Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Making a Garden for Wildlife

I was wielding the hoe through a recently planted border (AKA weed seed magnet), cursing taproots and apologising to dormant tulip bulbs wrenched from their summer slumbers by my frenzied hoe-flailing, when a lady stopped by and asked if I might give a short talk to the local gardening club about the development of the gardens at Le Grys Farm. Uncertain as to whether she had heard me begging the bulbs' forgiveness, but fairly certain that her sudden appearance had caused me to yelp in surprise (I imagine the bulbs probably did likewise when they were dragged from the soil moments earlier, if indeed bulbs yelp), I agreed to speak and immediately set about wondering what on earth this lady thought I might have to say.


The Farmhouse Garden
I have blogged in the past about gardeners’ minds being fixed in the future* and as I watched the lady leave, I realised that I had been so busy planning the next area of garden that there had been no time to appreciate the more established borders. Thanks to that lady, I found the time to look at the garden and to reminisce on what was originally here.

The dining room in 2000
When we bought Le Grys Farm in 2000, the 16th century Farmhouse had been empty for 20 years. There was electricity in just one or two rooms and there were no bathrooms, which was marginally inconvenient as I was pregnant with twins and the nearest public loo was 2 miles away. There was a Wisteria, which I can only describe as pollarded to within an inch of its life. Obviously this did little to aid the bathroom issue, but it did fill me with hope that we might one day have a garden. The only other plant in the garden was a walnut tree which was too young to fruit. I left the walnut to continue its childhood, put up wires for the Wisteria and set it free (in as much as anything trained along a wire is ever free), then I planted Old English lavender across the front of the house, had the lawn seeded and a gravel drive put in. That's it. We didn't live here and everything had to be very easily maintained in our absence. 

The Farmhouse Garden 2012
Over a decade flew by before we were able to move to Norfolk. Clearly a garden comprising a walnut, a Wisteria and a lavender hedge is hardly going to satisfy a gardener's desire to grow things, so I set about creating the first of a number of gardens here. The walnut was finally getting its act together on the fruiting front, so I sited the garden paths around it. I propagated and purchased plants to add to those I brought with me: Geum rivale which had been dug from my aunt’s garden and had flourished in two of my gardens since; and Salvia uliginosa, which I bought at a plant fair and hung from the back of my baby daughter’s pushchair. That daughter is now 12 years old, and The Farmhouse Garden is three. 

The Farmhouse Garden 2012
When we purchased the farm, there was an agreement with the vendor that he would have use of the farmyard and some buildings until 2010. In actual fact, they were used by him for a couple more years. By then, an ecological survey had revealed that there was a low biodiversity presence in the farmyard. I decided that this had to change. Starting with my plant selections for The Farmhouse Garden, I would garden with wildlife in mind.

The Farmhouse Garden 2014
Apart from providing shelter and sustenance for wildlife, The Farmhouse Garden has to be easily maintained within four hours a week, for it is a space to be enjoyed by holiday makers. Quite rightly, guests at The Farmhouse want their family pet to have a holiday too, so dogs are welcome. The lawn becomes a space for ball games, bouncy castles and barbecues so I cannot afford to be too precious about its state, or that of the plants. Toddlers will toddle through borders; dogs have a knack of leaving the path, so plants must be resilient to the rigours of family life. They must also benefit wildlife, be beautiful for the guests to enjoy, and not cost the earth to replace.

The Farmhouse Garden 2015
Propagating and shopping for plants is always a pleasure. Making a garden is a privilege; sharing that garden with guests and wildlife is a joy. Three years after beginning the first of the gardens here, the days of wondering where the wildlife is are well and truly over. There are pollinators and birds aplenty. We share our gardens with bats, owls, newts and ducks; and thanks to extensive fencing, we see, but are rarely troubled by rabbits, hares and deer. We still have a long way to go in making our gardens here, but now that I have taken the time to look at The Farmhouse Garden, I am surprised to see that we have already come a long way. 

*http://thegardeningshoe.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/f-hybrid-gardening-contortionists.html

36 comments:

  1. It looks wonderful. I'd like to see more...including what that dining room looks like today.

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    1. Thanks Ricki. That's a point - I should have put some photos up. I'll put together a then and now post.

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  2. Sterling work m'dear, will you be considering wildlife in the making of t'other gardens?

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    1. Absolutely I am! I will post about the other gardens over the next few months.

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  3. It looks great.. We've changed our garden to be as wildlife friendly as possible and it's working a treat.. lots of bees, birds etc.. and now we're so pleased to have hedgehogs.. :o)

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    1. I have hedgehog envy! I haven't seen or heard any here. Making the garden more welcoming for wildlife makes a huge difference.

