Escape to the Garden

Escape to the garden

Earth Day 2021

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, avalanches and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” 

John Muir (Scottish Naturalist and USA and international conservation icon) 

Preamble – escape to the garden 

According to the Bible, God was a gardener and he allowed us to live in his garden. I’m digging close to the carefully mown borders of contentiousness here, but I suspect that John Muir, quoted above, would probably have been closer to agnostic or even aetheist today though it is probably still a heresy to corrupt his words in this… 

God, with Noah’s help, or perhaps no-one at all, has cared for these species, saved them from drought, avalanches and a thousand tempests and floods. But we cannot save them from fools. 

If there is a God, and he or she is powerless to stop our destruction of our own world, that’s pretty scary. Similarly, if nobody at all has been caring for biodiversity (until conservationists and environmentalists came along) but it managed perfectly well until now, then that’s scary too.

If there is a God, or gods, intent on us believing but never seeing them but picking up on little hints and second-hand messages, we need to build an ark. If there are no gods making sure we don’t go too far, then we really really, really need an ark; metaphorically speaking of course.

I believe that gardens can be arks or perhaps tug boats of the greater ark and that conservation is not in the hands of gods, politicians or academic institutions, but in our hands. We do have the capacity to rediscover a metaphorical Eden, but are we thoughtful gardeners or John Muir’s fools? 

Garden Paradise

For those of us lucky enough to have a garden, it is, I think for most of us, a sanctuary; a place where we are safe and can escape the stresses of life in the outside world or even in the home. Stresses like money, duty, responsibility, disagreement, travel and time management can be forgotten, at least for a moment, in the garden. On our TVs, radios, phones and computers, as well as from the mouths of people we know, stresses additional to our own come streaming in to our lives from the world beyond. But the garden, properly managed to our own personal needs, is our sanctuary and it gives us tranquility.

If the world was like our own gardens what a smashing place it would be. Of course, whether we have paid for them or not, we don’t own them. No person or even government can really own land. We live on it and we probably rule over it but it is not ours, it is shared just like the planet is shared. This blog is about sharing our gardens with the needy. 

Planet in peril

As you are reading this already, I don’t need to tell you about global warming or the global extinction crisis. But, like me, you are probably confused by the plethora of information streaming in from the outside World and wondering what is right, what is wrong and what you or we can do. As someone who has spent at least 40 years working in conservation and natural history awareness (but with no formal qualifications) I can give you some ideas and that is the purpose of this blog. One great thing we can all do which is great for our local wildlife, our own environment and our planet is… nothing. 

Get busy doing nothing to save the planet 

Doing absolutely nothing, reduces our consumption dramatically and immediately slows our carbon emissions. Try it now; it feels great doesn’t it. Just doing nothing for a moment, purposefully, removes a tremendous weight from my shoulders and I hope it works for you too. Now, just for me, and the whole planet, try reading to the end of this paragraph and then really do nothing. Close your laptop or your phone, shut your eyes and just think about yourself on your planet. Feel it turning as it worships the sun. But first absorb this… what does doing nothing mean?

We have to eat, of course, we have to obtain our food and warmth, we might need to fix a leak, but what else do we need to do? Can we cut it out of our lives?

To me, doing nothing means no flying, minimal driving, no strimming, mowing or using power tools of any sort. Minimal loo flushing, minimal digging, minimal paid-for activities. I don’t try hard at it. I’m not all that good at it but I can feel it working. Now close this for a minute or more and just do nothing at all… you might have an epiphany! 

A view of the world from your garden 

On the 22nd April 1970, after some sort of epiphany, Senator Gaylord Nelson announce the World’s first Earth Day and this date is widely recognised as the launch of the global environmental movement, with about 20 million people attending rallies around the World. 

It made a monumental impact and it is difficult to imagine what the World would be like without it. Eventually the World of politics took more notice, leading to the Earth Summit 22 years later in 1992. I don’t want to reduce in any way, the importance and impact of these events but must say that neither was the first moment of recognition that we are harming our planet and there is still a lot to do and a lot that can go wrong. Governments and others in authority are notoriously slow at being convinced, of acting and of getting it right when they do see the environmental point and it is easy to ‘seed bomb’ our environment with the wrong seeds and do more harm than good. 

Silent Spring

It is unlikely that Earth day would have happened so soon, or even at all without Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, just 2 years before her untimely death from an illness that could be linked to pollution. 

