This is a blog of a garden developing from a patch of grass to a wildlife haven. You can watch the garden grow with me and learn of interesting occurences! I have been creating a garden with wildlife in mind, and I hope to encourage people to welcome wildlife back into their gardens too. If you don't have a garden, this blog can be your garden, and you may learn of things you can do to help wildlife anyway!

I am, of course, only a begginer at gardening, but I hope to learn as I go along. I will add any useful information I collect to the blog as and when I discover it.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Interesting Snippet no.3

My chives are doing well! I just left them in this pot over winter, where they were sown last year. I'd mostly forgotten about them but they were busy growing anyway. Then I noticed they had developed purple flower buds! I can't wait for them to open. I want there to be loads of new chives because I love their oniony taste and like to use them in my cooking!

Interesting Snippet no.2

A bee has been buzzing happily around the grape hyacinths! I think this is a buff tailed bumblebee. Bees like purple flowers, so if you want to help them plant some in your garden! (Or a window-box if you don’t have a garden.)

Wood pigeon – visited garden

This wood pigeon is enjoying a meal of spilled bird-food from beneath the bird table. Sometimes the wood pigeons visit in a pair and sometimes there is only one. They usually feed from the ground but I have seen them on the bird table too – it looks rather cramped for them! I have often seen one perched on the neighbour’s roof, waiting for it to be safe to come down, but often it just flies off.

Starling – visited garden

These are the birds you see flying around in large flocks, either urban areas or in the country. At the start of the month, sightings of starling were few and far between and just one was enough to get me excited. I saw one investigating a neighbour’s gable end for nesting possibilities and also one collecting nest material (which involved frantically trying to tug a marking ribbon off one of my plants!). I don’t know where they ended up nesting though. I heard the familiar clicking and whistling of a starling song from the distance and I thought that was as good as it was going to get. But, one day there were loads of starlings feeding from lawns and flying up to near-by roofs. I saw them a few times before they eventually visited our garden. Yippee!


Because we live quite near open grassland, we are lucky to often hear the beaufiful song of the skylark in the distance and occasionally a bit closer. They sing in a sort of hovery flight above the grassland, which is where they nest. You may have heard them above you if you have been walking in the sorts of areas they like.

Robin – visited garden

The robins have become more elusive towards the end of the month but I saw them quite regularly earlier on. As you can see, there are two robins and they are quite at ease in each other’s company. (I will try to get a better picture than this, but the robins always see me and fly away!) This means they are a pair, as both male and female robins are territorial and will not usually tolerate any other robins on their patch. Both sexes sing to mark their territory and will fight off any intruders. The robins were singing more often at the start of the month, but more recently I have only seen one (and then only fleetingly) and have not heard much singing. I strongly suspect that they have a family and there is always one robin at home to look after the young and the other is busy looking for food! (The other bird muscling in on the photo is a dunnock.)


I saw these more at the start of the month. You normally hear their deep cronking call before you see them, which is how I noticed the pair who visit our area. They were calling to each other and flying quite high up. I was even lucky enough to see them displaying to each other, which involves doing mid-air somersaults. They are quite acrobatic! I also saw them very near the house (for ravens) as they took off from the fields behind the housing estate.

Pied wagtail

These were quite difficult to identify as they only ever flit overhead at a medium height. I’m still not positive I have seen them. They bounce overhead making short pipping noises.

Pheasant – visited garden

I love the pheasant with his bold colours. Unfortunately he's not popular with everybody because he eats things that he shouldn't, like seeds that people are trying to grow, so he gets chased away a lot! This is the male – I am yet to see a female – enjoying himself in our garden. This month he has been making use of our bird-bath by having a drink and has been eating spilled grain from the lawn. I have heard him calling from around and about. I wonder if there is only one nearby or whether he has friends!

Magpie – visited garden

The magpies are quite shy and won’t feed if they know you are looking. I have seen them sneaking food from the bird table though, and pecking around on the pavement. They pass over from time to time too.

Linnet – visited garden

I had never seen a linnet before this, and I only saw them in the garden once, although they had quite a lengthy visit. They were happy on the front lawn eating…dandelion seeds! I knew those “weeds” would be good for wildlife! The male linnet is the one standing on a dandelion stalk. He has a pale underbelly and a grey head. He is also perched on the low bush, showing off his red breast markings. The female is the more uniformly brown speckled bird.


