open-branched pines is an area of grass where Rebecca and Charlie have begun establishing a wildflower bank. It feels very naturalistic here anyway. It seemed like the perfect place to increase the wildflowers that we grow.’

We plant wildflower plugs rather than seed as they establish better in existing turf,’ explains Charlie. Trays of these native, wildflower species are easy to get hold of and are a great way to introduce wildflowers into a garden.

Two polytunnels erected by Rebecca and David once the initial clearance had taken place, crop heavily throughout the year. Fan trained fruit live happily under their warm plastic cover, they flower and fruit well. Rebecca and Charlie grow a grafted apricot and peach on the same rootstock to save space. A mature nectarine produces masses of fruit due to the overhead protection and the fact that its roots are in the soil of the paddock and free to reach for nutrients and water beyond the confines of the polytunnel. Three beautifully trained grapevines, gracefully reach out, providing a fresh green shady curtain as temperatures rise. An interesting twist on growing peas successionally in guttering and then sliding them into a shallow trench once they have germinated can be witnessed at Meadowside, they are strung up in the polytunnel to keep them out of the way of hungry mice.

A generous fruit cage fully stocked with red, white and blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries, protected from the birds by a covering of mesh. The birds don’t eat the Morello cherries, they are too sour!’ Charlie tells me.

Compost heaps are necessary in any garden particularly one of this type and size, essential for recycling and producing the perfect horticultural byproduct in the process. Further recycling occurs in the garden; rainwater harvesting from the roof of a barn held in three large tanks on stilts gravity feeds the polytunnels and keep the crops well-watered in the most eco and wallet friendly way.

The huge vegetable garden at the bottom of the garden is high yielding at all times of the year but still important for wildlife. I leave the brassicas to go to seed, its brilliant food for any bees out and about early in the year.’ Another easy tip for those lazy wildlife gardeners among us!

The neighbouring orchard that houses a sizable flock of chickens under the boughs of a number of Cornish apple varieties and associated stone fruit plums, damsons and greengages feed the family and stock the produce sales during the spring and summer. I make jams and chutneys and we sell the honey, eggs and leftover fruit and vegetables from outside the front gate,’ Rebecca adds. A carefully situated beehive aids pollination of the young orchard and sits undisturbed away from the house.

Bluebells, red campions, foxgloves and primroses are prevalent here and bordering the lower orchard is the paddock given over completely to a wildflower meadow where knapweed, marsh orchids and greater birdsfoot trefoil thrive in the damp, sheltered conditions.

This working, productive smallholding is not only home to Rebecca and Charlie, their animals, any visiting mammals, birds and insects are welcome but more than that, they are positively encouraged. Meadowside is a great place to visit where you’ll find ideas and inspiration for making gardens more attractive to wildlife showing that gardening in this way is rewarding, exciting, beautiful and beneficial to wildlife.

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