Open Garden - Where the Wild Things Are

Our wildlife garden was open for self-guided tours on Saturday 05 June 2021 for 'Have a Grow Day' and we had over 50 visitors from the local community. We had a lovely day sharing our haven for wildlife and providing an outdoor classroom for our visitors to relax, exercise and learn about nature.

Front garden - shaded glade

We have a very small north-facing front garden that is in shade most of the day. We laid paving stones and gravel with large rocks added to add visual interest. It is planted with native shade tolerant woodland plants and exotic flowering shrubs to attract a variety of insects.

The shaded conditions seem ideal for a small populations of self-seeded sweet violet, ferns and lords & ladies. The fence between our neighbours front garden is dominated by a large mature evergreen honeysuckle that provides plentiful nectar for insects such as moths and smells lovely.

Our garden lies on light free-draining soils of sand, alluvial silts and clay in the Mole Valley between Brockham and Betchworth. We manage it for wildlife, people and pets with numerous Gold Awards from Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Side gate, ditch & fields

A gate in our privet hedge opens into an arable field that contains large populations of common poppy, scented mayweed and common fumitory during the summer months. You can see a small footbridge across a field ditch that gives access to a meadow lying alongside the full length of our rear garden.

We have an old field hedge on this boundary that has 12 species of trees, shrubs and climbers. It provides nesting habitat for a variety of birds, including robin, house sparrow, wren, song thrush, blackbird and dunnock. It is home a very active bank vole.

Entrance to rear garden & patio

You enter our rear garden from the parking area through a wooden gate between our workshop (blue building on left) and house. It opens immediately onto a patio with raised beds for herbs that was made using waste materials left over from friends and neighbours building projects. You can just make out the pallet bench on the right above which is mounted a sparrow nest box that is used every year to raise at least two broods.

Allotment - fruit & vegetables

The area closest to the camera is for fruit with strawberries growing in a raised bed next to the path. Behind is a row of rhubarb (we love fruit crumble!) and then some blackcurrant, loganberry, gooseberry and blueberry bushes. At the back is raspberry with blackberry growing wild in the hedge.

We use old tyres and hazel poles cut from coppice stools in our hedge to grow runner beans, broad beans and sweet peas. The wire fence used to exclude wild rabbits is covered in a beautiful small flowered clematis and at the back are two compost bins.

Hedgerow & long grass margins

In this image you can see our old field hedge on left hand side that contains 12 species of native trees, shrubs and climbers, including wild cherry (in foreground), hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, guelder rose, ivy, honeysuckle and dog rose.

We allow the grass to grow long in margin between the hedge and rest of the lawn. This supports dog's mercury, cow parsley, bush vetch, ox-eye daisy and ground-ivy and provides shelter for crickets, grasshoppers, slow worm, grass snake and bank vole.

Conditions appear ideal for local populations of meadow brown, ringlet, small, Essex and large skipper butterflies, as well as wasp spiders, hoverflies, solitary and bumblebees.

Allium & totem pole beds

This new area of our wildlife garden highlights our two main passions, nature and art. The raised bed at the front contains various allium bulbs, poppies, Macedonian scabious and sweet rocket (tall white flower) to attract insects.

Behind this flower bed is a circular area made using broken tiles from our roofing works, cut logs and old pallet box at the back. The Australian aboriginal style totem poles were made using redundant fence posts. A semi-circular dead hedge at the back provides cover for small mammals, reptiles and birds.

Woodland glade

After a long career managing commons and woods in Surrey it is great to have a mature field maple tree at the bottom of our garden. It attracts a lot of wildlife and is used by our resident whitethroat as a high point for singing.

In the foreground you can see a rowan (mountain ash) tree that lends its scientific name to our company title. An arbor rescued out of a skip and pallet fencing creates an entrance to a small glade that supports bluebell, selfheal, green alkanet, periwinkle, small-flowered cranesbill and creeping cinquefoil.

The long grass area in the foreground contains ladies bedstraw, woodruff, common knapweed, field scabious and bird's-foot trefoil. We find field voles and shrews under the reptile refuges alongside slow worm and juvenile grass snakes.