Nearer the beginning of the month, there was quite often a kestrel hovering just behind the housing estate but I haven’t seen one recently. They hover to hunt, watching the ground for mice, voles and other small mammals. They fly into the wind when they hover so are effectively flying forwards and do not truly hover like an insect might.


These I have mostly seen flying overhead, sometimes with nest material. They don’t visit the garden, but I saw one perched on next-door’s aerial once.

House sparrow – visited garden

This is a male house sparrow, making use of the feeder in the tree. Sometimes I hear a gang of sparrows chirruping away in a bush. They visit to feed too – sometimes from the feeders but more usually from the ground or bird-table. I have also seen them collecting nest material. They are nesting under the apex of next-door’s garage roof, where they can be seen going in and out. A male sits on top of the apex occasionally and chirrups, as if he is saying “My house, my house!”

Thursday, 1 May 2008

House martin – living in garden

The house martins came back very recently (they don’t stay for the winter). They have been flying about overhead and calling. I assume they’re also eating insects up there, which they catch in flight. The house martins are nest building at the moment. They collect sticky mud and mix it with saliva. They use this mixture to build up a roundish nest, which you can see in the picture. They nest mostly under the edge of roofs on our estate.

I was watching the house martins swooping towards other houses and was disappointed that none were coming near our house. Then I heard a commotion outside, above the kitchen window. It sounded a lot like house martins. I went outside to investigate and found the reason why there was not much activity near our house. There was a little black and white bird face peeping out of a house martin nest. As we left last years nest up, there is no need for our house martins to swoop around building things. They simply moved straight in! The resident wasn’t letting anyone else in – hence the commotion and lack of other birds. One bird did get in though, after they both sung confirmation that they knew each other.

So we have house martins living with us again and they are already a pair. I wonder if they are the same pair as last year?


I have only ever seen these flying high overhead. I don’t think I have even heard them calling.

Great-tit – visited garden

The great-tits are just as bossy as the blue-tits. Both constantly get into fights. This picture shows a great-tit yelling at a dunnock to get off the bird table! The great-tits have been calling, feeding from the table and feeders and were investigating nest boxes. No boxes seemed suitable though so they have gone to nest somewhere else.


No pictures of these I’m afraid. I’ve only seen them twice, early in the month. Once they were flying overhead, on the way to somewhere else. The other time they were flying north, high up in formation. Geese travel together in a V formation, with the goose at the front doing all the hard work and the others flying in their slipstream. (Don’t worry; they do swap round when the front one gets tired!)

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Gold finch

I have only seen a goldfinch recently. I noticed it because I heard a birdsong that I didn’t recognise. I looked up into the tree and there it was, but only for a few seconds. It wasn’t quite on my side of the fence so it didn’t technically visit the garden. I saw one again later on in the trees behind the housing estate, which is where it was when I photographed it from the house. That’s why the picture isn’t too good – it was quite far away!

Dunnock – visited garden

These probably aren’t the clearest photos I have of a dunnock but they are my favourites. They show the perils of being small on a windy day as the dunnock tries to sing but then has to cling on as a strong gust of wind threatens to blow him off his perch.

Along with the blue-tits, the dunnock is one of the birds I see most often in the garden. If there is a scribbley sort of song being sung in the garden then it is probably the dunnock. I’ve even heard him break out into song from the bird-table when I was only three metres away working in the garden. (His favourite perch is the corner of the fence just above the blue-tits’ nest-box.) As well as singing, the dunnocks have been feeding from the bird table and generally hanging around.


I have only seen these once. There were two or three of them flying overhead on the way to somewhere else. There was no time to grab the camera as they were flying really fast!


I have heard these calling in the distance a few times. I didn’t know what they were until I took this photo of one as it flew past and called out at the same time. The curved bill gives it away!

Crow – visited garden

The crow mainly comes here to feed, but I have heard it crowing from the roof-tops. I saw a couple of crows mobbing a buzzard too.

Collared dove – visited garden

I have only seen the collared doves a couple of times. They only seem to come to the garden to feed, both from the ground and from the bird-table.

