Attracting Wildlife into your Garden
By Lorraine Spooner
As the garden continues to wake up from its winter slumber, wildlife ventures out from hibernation, birds begin to build their nests and pollinating insects are seeking out those early nectar-rich spring flowers. This is the time to consider planting native trees to increase the biodiversity within your plot and maintain a balanced eco-system to benefit all types of wildlife.
Our native Rowan has lovely silvery-brown bark and the leaves mature to striking autumn tints of burnt orange. The clusters of creamy white flowers in late spring provide nectar for pollinating insects, and the orange-red berries that follow in autumn, are a rich source of food for many garden bird visitors, such as the redstart and redwing.
Growing 20-40cm per year in an upright pyramidal form, it will eventually reach 15 metres. Many beautiful cultivars have been bred producing a wide choice of berry colour, from pure creamy white ‘Cashmiriana’ to deep pink ‘Pink Pagoda’.
The Hazel is one of our smallest native trees growing 40-60 cms per year and eventually attaining 12 metres, but it is a popular species for coppicing in woodland plantings, the resulting timber being used by gardeners for plant supports. Coppicing creates open wildflower-rich habitats which support many species of butterflies. The coppiced stems also provide shelter for ground nesting birds, such as the willow warbler and yellowhammer. The hazel has long been associated with the ‘hazel’ dormouse, which uses the nuts to fatten up for hibernation. Popular garden varieties include Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, the stems of which can be used for indoor seasonal decorations and flower arranging.
The Alder grows in a conical shape eventually attaining 20 metres. It produces catkins in early spring which provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees, followed by cone-like woody fruits that persist on the bare branches over winter. The seeds that are dispersed from these are a valuable food source for many birds, including siskin, redpoll and goldfinch. An interesting snippet of mythology – the green dye from Alder flowers was used to colour and camouflage the clothes of outlaws, such as Robin Hood and his Merry Men!
Our native Beech tree is considered the queen of British trees. Fast growing at 30-60cm per year, its massive size in maturity of 40 metres can be controlled by pruning, hence its use as an attractive hedging plant. The leaves, which turn coppery brown in autumn, persist on the tree through winter before being replaced by the bright green spring growth. Beech woodland makes an important habitat for many butterflies, the foliage is eaten by moth caterpillars and beech nuts are eaten by mice, vole, squirrels and birds. Our native truffle fungi which grows in beech woods are ectomycorrhizal, which means they help the host tree obtain nutrients in exchange for some of the sugar the tree produces through photosynthesis.
The Osier Willow is a fast growing tree reaching its eventual height of just 7 metres quickly. The green and yellow catkins appear in late winter to early spring and are attractive to many species of moth caterpillars and pollinating insects. The growth habit of the branches makes it a popular tree for nesting and roosting birds.
Known as the basket willow, the strong, flexible stems are traditionally used for basket-making and weaving and are becoming increasingly popular for use as willow screens and sculptures.
Varieties of our native Spindle have proved to be valuable additions to the garden for autumn and winter interest. The panicles of small yellow flowers are followed by striking lobed deep pink fruits which spilt open to reveal bright orange seeds, persisting on the branches long after the autumn foliage in tones of red and yellow has fallen to create a tapestry carpet below. A popular garden variety is ‘Red Cascade’.
The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of moth species and attract the holly blue butterfly. As aphids are often found on the foliage, this attracts their predators including hoverflies, ladybirds and lacewings, which in turn provide food for bird species, particularly the house sparrow.
The common name, spindle, originates from the use of the timber for making spindles for spinning and holding wool; today it is used to produce high quality charcoal for use by artists.
The Silver Birch tree graces woodland planting schemes with its beautiful white peeling bark and a light, open canopy which casts dappled shade, enabling the woodland floor to flourish with mosses, wood anemones, bluebells and violets. It is also deservedly popular as a garden tree where it is often planted in multiples of three to provide a focal point or light up a shady corner. An interesting fact – Silver birch can be used to improve soil quality for other plants to grow – the wide spreading roots bring otherwise inaccessible nutrients into the tree, which are recycled on to the soil surface when the tree sheds its buttery yellow foliage in autumn. Fast growing, it will reach a mature height of 15-20 metres.
Providing a habitat for more than 300 insect species, this is an important tree for a wide range of wildlife from the bottom to the top of the food chain, from aphids and their predators, moth caterpillars and hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers, to other small birds, such as long-tailed tits and siskins, which devour the seeds.
In Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification – bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year before the advent of the new, and gardeners still use the birch besom to ‘purify’ their gardens.
Make sure to pop in and chat to one of our horticultural experts if you want any further information about how we can help you improve your garden.