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  4. I totally approve of your gardening philosophy. A garden is to be enjoyed and not something just to be looked at and admired.

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    1. It is - and it is always encouraging to discover robust plants. I am compiling a list of robust plants and there are some surprises in there!

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  5. just beginning to plant for our birds.
    And getting startled when I step into the garden and disturb them from the Shiny New flowers! Sunbirds looking for nectar and white eyes harvesting aphids.

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    1. Fabulous! It makes such a difference.

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  6. It looks lovely, and inspiring! You guys have done a fantastic job and have the best approach when it comes to garden maintenance, by being more relaxed with its usage by your guests.

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    1. Thank you! Being scared of damaging eyes, I have almost completely stopped staking. If a plant needs staking, it is moved elsewhere and something more sturdy is put in its place. It makes for a more relaxed garden (and gardener).

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  7. I'd like to see your farmhouse how it looks now, Sarah. Do your kids help you in the farm? I love this idea of Agro Tourism.

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    1. The children help with the lettings business in their holidays, but they are surprisingly indoorsy, especially given that they have such an outdoorsy mother!

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  8. How great to look back and see how far the garden has come! Very lovely, and how nice that the public and the wildlife get to enjoy it too!

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    1. I do think that sharing a garden is one of the most rewarding things gardeners can do. A local lady was speaking about opening her garden for the first time this summer. She had obviously been quite worried about it beforehand and had ended up taking a week on holiday from her job to get the garden looking as good as possible, but afterwards she said it was well worth it and would encourage everyone to do it!

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  9. I really enjoyed this post. I would love to hear your talk to the garden club; I am sure it will be very interesting! It is fascinating looking back on the development of a garden. You have created a truly special place.

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    1. Thank you. The talk seemed to go OK - the audience didn't fall asleep or throw sandwiches at me (phew). Taking time to look back has encouraged me in my work going forward, so the lady who stopped by to ask me to speak, did me a great favour.

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  10. The garden has developed well in the short time you have been working on it.
    Taking photos and writing a blog add an interesting dimension to recording progress and change over time. You can then look back as well as forward.

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    1. You're so right, Brian. It is one of the many joys of blogging.

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  11. What a satisfying achievement having come so far with your project. I must admit I would have taken great pleasure in restoring property such as this., keep up the good work its looking fantastic..

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  12. Hooray for you!! I love that you had a biodiversity study done and then made the necessary changes. :o) Your farm sounds wonderful. I wish I loved closer so I could visit.

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    1. It would be fab if you could visit. Give it another couple of years and I might have dug through all the clay and rubble and finished more gardens!

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  13. Hi Sarah, I would say that you couldn't ask for better than starting off with a wisteria and lavender. When we moved to where we are now, we bough lavender with us. We had to leave the wisteria because it was large but it wasn't long before we bought another one to wrap around this new house.

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    1. It won't take long to wrap around your house! Although Wisteria is a bit of a thug and wants to rip off the downpipes and climb in the windows, it is a fantastic wildlife plant and there is invariably at least one nest in there. I just love the scent. I can forgive its excesses just for a few nostil-loads of that fragrance!

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  14. Really interesting to hear the back story of your house and garden Sarah. It always seems such an idyllic place to live - just hoping that you now have a loo or two!!

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    1. Thank you - I have a collection of loos these days!

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  15. So great to hear how it all started and to see the photos.
    Like the other commenting I would have loved to see some photos of the inside of today. How many weeks a year do you have paying guests? Lucky you having a walnut tree, I think that would be my number one on a wish-list to inherit!

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    1. We have paying guests in the large farmhouse during all the school holidays of the year and occasional weekends. The smaller cottage (which you can't see on this photo) is available pretty much all year round. I should have done a before and after of the interior - it didn't dawn on me, so I will post some interior photos next month. The walnut took so long to get around to fruiting - I think it was 12 years. I had wanted to move it when we bought the house and grow it elsewhere, but never got around to it, so I simply sited the paths around it!

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  16. Great to hear about the house and see the progress through some photos. There is nothing more important than encouraging wildlife to me. I'd love to have House Martins set up camp on my house as they are just down the road on several houses. I can't wait to get more butterfly friendly plants in the ground, but I do need to clear the garden a little as well...always difficult!

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    1. I was in a garden earlier in the summer and I was supposed to be listening to a meeting, but kept getting sidetracked by house martins feeding their young. They were so absorbing! Here's hoping the colony extends to your house eventually.

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  17. Starting a garden from scratch can be quite a daunting thing but good on you for sticking to your guns and mantra the entire journey Sarah. It would have, I suspect been so easy to get side tracked.
    Your gardens are beautiful now and a credit to all the effort you have made.

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