Chaffinch – visited garden

The male chaffinch is on the feeder and the female is looking down at him. I have seen the female less frequently than the male. I have seen her feeding a few times, from the table and the ground. The male I have seen feeding from the table, ground and feeders. I have also seen him washing and drinking from the bird-bath, and calling and singing from the tree.


I have seen the buzzard wafting by overhead and also being mobbed by crows – it must have been too close to where they are nesting. I do not have a picture of the buzzard yet, mainly because it passes over so infrequently and flies quite high up.

Blue-tit – living in garden

Both the male and the female blue-tits have been hard at work filling their nest-box with grass, moss and downy feathers. They defend the box fiercely and sometimes chase birds from the table too! Both sexes look similar, but with this particular pair, the male is slightly larger and more brightly coloured. I don’t know if this is the norm though. They have been feeding from the bird-table, bird-table feeder and tree feeder and have been seen with at least one caterpillar. They have been calling and singing – particularly from the tree above the nest-box. They have also mated, so eggs must be on the way soon!

Blackbird – visited garden

The male blackbird is perched on the fence and hopping about looking for food in the grass. The female (who is confusingly brown) is making a mess looking under dry grass for bugs and worms. I don’t mind because I put the grass there for the birds anyway in the hope they would use it for nest material.
Both male and female have been feeding from the ground and collecting nest material and the male has been singing regularly. He sounds most beautiful in the evening when all the other birds have gone quiet.

April’s bird visitors

In March, nine species of birds visited the garden and I observed (saw or heard) a total of sixteen species. This month I have observed 26 species and there have been visitors to the garden from fifteen species! I managed to get photos of some of the birds, although some are rather blurry! Here are the best pictures of each species and a brief description of what they have been up to.

Interesting Snippet no.1

The fern I planted in the logs of the banking has started to unfurl! When I first planted it, it was hibernating and looked dead, but now it is happy in its new home and is stretching out to the sunlight!

Ferns are one of the most ancient plants on the planet. They were growing when the dinosaurs
were around and evolved before grass.

Interesting snippets

If you don’t have much time, these snippets will be perfect for you to keep updated with what’s happening in the garden. There are so many things growing and happening in the garden that I don’t know where to start! Each time I notice something interesting, I will put a short piece on my blog. You will be able to see all the things I get excited about as I walk around my garden!


You may have noticed that there is a raised bed or banking in the photos. This is one of the things I have been doing but haven’t told you about yet.

This was the soggiest corner of the garden. There were several things I could have done here, but reasons why I didn’t.

1. I could have built a shed. It would have solved the problem of what plants to put there!…But I didn’t want to completely block the light to the window in the house behind and why would I want a shed in a dark, damp corner of the garden that I would have to squelch across every time I wanted the trowel?
2. I could have turned it into a bog garden…But there is already a pit four feet deep filled with gravel and with an apple tree growing out of it…I was not going to dig all that up! (Nb, digging pits or trenches and filling them with gravel does not always help with drainage!)
3. I could have made it into a pond…See above.

So, I decided to build above the problem!

Luckily for my bank balance, we managed to get hold of a load of red sandstone for free. (I love free stuff!) My brother helped (thanks again) to cart it all to my house. Then I spent the next couple of days building a wall. As you can see, it is a dry-stone-wall (built without concrete or mortar). This means there are gaps for small things to live in and for plants to plant themselves in!

I had bought some plants to go in the wall already so I “planted” them in gaps as I was building. They are plants that can cope with not having that much water, as the banking will be quite fast draining compared to the rest of the garden!

At the end of the raised bed that joins the lower bed I used logs instead of stone, partly because it looks nice and partly for wildlife reasons. The idea is that mini-beasts can live under the bark or in between the logs. Gradually the logs will rot down, making food for plants and other mini-beasts. And of course, having mini-beasts means food for birds and other creatures!

I got these logs from the same place as the sandstone. They were all scrap. If you want to copy my idea, please don’t go to woodland and chop down trees or remove dead or fallen wood, as these are all essential to the woodland environment. It is much better to use wood that would otherwise be thrown away. If someone you know is having trees cut down or worked on, ask if you can have some of the waste wood. Also, try and persuade them to keep some themselves so there is even more food for wildlife! (And get them to visit the RSPB website (link at top of blog) to find out more about managing trees for wildlife…)

I filled the banking with topsoil (also free – wow, we’re good at getting free stuff!). I hope having the lower part of its trunk covered doesn’t kill the apple tree. I figured that that sort of thing might happen in nature anyway, especially if the tree was growing in a dip or a crevice. I chopped off the tree’s lowest branches to encourage growth higher up. It seems to being doing well so far! I haven’t got round to putting all the plants in the raised bed yet. There’ll be more pictures when I do though!

