Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Go Wild in the City; You Don't Have to Live out of Town to Enjoy the Country. Encourage Wildlife into Your London Garden. Pattie Barron Tells You How

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Go Wild in the City; You Don't Have to Live out of Town to Enjoy the Country. Encourage Wildlife into Your London Garden. Pattie Barron Tells You How

Article excerpt

Byline: PATTIE BARRON

THE Wildlife Trust's Gateway Garden, displayed at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, is proof positive that a garden to encourage wildlife need not be a wilderness of weeds. Who would imagine that this small urban space, just 18 square metres, houses bird-nesting boxes, bat bricks, bumblebee pots and a stump for stag beetles, as well as hibernation quarters for frogs and toads?

The pond, with its stylish slate slabs, might resemble a cleancut, contemporary pool, but those slabs are drink stops for birds as well as landing pads for frogs.

And that beautiful arbour, styled after an old-fashioned lych gate, holds a woven roost in its eaves for wrens to snuggle into; a turf of wildflowers and mixed grasses flourishes on the roof.

"Birds can peck at the seeds of the wildflowers, and they provide habitat and sustenance for butterflies and insects," says the garden's designer, landscape gardener Stephen Hall, who collaborated with the Essex Wildlife Trust. He chose this small gesture to make a bigger point, too.

"I wanted to show that you don't have to use slate and tiles on the roof of your house.

"The more houses we build, the more water runs off into drains and rivers, causing flooding. In Norway and Denmark, they use grass and stonecrop turves on their roofs to slow down the runoff, and the bonus is that the home is insulated, too."

It is simple to add features around the garden that benefit wildlife, but the Gateway Garden shows how owners of new houses with gardens full of builders' rubble and fifth-rate soil can turn the rubbish to riches.

"Poor soil is ideal for native wildflowers such as valerian and the thistle Cirsium rivulare, which bees and butterflies love," says Stephen.

"We used rubble, tree stumps, flint, old pots and rotting timber, all of which might be found in the subsoil, to make sanctuaries for wildlife."

Beside the pool, a shed snakeskin on a rock indicates a hibernaculum, a hibernating place for newts and frogs, and a quiet spot where lizards and grass snakes can sun themselves on the stones. "Pile up pieces of concrete, old wood, slate, whatever you can find, leaving gaps and crevices for creatures. Cover the pile with earth, leave a flat stone on top, and plant into the soil with plugs of grasses or wildflowers."

Alongside, where foxgloves thrive - bees love their nectar - is a stag beetle stump, where endangered wood-boring beetles can lay their eggs, which take three years to pupate. "We made this from a piece of rotten timber, left behind when someone cut a tree down sometime in the garden's history. Pack earth around the stump, and plant through the roots; in a shady, damp corner such as this, ferns would be ideal."

Water bubbles into the pond from a naturalistic sculpture that is actually a piece of driftwood, but Stephen points out that you could use a tree root that had been left to soften for a while in wet, boggy ground. …

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