Date: 1 July 2006
Originally published in: English nature magazine (UK)
Written by: Kim Wilde
Pop singer-turned gardening enthusiast, Kim Wilde, shares some secrets from her home, a converted barn in Hertfordshire.
My initial inspiration was to create a garden that would enchant our children, Harry and Rose.
Now gardening for nature has become instinctive to me. My healthy, happy garden is a testament to that and inspires and delights us all. It is a refuge from the stresses of everyday life, a playground, a place to entertain, and where wildlife and family life co-exist easily. When I began, my instincts told me to keep away from chemicals and pesticides and let nature get on with it. I knew very little about gardening and its relationship to wildlife, but the sight of a butterfly made me swoon, and the sound of birds and bees soothed my senses.
I soon began to appreciate that my garden knew how to look after itself with only a little intervention and, since then, I watched it flourish, fed on good compost and lots of love.
Behind the scenes, an army of hoverflies, ladybirds, beetles, frogs, birds and other wildlife were on the front line, devouring pests and looking after the garden’s health – naturally. Over 10 years, I gradually gained the knowledge to help this natural process along by providing food, shelter and water to help these creatures thrive. A healthy, wildlife-friendly garden starts with its soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants, robust enough to deal with pests and diseases. I have flinty, clay soil that is heavy, cold and sticky in winter and prone to drying out in summer. I have used raised beds and plenty of compost, opening up the soil to assist drainage while keeping moisture locked in during the summer. I have provided evergreens like holly and ivy for shelter, as well as nectarrich flowers for all seasons especially winter and early spring. Nectar is a sugar-rich food for beneficial insects like ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies, giving them energy to breed and fly. They, in turn, lay eggs close to aphid colonies and their larvae helpfully gobble up the aphids. Winter-flowering plants often have pungent perfumes, so the scent carries through the cold air to lure insects for pollination. I grow several, including Daphne odora, winter-flowering honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima, and witch hazel Hamamelis sp.
Early bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus, as well as hellebores and aquilegia are among the flowers that keep nectar supplies going until summer when annuals like pot marigolds Calendula officinalis, love-in-a mist Nigella damascena and poppies begin to flower along with lavender, roses, and reliable herbaceous geraniums.
Butterflies are always enchanting and are attracted by buddleia, lavender, red valerian, sedum and Verbena bonariensis – easy plants to grow which are drought-resistant. I make sure butterflies can lay their eggs and caterpillars can feed by leaving big patches of stinging nettles at the bottom of the garden.
I’ve slowly been turning an adjacent field into woodland. Each winter, locally-sourced birch, hornbeam and hazel saplings are planted along with oak, lime and holly. I’ve had the hedgerows replanted with hawthorn, field maple and wild roses.
Creating a wildlife-friendly garden can be achieved in many ways – in all shapes and sizes no matter how small. From wood piles in shady corners to attract slug-munching ground beetles and hedgehogs, to simple bird baths – we can all help wildlife.