The garden has been rearranged

I had some new plants to put into the bed and they didn’t look like they were going to fit so I decided to shuffle things round a bit. I ended up moving quite a few plants and also three of the baby trees. I hope I haven’t moved them too late into their growing season and they are still alright… They seem to be okay so far, but when I compare them to other trees of the same species they seem to be miles behind… Hopefully they just had a rest after being moved or were concentrating on putting new roots down. Here are some photos of the garden as it is now. Things are starting to grow!

Sorry I've been away

Okay, I’m back. Our computer is not connecting to the internet at the moment and I’ve had to come to the library to get on my blog. You’ll have to bear with me while I catch up on a few things…

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Putting the plants in.

I had potted all of my free plants or had wrapped their roots in a strong plastic bag and filled that with compost if they were too big for pots. I also had my garden centre plants. I wandered around and arranged everything on the bed. At last I was satisfied and my brother and I planted them! We dug a hole for each one and lined it with compost. Then we put the plant in and finally more compost. Each one was gently firmed in (or in the case of the trees, we mixed earth in as well for a bit more support and stood on it to press it in) and watered. There should be no problem with the compost drying out in my garden, but you may need to mix the compost with soil first.

A lot of the positioning was guess work as I don't know much about many of my plants yet but I tried not to put them too close together. If they don't look happy I will move them. I'll probably look them up in a book at some point too. And of course, I will put all the information I find on this blog as I write about each plant!

When my brother had gone home (thanks for all the hard work by the way!) I put wooden edging around the bed. This stops the lawn from creeping back over and I think defines the bed nicely. I also covered all the bare soil with bark chippings (from the garden centre). This keeps the weeds down as it's dark under there. If the weeds do sneak a leaf through, I think the bark chippings make them easier to spot too! Bark chippings are good in other ways too. They reduce (or in my garden eliminate) the need for weed killer. They will also rot down gradually, giving nutrients to the plants and improving the quality and texture of the soil. In my garden, insects and spiders seem to like living in them too! I bet it's nice and warm in there for them.

I can't wait for all the plants to grow!

Friday, 18 April 2008

Hooray! We have tenants!

Today I saw the bluetits again, and they had nest material. They are moving in! First, one went in with her strand of grass while the other waited. I was grabbing the camera! I caught the other as he was going in with his strand of grass. The other is in the tree waiting and there is a dunnock sitting on the fence and looking on. I caught him again as he was leaving, just as he was taking flight! The other is still waiting impatiently in the tree and the dunnock has begun to sing. Click on the pictures to get a better view!

I have collected some sheep's wool from wire fences and pushed it into a mesh bird feeder. I wonder if they'll use that too?

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Preparing the bed.

Before I planted anything, I had to make a bed. Gardening books will tell you that to prepare a bed you have to remove all weeds, roots and all, and add this rake that ya-de-ya-ya. I'm sure this is good common sense in most places but this is how weeding occurs in my garden:

Text-book version: Pull weeds from ground taking care to not to snap roots off in the ground as these will re-grow. Shake off excess soil.
My version: Pull weed. Root snaps off and stays in soggy clay ground. Dig weeds out of ground. Try to shake off excess soil (think wet plasticine here). Plant snaps, leaving root in soggy lump of clay soil.

Another way of course is to use weed killers. But this blog is about how do garden in sync with nature not in war against it. I DO NOT like using weed killers. I feel bad enough when I accidentally wash a spider down the plug hole. Anyway, I personally think that some of the "weeds" look very pretty and deserve to be there in their own right. Also weed killers kill plants that can be useful in your garden, such as clover for the bees in your lawn. I have a cat too, and I just know he would go and eat whatever I weed killered because he always just wants to join in! If you want to use weed killers you'll have to go and look it up somewhere else, but I urge you not to.

