Growing vegetables in a wildlife-friendly way means providing a safe home for plants and creatures which share our garden space. The species in question may be neither rare nor particularly noteworthy but I derive a lot of satisfaction from the preservation of the ordinary and familiar.
Each stroll up the garden path to visit my vegetable patch continues the personal relationship which I cultivate with the soil and its inhabitants. At this time of year, I am provided with the thrill of seeing flocks of seed-eating birds rising to take refuge in the trees from decrepit stems of last summer's willowherb and teasels. They flit amongst the branches until I have passed, then drop down like musical notes to continue their feasting.
Sparrows are among their number, familiar almost to the point of being overlooked. But the recent trend for non-porous surfaces and over-tidy gardens has robbed these little birds of essential feeding and their numbers are plummeting. In many parts of the country, sparrows are now conspicuous by their absence. Happily, goldfinches are always on my plot around now, thankfully not yet rare. Long may they remain.
Enjoyment of and compassion for wild creatures goes hand-in-hand with allowing a natural balance to evolve. Conversely, the very act of cultivating land for the maximum benefit of a few selected plants upsets this ecological order. So compromise is the order of the day.
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At this time of year it is tempting – and traditional – to have cleared away all debris, wiping the gardening slate clean for another season. Certainly where foodstuffs are grown, I am happy to hoe and pull the weeds to oblivion, remove slug and snail hidey-holes and put the patch to bed for winter.
But around the edges priorities are different. At the margins I deliberately nurture annual and perennial wild flowers which will attract beneficial insects. I also planted a mixed hedge of native species to feed and house many more a little under a year ago. The blend of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, wayfaring tree and buckthorn has taken well. Flattened cardboard boxes fitted around their stem bases has thwarted the weeds which threatened to take over.
I have renewed this organic mulch periodically but now it is decision time. The quandary is whether or not to clear the strip of soil immediately adjacent, rank with blackened remnant wild flowers (also known as weeds), or leave it as is.
I am tempted to clear the hedge bottom but equally aware that there will be countless sheltering friends and foes amongst the tangled untidy mess. What to do for the best, that is the question?
How to Grow your own Fruit and Veg by Joe Hashman (ISBN 978-905862-77-1) is £9.99.