Budding and converted environmentalists (desperate to do the right thing and make a difference) tend to be told today, that, if they want employment in the environmental sector, they need to get themselves a degree, and a good one at that. Even then jobs are hard to find and a degree is not a guarantee of being good at your job it just helps you push other candidates out.  

All I can say to that is…” poppycock!” University qualifications are great for some people and some jobs and some environmentalists and naturalists but not for all and some of the best environmentalists and best nurturers that I have known have no degree and would possibly struggle to get one. Attaining such qualifications takes a degree, if you’ll excuse the pun, of focus and ambition that does not necessarily exist in the born naturalist. They shun crowds and pressure but can be the best at what they do even though they would never admit it, claim it or recognise it or be able to attain a degree in it.

Such people are precious but are given very little recognition by the ruling figures in professional environmentalism in governments or NGOs. Familiar advice they will receive is to get a job and fund their interests as a hobby. Again I say… “Poppycock!” If someone is willing to nurse and is or maybe good at it, we shouldn’t stop that happening because they find sitting still, maths or juggling words on a computer screen difficult.

We still need and hopefully will always need, people who can mop brows, speak kindly to those in peril, shovel shit and mop up blood. These people are not always those with qualifications and, in fact I would argue that the modern university movement is exemplary of the meek being disinherited of the earth by the qualifications club, who have lost control of their own creation. Hopefully though, somehow, sometime, they’ll do the right thing. Meanwhile though, I don’t think anyone who wants to help local wildlife or global biodiversity should be put off. 

The importance of continuum amongst the diary dates 

Earth Day, great as it is, was not the beginning of the environmental movement any more than it was the day that all our environmental problems were solved. We, humans, are still digging stuff out of the ground and burning it, still building car parks and malls full of materials that will be landfill or fumes in much much less than a human lifetime.

The first National Park is considered to have been founded in 1872, but wildlife and wild places were being protected (partly in vain it must be said) before that. Whaling regulations gathered pace (towards protection) in the 1930s but Greenpeace was not founded until 1971 and, like World Earth Day, came after the 1967 novel, The Day of the Dolphin which featured dolphins trained to speak English that help to save the world from nuclear destruction. 

What I’m trying to say here is that all sorts of little, and not so little (but perhaps unrecognised) actions and conversations are usually needed to reach monumental moments like World Earth day and the Earth Summit. And… these summits and rallies don’t suddenly put everything right, we have to continue doing ‘the right thing’ and to keep figuring out exactly what ‘right’ is. For every right, I guess there probably has to be a wrong and the list of wrongs would, I think be a much longer list than the list of rights which is virtually a buddhist or religious mantra and it is fairly easy to see why and how such things came about… 

Don’t be greedy or take other people’s stuff 

Treat people as you would want to be treated etc etc etc 

As dogs and chips and rats, to mention a prominent few, show instinctive decency and common sense I don’t think these are traits we need to be taught. The problem with people is we get untaught somewhere along the line and are robbed of or disregard, our instincts. 

This is a nice thing. I have one, you don’t. If you want one you’ll have to fight for it… beg, borrow or steal to get what you want… because you’re worth it. 

Or just be fair and kind! 

Covid 19 as viewed from my garden 

A global pandemic is a terrible thing and Covid has been a huge lesson for humanity as a whole. Or at least I hope it has. It has taught us all something about infectious diseases and global and national co-operation as well as interpersonal co-operation. We all know, if we look at the available information, that many lives lost to Covid 19 could have been spared if we, the people, and they the governements and other people had taken notice of the easily available information about infectious diseases and global, national and interpersonal co-operation. Ignorance, mostly deliberate and selfish is the cause of almost all deaths after the outbreak was recognised and it is the exact same cause for our global environmental crisis. 

Fossil fuel addiction – old habits die hard 

Despite what we know, we are still building and driving fossil fuel powered machines and jumping on aeroplanes for personal gratification and pleasure, when we should be restricted their use to absolute emergencies, where no other alternative is available. We continue to pour contaminants of all kinds down our sinks, our loos, our throats and into the mouths of the animals we eat and the plants that we and our livestock eat. .

We continue to build shopping centres and car parks worshipping the economy in a monotheistic reverence of a mindless god that only counts cash. I remember walking down the street and a common sight would be women scrubbing; sorry, scrub-scrub-scrubbing their doorsteps and possibly wearing them away more quickly than the feet that stepped on them. This has a healthy history in that a clean house (starting with the doorstep) is likely to be a healthy and less infectious house for visitors and passers by, as well as those within who also mix in the community.