If you have planned in advance, you can put a black plastic sheet down (the weed control ones that you get at the garden centre) and leave it. I think I remember reading that a less ugly way is to turf over the area you want weed free and then keep the grass cut really short so any taller weeds will eventually die. Both of these methods can take a long time though as some plants have underground root systems that can keep them alive for a long time after you have covered them - sometimes up to two years. But they DO both avoid using poisons :-)

In the end I just dug everything up, kept the plants I wanted (remember, not all plants that plant themselves are weeds. I had buddlia, columbine, and even a elder tree growing around the edge of my fence! Try to find out what they are first before you yank them all out!) and put everything else upside down out of the way. Later, it was made into part of the bed and covered in bark chippings and whenever I see a weed sneaking through I dig it out with my fingers. It seems to be working quite well so far!

If you have poor soil like I do, you will have to add organic material such as compost or soil improver. Old manure is good for this but I'm not sure where you get it from. Try garden centres or farms. I bought something from the garden centre that was simply "Soil improver". Again, if you are organised and are planning in advance, you can start making your own compost. I've added a link to the relevant bit on the Gardener's world website that will tell you how to do this

My brother did all the hard work digging the soil improver into the soil and mixing it in and then it was time for the fun part - putting the plants in!

Ash, the cat, helping out. Or is he just practising his hunting? He is still a kitten really at six months and only learning - just like me!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Choosing plants

When it came to choosing my plants I was quite lucky; my mum has a huge garden with similar soil and conditions to mine and was quite willing to donate some plants to my garden. We were easily able to dig up quite a large number of plants, even some small trees, and not really notice the gaps. It was an advantage taking them from here because a) I knew they were the type of plants that would thrive in my garden, b) they were free!

Several other people started offering donations, and I accepted them all. I decided I would just see what would grow. I did buy some plants from the garden centre too, but I still think the free ones are best!

I did also think about what I wanted my plants to do in the garden as well. I wanted plants that would do well in my garden. I wanted some big plants, like tree and shrubs, to drink some of the water out of the soggy lawn and to provide cover and shelter for birds. I wanted plants that would provide food for birds in the form of seeds or fruit. I wanted flowering plants to attract insects as these are another source of food to birds and to other animals such as bats. And I also wanted some pretty plants, because afterall, it is my garden too!

I will tell you about the plants in my garden as this blog progresses - it would take too long to list and explain them all at once!

If you are choosing plants for your garden you may want to consider the things above. Obviously if you are buying all your plants, cost is another consideration, but do ask around the people you know first. Even if they can't spare whole plants, they may be able to give you cuttings which, with time and a little bit of care, will grow into full size plants.

Try to use native species of plants in your garden - that is, ones that come originally come from this country, or even your area - rather than the more exotic ones. They are more likely to survive for a start and are more likely to support the local wildlife. I did get some non-native plants and they are partly for asthetic reasons - they are evergreen so will keep my garden green all year and they also have flowers - but hopefully the birds will be able to use them as cover too, particullary in the winter months when everything else is bare.
Picture - a baby hawthorn from my mum's garden. Good for the birds in more way than one!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Going into the Housing Market

One of the first things I did was buy a nest-box. It is a good idea to put a nest-box up in Autumn as birds scout out potential property for the nesting season at this time of year. Also, some birds will use the box to roost in over winter.

I put our nest-box on the fence under next-door's tree as this is a place the birds seem to like. The creepers from next door also hang near to the box and will hopefully grow to give some protection.

Our box is on a south facing fence but this may not be ideal as it can get very hot in the full sun. I have read that for some birds an east facing box is better, with cover from full sunlight but also with a clear fly-up so predators can't spring an ambush on birds as they come and go. Each bird has different requirements though and I recommend visiting the RSPB website to find out more if you wish to attract nesting birds to your garden. Just follow the link on the blog.

Although our nest-box conditions are not ideal, we soon had a visitor! It was a bright bossy blue-tit! There are two blue tits and they defend the area around the box very fiercely. Time will tell if they have chicks or not!

In the Beggining...

This is the only photo I can find that shows what my garden used to look like (yes that is a hedgehog - he's eating cheese). As you can see, it was just grass (very soggy grass), bare fence and a few straggly plants that had found their own way into the garden. There is also a patio and various patches of gravel but you can't see those here.

I always used to see birds as flashes as they passed through from one of my neighbours gardens to the next. I wanted them to land in my garden, not just fly through. So I decided to do something about it.