Autumn gardening & the biodiversity crisisAlison Marsden
Two decades into the 21st century I reckon that it is time to stop separating the plants in our gardens from the wildlife. A fabulous garden should not ignore the potential to benefit biodiversity as well as the human residents. We have all read about insect pollinators being required for a good crop of fruit and vegetables and few people do not like to see butterflies and birds in their garden. But to be honest there is much more that we need to do and we need to do it now. With a welcome ban on the sale of peat in potting compost finally on the way but a continuing 75% drop in hedgehog numbers and once common garden birds including Swifts and Greenfinches now on the Red List of species in critical decline, this is the moment for all garden owners to walk the talk and fully subscribe to a more inclusive and sustainable way of gardening.
If you talk to someone who still doubts the benefits of nature friendly gardening you might explain that:
- Healthy soil with good fertility and structure to support plant growth and absorb water depends on the whole ecosystem of soil dwelling invertebrates, fungi and bacteria.
- Native solitary bees are 70 times more effective pollinators than honeybees.
- Gardens occupy 5% of the UK, more than all the nature reserves together; conservation is not someone else’s responsibility.
- The wellbeing benefit we gain from gardens increases with the biodiversity.
So what has this to do with autumn gardening and what should I do now? Well there is an element of not doing, of leaving nature alone for the winter: let the dying stems of perennials stand, pile fallen leaves around the plants and stack a few logs in an undisturbed corner, all offer shelter to overwintering insects and amphibians – cut the stems down in spring as new growth starts. Limit pruning of berrying trees and shrubs that provide food for birds and cut hard back in spring if needed. Above all start to look on every element of the garden as an opportunity to support the wildlife on which humanity depends.
If you are concerned that a wildlife friendly garden cannot be ornamental as well then be reassured. Great Dixter in East Sussex is likely one of the most well known gardens in the UK (and abroad). Created by the late Christopher Lloyd it is now managed by his head gardener Fergus Garrett. What is less well known is that in 2017 a full survey of the native species living within the Great Dixter estate was started, covering everything from lichens to mammals to assess the health of the eco-system in the gardens, woodland and meadows. This is an estate where all pesticide use stopped after 2006 and where the primary aim remains to create a beautiful space. Of course the two are not mutually exclusive.
The ecological survey team found over 2000 native species, some nationally rare, and described the estate as one of the richest sites they had ever surveyed compared to natural environments and nature reserves. The most surprising finding was that the most biodiverse area was the formal garden. The borders bursting with a succession of flowers from both native and exotic plants surrounded by historic buildings with nooks and crevices were providing the perfect space for wildlife.
What we learn from this – that we can have beauty and care for our planet at the same time.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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