There’s nothing wrong with that and much that is right with it, but it has expanded to become a monster. I have never seen a man scrub a doorstep but I have seen one painting one with toxic paint. I have seen them mowing lawns like a clean-shaven face with their petrol mowers and marching out of their gardens to mow what they consider to be the unkempt verges outside. In their opinion, if they have one beyond tidiness as they perceive it, they are doing a good deed for the community beyond what their local council is prepared to do with their taxes. The very same council who I condemn for not doing enough to preserve and protect local wildlife is squeezed on the other side by mower drivers who think they are not doing enough to destroy it.

Whose home was that?

That verge they are mowing was the hiding and feasting place of butterflies, beetles and snails who in turn were the feasts of birds, shrews and hedgehogs. We wonder why they have gone!

Job done, our earnest, hard-working and thoroughly righteous home owner or professional gardener will push the glorious machine back into its protective home (a creosoted shed treated against woodworm and properly mounted on a a gravel or concrete base to prevent any form of pests living underneath, even if they could stand the creosote and petrol fumes. He grabs the hedge trimmer and, whether it is bird nesting season or not, he reduces the hedge (most likely a non-native, pest resilient species anyway) to a neat and tidy green doorstep that has been duly scrubbed. That is if he has a hedge. He does like the neat and tidy fence or the wide open driving so that both spouses dalek shells can nestle side by side facing outwards.

Shutting out nature

Many surfaces are chosen but it’s block paving, tarmac and concrete that bother me the most. Whilst other surfaces give nature a bit of a chance, the terrible trio shut her out and give off an awful shimmering heat on summer days. Even the shaved lawn absorbs more carbon. The jobs of keeping nature at bay are never ending… there’s the car to wash (preferably with the comforting noise of the absolutely necessary industrial jet wash machine) and the suds to be washed off the immaculate drive into the soil or the drain and away; away where? Who cares as long as it is away. They will of course, have to complain to the council that the river, or culvert or beach are polluted. Something should be done and it is nothing to do with them.

With their mobile, sit-in doorstep gleaming, they move on to slug pellets and weed killer all available from local, or distant (if you fancy lunch out), home and garden centres and sold in a way that makes it look like they are helping the environment rather than destroying it. Slug killer [what will hedgehogs and thrushes eat?], wasp killer [who will eat all the pests now], ant killer, weed killer, moss killer. The solutions to the enemies of our gardens filled with concrete patios and ornaments, plastic or painted accessories and non-native plants, protected by reassuring chemical warfare, delivered by clean, hard-working, well-meaning people who will lean on their fence and tell you what a shame it is that there are fewer butterflies and that it is a bit of a silent spring. It’s the magpies, squirrels, rats ants and wasps and more should be done!! 

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!! 

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! 

In this instance… LESS SHOULD BE DONE 

Doing Less

This is no silent spring! But the birdsong is replaced by the sound of mowers, strimmers, jet washers, vacuum cleaners and even chain saws and mini-diggers. On the plus side, I can’t hear the jets overhead or the ever-burgeoning traffic over the clamour of tidiness. It’s nice to have a clean doorstep but how clean can it be? It’s nice to sit on cut grass but we only need a small area to sit on. Un-cut grass is fabulous for wildlife whilst cut grass, over any great expanse, is fairly disastrous.

 Our local county council have a very big garden. In the summer (between spring and autumn equinox), they mow, with petrol mowers, at least once per fortnight, about an acre of grass in the centre of our village. There is also a completely separate recreation park which gets mown too. Once in a while, a human being or a pile of dog poop (like a little island) can be seen on this ‘lawn’ but rarely anything else. The mowers are noisy and smelly and the team of mowers are paid wages, it costs money and it costs wildlife. 

Verges especially are refuges from the intensive activities of gardeners, farmers and industrialists and we should be able to agree that they are a haven for wildlife that wildlife deserves. The commonest weeds that grow in them are essential to the butterflies we miss. Nettles are the foodplants of our most colourful species, dandelions and clover are the richest nectar sources for bees and are lost either temporarily or permanently to mowing and weed killing and the shade of 6 foot fences.  

I did have a mower!

Oh gosh, I’m getting over-excited and a bit ahead of myself. I did have a strimmer once, and a mower. But I sat in the garden trying to listen to the birdsong and I heard a neighbour mowing. I was a bit irritated, but the neighbour quite some distance away, had, and still has, every right to do it. My lawn ‘needed’ mowing soon too and a couple of patches ‘needed’ strimming where the mower wouldn’t reach. And that’s when I had a tiny epiphany. Firstly, when I start my mower up, that distant neighbour is probably going to be sat in the garden trying to listen to the birds and I’ll irritate them. I don’t want to be a contributor to the noise, I want to contribute to local tranquility and, as a piece in the world jigsaw, I will be contributing to World tranquility. 

