April can be a very lively month in our gardens, with birds nesting and feeding young, spring butterflies and bumblebees searching for nectar and in many urban areas foxes may be exploring their surroundings. For me the most exciting event of the month (and one of the most exciting events of the whole year) is the arrival of the first martins and swallows. These migrant birds navigate their way back to their nesting sites using familiar landmarks such as church towers and other tall buildings. You can put up a nest box for either species if you have a porch or area under the eaves of the house that they can approach easily. Also Male wrens will be showing off their round mossy nests this month. The male builds several nests and proudly presents them to his mate in the hope that one might suit her tastes. As insect activity in the garden increases this month, look out for all manner of small creatures around the garden including ladybirds, other beetles and some early moth species.
We are also very fortunate that the UK is a stronghold for the great crested newt. In my garden it is easily the commonest newt species, and this month the adults are making their way back to my main pond for breeding. I find them all over the garden, especially in the greenhouse and the compost heaps, under garden pots and recently I found one sitting on the front door step! They are extremely handsome creatures, and the males may reach a length of 15cms or more. They get their name from the wavy crest that runs the length of their body, although at this time of year, the common newt also has a small crest. Both species also have orange markings on their bellies, so how do we tell a great crested from a common newt? Colour is the main distinguishing feature, the great crested being almost black, while the common newt is brown or greeny-brown. If you have these newts in your garden, make sure you look after them. They are protected by law and it is an offence to injure them or disturb them .
A plant we may well be seeing in flower this month is The cowslip. with its delicate scent, and yellow blooms it is a real countryside spring flower, but in spite of that it actually makes a perfect garden plant. In terms of attracting wildlife to your garden, the cowslip is actually not one of the best . In some habitats in the wild it is used by the beautiful Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly as a caterpillar food plant, but this is not a butterfly that visits gardens. In spite of its apparent lack of wildlife attracting power, I always recommend it as a good wildflower for gardens because it will grow almost anywhere, and once settled it will seed with amazing ease to proliferate even in dense grass. It is a great species to introduce people to the idea of having some wildflowers in the garden, which soon encourages them to try more, benefiting all sorts of garden wildlife.
April is a great catching up month Ė all the things I meant to find time to do last month must be completed now. May is the month of most rapid growth in the garden, so itís all systems go now before the summer arrives! This is a great month to sow wildflower seeds, especially annuals like poppies and cornflowers. I will be scattering these into spaces in borders, or sowing them together in blocks for masses of colour in the summer. The poppies are great for attracting hoverflies and bees and the cornflowers bring butterflies and later on, goldfinches to the garden as these lovely birds enjoy the cornflower seeds. I also sow perennial wildflower seeds such as knapweed and field scabious now. These are sown in small pots in peat-free compost and planted out into borders, containers or meadows later in the year.
Our gardens really do seem to burst into life this month, with bird song in the air, the first swallows arriving and hopefully a little sunshine. Itís a time to mow grass paths, fill spaces in borders and just enjoy being outside.
Jenny is talking about great crested newts, cowslips in her wildlife garden