Bug hotel & compost area

Located at the bottom of our garden in the woodland glade is our main composting area. Screened by a dead hedge using the cuttings from trees and shrubs are three bays made from used pallets as well as another plastic compost bin.

This area is directly below our large mature field maple that has elder bushes underneath that every year provide a good crop of flowers and berries. At the back of this image you can just make out blackthorn and sallow scrub growing by the river, which is why we get visited by willow warbler and chiffchaff.

In the foreground you can see our new insect hotel made from layers of used pallets containing a variety of waste materials, including brick rubble, sticks, fir cones and logs. We have built a raised flower bed on top so that it has a green roof to provide nectar in spring for emerging insects.

Bill's Bothy - outdoor classroom

Named after the boys grandfather who gave them a large shed for sleepovers and parties, it was made from decent timber left from the old shed. Hanging flower boxes are full of strawberry plants to provide a sweet snack during gardening breaks and the entrance is 'guarded' by two pyracantha bushes.

We decorated it with a variety of ornaments and a pair of robins succesfully raised a brood of chicks in an old metal lamp. The boys now have a gym there whilst we use it to relax and teaching wildlife gardening work shops. 

Chicken bed for bees & butterflies

This new raised bed was created on the site of the old chicken coup and run, which was made from the frame and netting of the boys old trampouline! After the last hen died we decided to create an 'insect cafe' or nectar-rich flower bed for butterflies and bees using lavender, catmint, herbs and wall flowers.

On the left is a bird bath made from a redundant wooden cube frame, roof tiles and an old metal dustbin lid. The metal flower heads trap rainwater drunk by a variety of insects. We made a climbing frame for honeysuckle and clematis using hazel poles cut from our hedgerow.

Insect cafes - sugar & protein

Following a sustainability theme we rescue, repurpose, repair, reuse and recycle a wide variety of materials and items to make features for wildlife. After identifying a lack of flowers in different parts of the garden we decided to create 'insect cafes' with wildflowers and herbs to provide nectar (sugar) and pollen (protein).

We have 11 species of wild grass growing in our lawn areas but as grass constantly invades flower boarders it was clear we needed raised beds. A local council had four redundant metal wire waste bins that were ideal. We filled the bottom two thirds of each bin with brick, concrete and mortar rubble to create a  stone wall or rock face habitat.

Then we placed a fabric liner on top and laid a hessain sand bag full of soil along each side the bin into which we will plant some creeping thyme and cascading rockery plants. The central void was filled with a general purpose compost mix and planted with more nectar-rich wild flowers.

Wildlife pond - wet paradise

It attracts nine species of dragonfly and damselfly, as well as newts, frogs, toads and grass snakes. We used recycled materials to build a wooden bench, raised flower beds and small patio to sit and enjoy the pond and its wildlife.

Next to this wildlife pond (no fish) is a large log pile where newts, frogs, toads and snakes spend the winter. The large amount of marginal plants and dense plant cover around pond makes this a perfect place for wildlife.

Gravel garden - cultivating chaos

This gravel garden located next to our decked area was inspired by the gravel beach at Dungeness. It is 'cultivating chaos' in that we allow the plants to self-seed each year and only move out plants to reduce dominance by any one species. Last year saw lots of ragged robin, knapweed, poppies and corncockle.

The outer border comprises a raised bed planted with a variety of flowering shrubs and taller perennials. A main feature is lavender bushes that attract large numbers of bees and other insects in the spring and summer. Any excess plants are moved after flowering to other areas of our garden.

Wher​e the w​ild ​t​hings are!

After five years adapting our garden to make more space for nature and add features to attract wildlife we decided in 2020 to survey the wild plants and animals living there. So I took part in the BTO Garden Survey 2020 and spent about 2 hours a day catching, identifying and recording wildlife.

We were pleased to discover that over 170 species of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses have colonised or been planted in our garden. This diversity of wild plants has attracted 300 species of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that visit to feed, drink and breed. It really is a place 'where the wild things are'.