My epiphany was followed by doing a stupid stupid thing. I never started the mower or strimmer again but that’s not it. There have been no problems I can identify by not using those horrible noisy things. We occasionally cut a patch to sit on with garden shears but can flatten the grass down by lying a blanket on it. Just like the girl in the flake advert. (The one from the 70’s!) She didn’t have it mowed first, she enjoyed the flowery meadow and together they sold the flake. But the stupid thing I did was to offer my mower and strimmer to my immediate next door neighbour. What was I thinking. It may be kind and generous to give things away but how would that stop the noise.

Fortunately it was a serendipitous event. My neighbour, a master gardener and wildlife expert said he already had sufficient kit and why was I getting rid. I said that I don’t really like a lot of cut grass, don’t need it and don’t like the noise of other people doing it so felt I should stop contributing to the noise myself. I honestly don’t know if I inspired him, he’s a very grounded and tranquil guy; but he stopped too. 

The grass grew

Whether you have a wildlife garden or not, it will come as no surprise to you that the grass grew. We also had some thistles, nettles and dandelions which are probably among the main reasons that people mow their little plots. The mower and strimmer, though still in working order, were thoughtfully recycled, as many other machines should be. This simple act cut down our fuel use, our emissions, our noise. By not buying another, somewhere along the great line of production and supply, we stopped plastic being made and moulded, slowed (by a microscopic amount) the oil industry by denying the birth of the machine and its transportation. It seems like nothing; it is in fact, nothing; but if everyone in our village did it, it would amount to something. That’s how I see doing nothing as helping.  

This’ll probably surprise you 

The thistles are beautiful when you really look at them and they feed many insects. We even had a meadow brown butterfly visit the garden (a first in any garden for me – they are something to enjoy when out and about but it came to me and it came because of the thistle!). The thistle flower ‘died’ back and the remaining seed head burgeoned, threatening to spread its dreaded seeds everywhere. But most of the seeds were gathered by goldfinches and oh… what a spectacle that was.

The beautiful goldfinch

We have, since, had thistles appear in places where we didn’t want them and had to take serious action to prevent them over-running us. Failure seemed inevitable at first but salvation came with the use of gloves and a trowel.  

Plane pollution

The pandemic (not that I want to praise it at all but it has serendipitously contributed some by-catch data) made our garden even more tranquil by quietening the traffic on the main road nearby and more noticeably, the air traffic.

In the late 1970s my chemistry teacher told me, and the rest of the class, at CSE level (not o level or A level) how much fuel it takes to get a plane off the runway. We all seemed to understand and were horrified. Mr. Wombwell of Kimberley Comprehensive School made an environmentalist out of me that day.  He told us about smog and pollution and even that pollution was implicated in warming the planet and threatening glaciers and polar regions. If our teachers knew it (at CSE level) and we knew it, and we weren’t renowned for being bright, then all the clever people must also have known and there had already been an Earth Day protesting about it… why did it continue to escalate and why is it still going on?

The planes flying over us are hardly a nuisance and are a minor irritation really blown out of proportion by my absolute hatred of them but, if they are a minor irritation to everyone else beneath them (lots of ones make bigger numbers is what I learned at school) and they are damaging our atmosphere and our planet; why are we still doing it, allowing it and tolerating it. Pilots tend to be well-educated and I can understand them wanting to fly for good reasons, such as medical and famine aid, diplomatic emergencies, disasters, defence against oppressors, that kind of thing.

But surely there is no pleasure or pride in hauling a can of folks around the World to sit by pools and clog sewers abroad, only to come back again and bore us all senseless with the pictures and stories. They can do all that here without the fossil fuel emissions and without creating clouds over my garden which, if I’m not mistaken, seem to form into sheets of cloud and change the weather itself. If that’s true, they’re making their own gardens drearier and seeking ever more keenly the delight of clear skies in drier climates where the effects of vapour trails (from planes I mean) are less obvious.

I only mention all this because, just like meadow brown butterflies and goldfinches, they are also flying over my garden. 

Reality Check 

Let’s have a reality check. All this may be too life-changing, too restricting and too much too soon for some people and to those people I say. Well I won’t say what I am really thinking but I ask, for the sake of the natural world that, deep down, they, perhaps you, really love and even show in the purchases of butterfly prints on polyester and plastic kitchen and bathroom ware, I ask that they just leave a corner of the garden to do its own thing.

