Before we moved to the country, we had a tiny city garden most of which looked after itself. It was a steep learning curve having a much bigger plot to take care of with very little experience and keeping on top of all the jobs was difficult. The garden became over run with weeds and I was looking for a quick solution to deal with the problem when I found a bottle of weed killer that the previous owners had left behind. I read the instructions. They were terrifying. I had to keep it away from any humans, animals or any plants that I didn’t want to annihilate completely. That didn’t really seem practical and I questioned the wisdom of spraying something so toxic around our garden. So, the only other option was to pull all the weeds up by hand. This seemed a bit arduous (it was very overgrown) but it was actually a strangely satisfying experience. When you are pulling up everything by hand it also makes you question whether they ALL really need to be removed. I ended up leaving a clump of nettles for the butterflies to lay their eggs on and dandelions for the guinea pigs to eat. I now quite like seeing the daisies, buttercups and dandelions in my lawn. The bees like them and it adds interest. The guinea pigs have something to nibble and the kids can make daisy chains.
I don’t use insecticides or slug pellets and there isn’t any problem with excess pests. The birds seem to do a good job of dealing with this issue which is how it should be. I do feed the birds in Winter which hopefully keeps their numbers up and help them view our garden as an attractive place to live.
We also acquired a lot of hedges with our new plot which require care and attention. We avoid doing anything to the hedges between March and August as this is bird nesting season (it’s illegal to disturb the nest of any wild bird) and we waited until much later before we started our conservative pruning, terrified we would end up with tiny dead birds scattered all over the lawn. When you are pruning by hand, you can discover things you might otherwise miss if you were manically wielding a chainsaw. Our hedges have all sorts jumbled up in them. We’d been here a year before I realised there was a small apple tree hidden amongst some hedging.
It does start to make you question how much interference your garden should have. Whilst clearing a small piece of land last Winter I found a small hibernating dormouse on the ground. She (for it turned out she was a she) must have been turfed out of her nest as I pulled ivy and weeds out. I called the local wildlife sanctuary who advised she should go back in her nest if I could find it. Unfortunately, an extensive search revealed nothing, so she went to the centre to hibernate there. They called me in Spring to collect her so she could be released back to the same spot I found her. I don’t think this would have such a happy ending if I had been using a strimmer. Dormice are a protected species but so much of our wildlife is now in decline, I think most species could do with a little consideration these days. Hedgehogs’ reduction in numbers are well documented, I remember them being fairly common in my childhood but sadly not any more. Even rabbit numbers have plummeted, and they are pretty good at replacing themselves!
I’m now quite careful with my gardening and keep in mind that I could be disturbing someone’s home. It has made me look at the garden differently. The pile of wood I keep meaning to move has been left where it is as a home for insects for instance. Other animals such as voles and toads also use these little nooks and crannies to nest in. I’m looking forward to having a pristine vegetable patch this summer (OK, maybe not pristine) but the rest of the garden can be a little more ‘relaxed’ and hopefully the local wildlife will thank me for a safe haven.