In this blog I will write what is growing and who is around both in my garden and at the Tayport Community Garden site as the seasons change. I pass by the garden site daily as I walk 1-3 greyhounds and you can read a bit more about my garden and see some pictures in my Tayport Grower profile. I hope you will be surprised at the high biodiversity in both places and start looking at what’s in your own patch.
What is biodiversity? – it’s a measure of the number of different species of plants and animals in an area.
Why is it important? – having a wide range of species in an area makes it more productive and more able to respond to climatic changes (either short or long-term). Biodiversity in food gardens can really help if you want to avoid using any chemical means of pest control. For example, black birds can be a big help with snail control, and frogs and toads love a slug snack. And of course, keeping your pollinators happy ensures good crops from any pollinator-reliant fruit and vegetables such as strawberries or tomatoes. Gardens also turn out to be important in supporting biodiveristy within broader countryside by providing green wildlife corridors in urban and agricultural areas. There is certainly good evidence that bumblebees are more abundant and diverse in urban gardens and brown sites compared to agricultural areas – which may be key to arresting their recent decline in numbers! I have several bumblebee nests in the stone dykes which surround my garden and its amazing to watch the “busy bees” loading up on flowers from dawn till dusk and seeing which plants they prefer.
Both RSPB Give nature a home and the RHS wildlife in the garden are running campaigns at the moment to encourage people to increase biodiversity in their gardens. I’m sure many of you have seen the “give nature a home” ads. Both these organisations have useful tips to make gardens more welcoming to insects, amphibians, birds and mammals.
Autumn is well and truly here, my favourite season, a time of crisp mornings and warm (sometimes) but shorter days. Its a time of berries and seeds and all animals are stocking up for winter. For tips on collecting seeds for yourself see the notes from the September workshop.
So what’s on offer and who is taking advantage of this bounty?
At the community garden site there is a wide variety of bushes, trees and wild plants, especially around the curling pond area and on the banks of the burn running round the sides.
Brambles –Rubos fruticosa– over 400 different varieties of this member of the rose family grow wild in the UK. A great food source for birds, small mammals and humans. I have my favourite bushes for collecting these delicious berries for jams, crumbles and cakes.
Brambles are growing amongst the trees adjacent to the curling pond. Best berries have gone but still time to collect some for yourself before the frosts come.
This thorny straggly bushy plant is also used as a safe nesting site by small birds and hedgehogs. Its flowers attract bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies and some caterpillars feed exclusively on its leaves.
Nettles – Urtica dioica – many of us relentlessly remove these from our gardens but they provide food for many butterflies, moths and their caterpillars. Nettles are a great indicator of soil fertility particularly nitrate and phosphate levels, so if you do battle with these at least they are telling you that you have great soil. Any hillwalkers out there may be familiar with seeing huge lush patches of nettles round the back of bothys. This indicates a popular “comfort break” spot for walkers. Pee is also good for your compost and saves water by not needing to flush. In a harsh winter sparrows will feed on nettle seeds when nothing else is left, but don’t put seed bearing nettles in your compost or you will have nettles everywhere!
Most gardeners just think of nettles as weeds, but they have a long history of practical use in Scotland. Until replaced by flax in the late eighteenth century, nettle fibres were used to weave fabric which could be made as fine as linen and was very strong and durable. The stems were harvested in autumn, dried and then pounded to soften them and then spun. Anyone out there fancy a go! Young nettle shoots were widely eaten in early spring in soup, mixed with oatmeal or as a tea and were a welcome source of vitamins and minerals. Young nettle shoots can also be used to dye cloth either a grey-green or yellow and have been used to dye Harris Tweed.
Elder – Sambucus nigra – a common plant in Scotland that provides two potential harvests for both animals and humans, flowers in late spring and berries in autumn. Historically, all parts of the plant had medicinal uses from skin complaints to piles! but now best known for making cordials, teas and wine from the flowers and berries.
Elder berries can also be used to dye wool and cloth and give a blue or purple colour.
Here’s a strange visitor to my garden- anyone know what this is ? It landed next to my bins last week while I was putting dead leaves in the brown bin.
And here’s one of my residents! This mouse and its family live under one of my sheds and have built a tunnel under the paving slabs where I sit that comes out under the bird feeders. They can regularly be seen popping out and picking up the seeds that have been dropped and then scurrying back to their tunnel.
I’ll try and get pictures of more of my residents for next time but some are more camera shy than the mice.