Gardening for Wildlife (and photography)

We have a small front and back garden which have completely different conditions and uses. Whilst the back is an extension to the house, the front is in full public view.  With this in mind the back was designed by James to be tranquil and shady, with quite a few trees, and, although there are some flowers, this is not the focus.  The back also has a pond, and is designed with both wildlife and us in mind.  The front is another story!

The front garden is south facing and is blasted by the sun for much of the day.  It is also not at all sheltered and can have the wind whipping across it.  It has been designated as a place for flowers, and, hopefully insects.  I am therefore packing in as many flowers, colours and as much  movement in as possible.  The hope is that I will be able to take photos of both the flowers and the insects that they attract, but also have something vivid that will eventually work through all the seasons.

I started the garden a year ago, and have a few plants that have really worked well.  One of these is verbena bonariensis.  I have tried growing this for a few years from seed, but never got any to germinate.  I was therefore over the moon when my mother-in-law gave me three small plants that had seeded in her garden.  Last year they attracted the white butterflies, as well as the occasional tortoiseshell.  This year?  Well, it is a good year for Painted Ladies, and the good news is that they have found my garden.  Saturday was the first sunny day in a while and we had three Painted Ladies in the garden, all on the Verbena.

As I was hoping it would attract insects I planted it next to the path, this makes photography easier.  I took a few photos yesterday, but the wind made it a little difficult at times, but the Summer is hopefully young and I will get some good shots at some point.  Here is one of my better shots – have you seen one of these this year?

Painted Lady on Verbena
Painted Lady on Verbena

Front Garden – Insects and Flowers

I had wanted to share my successes in the sphere of growing produce, but, at the moment it feels as though the fates have conspired against me and sent plagues of slugs and clouds to stop me in my tracks. Instead I thought I would highlight something that has worked better than I thought.
For some time we have been wondering what to do with the front garden. So, after a year or two of indecision (a relatively short amount of time for us) we decided to remove the lawn completely (this part of the decision was made relatively easily as other than looking green lawns are relatively dull, it was deciding what to put in its place that took the time).
The aim of our back garden is to produce somewhere tranquil and shady with variations on a theme of white and green. It is somewhere for us and for the birds (assuming we can keep the aforementioned killing machines away). The front is a complete contrast to the back. It is south facing, remains relatively warm in the winter, although the wind whips visciously across it, and we don’t feel the need for tranquility. I wanted something that would brighten the day whenever I saw it. It was also meant to become a haven for insects whilst allowing me to grow flowers to photograph. (Following the destruction of some of my brassicas I am beginning to change my mind about the first objective).

Where the back garden has been controlled and planned, the front has become a riot of colour and, as a consequence, a haven for insects. The planting started at the end of June (although we already had some thyme, sage and oregano installed from an earlier attempt to work out what to do with the space) and mainly consisted of some grasses that we had bought for the back but which did not now fit with the current plans (I think we are onto at least Plan K), seedlings that if I didn’t plant somewhere would probably die, and some Verbena and Osteospermum kindly donated by James’ mum. As you can see, it looked a little sad when initially planted in June.

Now, thanks in part to some pot marigolds that I was careless enough to allow to self seed last year, and the lashings of rain, the garden has been transformed. I planted some white cosmos which has reached 5′ in height, and, for the first time I have managed to get some rudbeckia to grow. I have today just done the first bit of dead heading on these, and they are full of flower, with many more to open. However, the star of the show has to be the Verbena Bonariensis. This has flowered solidly for more than a month and looks in no hurry to stop. It positively glows in low light, and, more than anything else in the front garden, has become a magnet for butterflies, bees and hoverflies. What’s more, they sit so still on this flower that even I can manage to get a good photograph (and lots of poor ones) of the butterflies.

(In case you are wondering, we are going to put some light granite gravel in the centre section to make moving about the area much easier and less muddy.) I have also tried growing produce in the front garden, but the butterflies found the brassicas and the slugs found the peppers and herbs. (Touch wood, but the fennel seems to be doing OK at the moment.)