Your garden, a sanctuary for you and for wildlife, by Sue Smallshire

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With the onset of ‘lock down’ during this dreadful outbreak of coronavirus, our gardens could really come into their own. They provide a safe place to enjoy the fresh air, and hopefully some sunshine, as the spring progresses.

We are all hearing that, depending on the severity of the outbreak in the UK, we could be confined to our homes, perhaps for several months this summer. Could this be a chance to explore what is actually going on in our gardens and to learn what plants will bring even more wildlife into them?

There are numerous creatures that inhabit these spaces, however small, and many beautiful plants that will attract them. Whether you are wowed by butterflies, moths, bees or just the flowers in your gardens there will be a huge number of things that you will have never noticed.

There is an excellent book ‘A Guide to Garden Wildlife’ by Richard Lewington, which covers absolutely everything you might find in a garden. Richard’s superb illustrations are a good excuse to buy this book anyway and looking for just some of the species will provide hours of fun for all the family. It’s available from many outlets and online for around £10, and for as little as £1 second hand.

‘Wildlife Gardening for Everyone and Everything’ is another good read. This book is produced by the RHS and Wildlife Trusts and is priced at around £10 but again available second hand from many online sites.

Go on, have some fun in your garden this summer. Here are a few of the common things that you are almost guaranteed to see:

Drone fly, Sue Smallshire

White-tailed and Buff-tailed Bumblebees are frequent visitors to the garden, as is the very smart Red-tailed Bumblebee, especially if you have Bird’s-foot-trefoil or other pollen- and nectar-rich yellow flowers, for which it has a preference.

Common butterflies include the early-flying Orange-tip and Holly Blue. Over-wintering Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells will emerge from hibernation and Large and Small Whites will be looking for your young brassicas, so net them early to avoid egg-laying.

There are some really beautiful moths and both Elephant Hawk-moth and Jersey Tiger-moth can be found in Devon gardens. Rose Chafer and several different ladybirds are among the colourful beetles you may encounter and, of course, children love to find woodlice and centipedes lurking under logs and flower pots.

If, like us, you want to find a wide variety of species, a few ‘refugia’ (pieces of roofing felt, dark plastic or large tiles) laid around the edge of the lawn or in rougher grass areas, may well be used by a basking Slow Worm. Providing this sort of shelter will help to protect it from its main predator, the domestic cat, while it warms up each morning.

Slow worm, Sue Smallshire

If you have a pond, or there is a pond or river close by, dragonflies may be regular visitors. These beautiful insects are fascinating to watch feeding, mating or just sitting around sunning themselves. The fabulous Southern Hawker is the most regular dragonfly at our ponds and Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies are very attractive too. 

Broad-bodied Chaser, Sue Smallshire

Hedgehogs are out and about in many gardens, so providing food for them will help them during breeding and then to fatten up before they hibernate in the autumn. If you want a hedgehog in your garden they need to have access either through a hedge or, if your garden is completely fenced off, by making a small hole 13cm hole in each of the fences to allow them to move from garden to garden. It’s hoped that many new housing estates will now introduce these ‘Hedgehog Highways’.

Birds, or course, are another visitor to our garden. Bird feeders are great for enjoying them, but feeders don’t always attract the birds as quickly as we would like. If you regularly feed your birds, then odds are they know they can rely on you and have told their friends. If you are putting out feeders for the first time, don’t give up if you don’t have visitors straight away. Put out a little food at first and change uneaten food regularly, especially in wet weather.

Robins, Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Goldfinches and Blue and Great Tits are all common garden birds, but Greenfinches, Siskins, Long-tailed Tits, Starlings, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Woodpigeons and Collared Doves are all seen at our feeders from time to time.

So go on, get out in your garden and discover just who you are sharing it with. You’ll be amazed!

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