And so let’s focus on that corner and start with a plant who got sent to the corner. 

Nettle assault 

Anyway, alongside the thistle was a nettle. It stung me as a brushed past it in shorts. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr! How dare it assault me in my own garden. But of course, as I have said, it is not my garden. This plot of land has always belonged, jointly, to the plants and animals and others who share it and my kind were late-comers and have over-populated it. Nevertheless, I rule this portion of an acre and treachery will not be tolerated. I assaulted my assailant mercilessly. I cut him down (nettles are diocious having male and female plants). Stewing him in boiling water, with a spoon of honey, my thwarted enemy made a fine cup of tea.

As soon, as we let the grass grow under our feet (so to speak) the nettles returned in greater numbers… yum, yum. Nettle tea and nettle soup and no mowing or noise; were we missing something? Like thistles, nettles in nuisance places get moved to a corner, where they can live without harming or scaring us. They are, as I have hinted extremely nutritious and have a wonderful history and folklore.

More importantly for the wildlife gardener, they are among the most important of foodplants for some of the prettiest and most important insects. The peacock, comma, small tortoiseshell and red admiral all feed on stinging nettles as caterpillars. If there are fewer stinging nettles and if they are mown too early in gardens, parks and roadside verges, there will be less, or even none of these beautiful butterflies in our lives or the lives of our children and grand children. And that’s without pollution, we can strim them into extinction (whilst contributing to global warming through fuel consumption) and we are doing exactly that; great multi-tasking!

For those of us who… HATE BUTTERFLIES (isn’t that a funny thing to say) there are other benefits to nettles. Moths, the buff ermine, small magpie, snout and angle shades moths, for instance, among others, feed on nettles as caterpillars. For those who HATE MOTHS there is still good reason to persevere and give a little bit of your paradise to nettles. Bats eat moths and hedgehogs eat (and need) many of the invertebrates that virtually depend on a nettle patch or wild corner. Bats are worth keeping healthy, they also eat midges and mosquitoes. If you have stung yourself on a nettle and find yourself anxiously looking around for a dock leaf of vigorously rubbing one into your skin to ease the stinging, spare a moment to praise the dock.  

In the Dock 

Everything the nettle does for insects, hedgehogs and bats, the dock does too but for a mostly different selection and by tolerating them, your garden biodiversity is growing and planetary health is returning. By doing nothing you are saving life on earth. If you must send your children to school and don’t want them to be bullied.Familiarising them with nettles as weapons of martial art can be very useful it was for me. It is immensely satisfying to stop and even chase a bully with a nettle and can be a great ice-breaker in your relationship with them, because they tend to pretend that it was all a bit of fun.

The dock beetle is a lovely little living jewel and the plant feeds the larvae of a wide range of other insects such as the old lady, gothic, red chestnut, yellow underwing, flame, shuttle-shaped dart, scarlet tiger, ruby tiger and buff ermine moths to mention just a few. The dock has many mouths to feed and deserves some respect. 

Look, if you have got other things to do, I understand. I have made my point and won’t know if you toddle off and do something else but please spare time for doing nothing too; it really really helps. If you are still here I’ll mention a few more plants. 

Dandelions 

I have heard terrible things said about dandelions. I love the sunshine and dandelions, to my simple eye, look like little sunshines. Our soul-mates in the natural world, bees love flowers too and dandelions are particularly rich and early source of nectar . The leaves are a tasty addition to a salad and provide food for some of our most colourful moths such as the tiger moths They are a traditional (but almost lost) part of our European diet having been supplanted by exotics that cost money. I cannot understand why a plant that provides so much fun for us as children, the dandelion clock and its ‘fairies’ can be so disrespected by us as adults. It can be removed from unwanted positions, or for eating, either with a garden fork or with a butter knife and a quick tug. 

Dandelion – a rich and early source of nectar

Clover 

Clover comes as two fairly common species but it is rarer, especially as a flower, than it once was and this once reliable plants demise at the blades of mowers, ploughs and the teeth of too many grazing animals as well as chemical treatments, has probably contributed to the shocking state of beekeeping (or the beekeeper’s lot) today as well as the demise of wild bees. White clover can produce lots and lots of honey in the hive and is prized by beekeepers. Red clover has nectaries that are often too deep for honey bees and so is reserved, and is highly important for our long-tongued bumblebees.

