JENNY STEEL  April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden




How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden - BBC Easy Gardening

Growing the 10 Best Plants for Wildlife in your Garden - BBC Gardens Illustrated

A Flavour of April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden - Country and Border Life

The Rural Craft of Hedgelaying in Dorset - The Countryman

Managing your Garden in October  - Country and Border Life

The Historic Welsh Gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch - The Countryman

Looking after the Bees in your Garden - Daily Express

Making Wildlife Ponds the Easy Way - Daily Express

Wings over Mull - a Centre for Birds of Prey - The Countryman

A New Garden for Wildlife with Butterflies in Mind - Butterfly Conservation

The Wildlife Art of Ian and Richard Lewington - Limited Edition Magazine

'I went to Noke and Nobody Spoke' - Fascinating Otmoor - Limited Edition Magazine

Gardening on the Wild Side of Town - New Consumer Magazine

Peter Parks and the Great Rainforest Project - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in January - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in May - Limited Edition Magazine

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In April my wildlife garden is a hive of activity – literally.  The honeybees from our three beehives are making the most of any pollen they can find to feed their offspring in the comb.  Bumblebees too are active this month.  The huge queens have emerged from hibernation and they too will be searching for pollen and nectar before seeking a suitable nest site.  This will usually be an underground disused mouse nest still with its bundle of dried grass, but a queen bumblebee will take her own nesting material into a suitable hole in a bank.    And it is not just the bees that are out celebrating the change in the weather.  My old hedges will be full of nesting birds, and some species including robins and dunnocks will already be feeding their newly hatched fledglings.   


Birds rather dominate my garden this month as migrants, including the chiff chaffs and blackcaps whose songs define this time of year, return.  Hopefully willow warblers too will sing their cascading notes from the hawthorn trees on my boundary as they did last year.  And I’ll be keeping my eyes skyward for the first swallows and ensuring that there is mud around the edges of the new pond for the house martins to use for building their nests.   I will be hoping too for butterflies, especially the wonderful little holly blue.  The female lays her eggs in April on the flower buds of holly, or if her preferred plant is not available, on dogwood.   Look out also for small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma and brimstone butterflies, all of which have spent the winter months in hibernation and have emerged, often the worse for wear, with tattered wings.   

Gardening in April is fast and furious – so much to do and not enough time!  Vegetables to sow, lawns to cut and borders to tidy now that hibernating insects have emerged.  I will be planting addition small wildflowers in my recently established mini-meadows, and squeezing last minute bare rooted native shrubs into the spaces in my new hedges where there have been winter casualties.


Sow Cornfield Annuals

If spring makes you feel energetic and keen to get out and do something new and exciting in your garden, there is no better month to sow a stunningly colourful area of cornfield annuals.  Poppies, corn marigolds, corncockles, cornflowers and corn chamomile - available as a seed mix from many seed suppliers - are all annual wildflowers that were once common on field margins, but are now less frequently seen.  Begin by preparing an area of bare soil in full sun, making sure you remove any invasive perennials such as thistles, dandelions or couch grass.  Rake the soil down to a fine tilth and scatter the seed as evenly as possible over the area.  You may want to add a handful of silver sand to the seed, to aid distribution.  Walk over the area, gently pushing the seed into the soil but resist the temptation to rake the seed in too deeply.  Some of these species rely on light to trigger  their germination.  Water the area if the weather is dry but little else is needed to create your cornfield patch.


Look out for: Cowslips

Surely one of our most beautiful wildflowers, the cowslip is nothing if not versatile.  Huge and golden in damp meadows, or tiny amongst delicate grasses and other flowers on a dry bank or roadside, the cowslip has much to offer the gardener including a delicious, subtle fragrance.  This plant has many country names including the intriguing ‘St. Peter’s Keys’.  The flower was thought to represent the keys to the gates of Heaven, and a new cowslip sprang up wherever St Peter’s keys were laid on the ground.  Rather less romantically, the name cowslip probably originates from ‘cow slop’ as it was noticed that the blooms preferred the richer soil beneath a cowpat!  In times past country girls made cowslip balls or ‘tistie tosties’ from these once abundant flowers.  After gathering the heads and winding them into balls with the aid of twine, girls would play catching games with them to predict the name of their future husband.  In many villages they were also used to decorate the altar of the church at Easter time.


The Tiny Garden by Jane McMorland Hunter.  Francis Lincoln  ISBN 978-0-7112-2813-9

Very few of us are fortunate enough to own a large garden - indeed most people prefer to have a tiny space to cope with.  But if you are one of the latter, this book could be a really useful addition to your bookshelf.  Beautifully laid out with inspiring photos of real, small gardens, this book would fill anyone with inspiration.  Chapters cover ideas for all small outside spaces including front gardens, patios, balconies, passageways and roof gardens and there are additional sections on planning, lighting, and growing in containers.  There are recommendations for plants of all kinds, including trees that thrive in small spaces, chapters on maintenance and planting, and ideas for creating additional interest including water features and suitable garden furniture. 

This is a complete gardening book dedicated to small spaces.  Add a bird box, some feeders and a tiny pond, and you could have the perfect small wildlife garden.

© Copyright Jenny Steel 2017