Both species could probably once be seen from the doorstep of every British dwelling along with the bees who need them.  The leaves are the food of the mother Shipton moth caterpillar who, as an adult, will bear the profile of her namesake (the good witch of Knaresborough) in the pattern of her wings. 

Bramble 

Another unwelcome plant likely to pop up in your nature reserve is bramble. There are many species, all with lovely flowers and most with vicious thorns. Their long and reliable flowering period is very important to bees, but there must be enough plants to sustain networks of colonies and not just the odd one here and there. You can keep yours trimmed and contained and if everyone else does the same there will be plenty of nectar from them for insects and plenty of insects for mammals and birds and other hungry insectivores. Bramble can provide free food too in the shape of copiuous amounts of delicious blackberries. They are great for birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes, but for us too and can be eaten on the spot or frozen, or baked in a pie and then frozen.   

Ivy 

Our next villain is ivy. It likes to climb on wood and stone so may not quite make it to your garden but it is not an enemy if you love wildlife. It flowers late in the season when most other flowers are gone and provides a rich nectar source when it is most needed, just before winter. Its strong network of stems provides sanctuary for small mammals and birds to breed and, being evergreen, it provides shelter and refuge all year long. It is probably the most important plant on this list with all things considered. The flowers are busy with bees by day but even more busy with a diversity of moths by night; essential food for bats who need to fatten up for winter hibernation. Its berries appear just when birds are starting to nest and when virtually no other fruits are available.  

Ivy berries
Ivy berries – such important food for birds at the end of winter

Strangling ivy or bindweed 

Curse me for blessing bindweed if you want to, but I love bumblebees and bumblebees love bindweed flowers and the beautiful convolvulus hawkmoth loves its leaves. It does grow fast and can cover large areas but is also easily controlled and, with no sting or spines is quite a satisfying plant to weed out. My experience is that it often provides useful shade for seedlings and delicate plants in the hottest parts of the summer.

I don’t pull out the roots but simply cut the stems if it is causing trouble and let it grow back again, to produce its wonderful nectar filled trumpets into which bumblebees eagerly disappear. Who can deny them that pleasure or the food they need? House sparrows in particular value the old stems of bindweed for nesting material and it is a delight to watch them gathering the building material to thatch the cradles of their unborn babes.   

Daisy chains and buttercup trails 

Perhaps not quite as important for pollinators as the others but likely to show themselves and utterly beautiful are daisies and buttercups. These are the most romantic plants in the British flora and it is inconceivable to me that anyone could be so hard hearted as to want rid of them or to not want them on the patch of land they rule. Daisies are not the most popular plants in the insect world but they flower from March to October and reliably bridge any gaps in nectar flow for those who need it.

Nectar Flow

And that brings me to the main point – Maintaining a continuous nectar flow is essential to many insects and the predators who rely on them. No matter how rich one source may be, they need another to follow it or each species declines locally and bit by bit ecosystems begin to collapse, as plants, as much in need of pollinators as insects are of pollen, nectar and leaves disappear and diminish. The effects surge up and down the food chain and, with no need of pesticides, tidiness alone can create a silent spring and a colourless summer.  

Peppered Moths

Both the peppered moths and elephant hawk moths tend to need wider swathes of wilderness than just the average garden, but gardens can be important in linking their habitats together like stepping stones. Peppered moths, famous for their colour variants following the industrial revolution when black moths began to become more common than the speckled variety because they are better camouflaged on sooty buildings. The speckles are an adaptation to camouflage on lichen which has been seriously diminished by polluted air. Their caterpillars look like twigs  feed on oak and birch but also beech which makes a great garden hedge for many species as well as sallow and a few other deciduous shrubs and trees. Elephant hawkmoth caterpillars feed on rosebay willow herb, ornamental fuscias and evening primrose. They will also eat the leaves of grape vines but are never likely to harm the plants. 

Enjoy the ‘weeds’

There are many more plants commonly called weeds that are essential to our biodiversity and would, in many cases, benefit from us doing less in our gardens rather than more and they are the true and original residents of The English Country Garden rather than the menargerie of exotic plants (often useless to native insects and birds) that fill such places today. Alien country desert is often a better description.  

Our summer collection will be in praise of the wild corner so watch this space…

We can, of course, do much more than nothing and enhance and enrich our little patch. But if you have little time or confidence or simply want to see nature recover by itself… doing nothing is a pretty good place to start. So please, if you haven’t tried it already, enjoy doing nothing and see what pleasures it brings.  

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