Gardening with Wildlife

I cannot say that I garden for wildlife but I do garden with it. It is all around us and, as far as possible, I work with a live and let live attitude.

Greenfly, blackfly, whitefly, slugs, snails, vine weevil larvae, carrot root fly, narcissus fly are all present in the garden and these and many others are simply part of life and I take no measures to eliminate them –  that is, I don’ try to kill them. They rarely occur in numbers which cause disaster but rather cause an occasional set back which quickly pass.

Blackfly can be a nuisance on Broad Beans but, by sowing in autumn, the beans are harvested before blackfly season arrives. Carrot root fly can be frustrated by a simply physical barrier. Narcissus fly, which could cause serious damage to our extensive snowdrop collection, can be outwitted by simply breaking the surface of the soil immediately after the foliage of the bulbs dies back – the fly lays its eggs at the base of the foliage and the larvae gain access to the bulbs by following the tunnel left in the soil by the fading leaves. When the soil is broken up these tunnels are closed.

Frogs are a joy in the garden and it is wonderful to observe the phases of development from spawn to tadpole to frog. However, frogs regularly hibernate in the soil by burrowing into soft ground and the local badgers and foxes will occasionally dislodge prized bulbs as they seek a mid-winter meal. It took me some time to realise that this was what was happening when a clump of particularly liked snowdrop bulbs were scattered on the grass several mornings in a row. I moved them elsewhere.

Woodmice are the funniest little creatures and regularly seek shelter in glasshouses in winter. A few years back we had one which would happily take peanuts from my hand and seemed to imagine it was invisible if it closed its eyes. Besides shredding some newspaper they do little or no damage though precious seed is best kept well out of their reach. On the other hand, their relatives, the rats are not welcome though they are difficult to discourage. As we keep hens there is always food for them to scavenge.

One wildlife mystery has always been the lack of rabbits in our garden. We will see rabbits very often along the road only a short distance from the house but we haven’t seen one in the garden for nearly 30 years and this was something we could never explain until all was revealed one day when we saw a small, long-tailed and frenetically active creature dashing along shrub to shrub, up and down trees and in and out between plants. We have a resident stoat. It took several days of careful observation to locate its home and I have taken great care since to never disturb it – the benefits of a stoat in the garden are wonderful.

We have bird feeders in sight of the house windows and enjoy watching the wide range of visitors and are especially delighted when a stranger arrives – the occasional Blackcap or Chiffchaff or the Long-tailed Tits which usually flit along the boundary of the gardens but rarely come to feed. However, my special birds are our pheasants – presently, one cock and two hens – which await me each morning as I go to let out the hens and bring their breakfast of rolled barley and Layer’s Pellets. Mind you, the Hooded Crow, Wood Pigeons and Magpies all wait for this morning delivery also but never come as close as the pheasants who run to meet me when I arrive with food in hand. Hopefully, they will breed successfully again this year and arrive with their clutches of chicks later in the year. Last year, we had 16 pheasants in the garden by mid summer.

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Mother pheasant bringing her new clutch for a stroll on the lawn last year
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And bringing them on a tour of the flower beds en route to the feeding post.
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Having pheasants in the garden gives close-up views of the beautiful colours of the cock.

These pheasants are part of our garden. They will nonchalantly walk past while we are working and present themselves in a more persistent manner when they would wish to be fed. Fortunately,  I had my camera in hand for such an occasion this afternoon:

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I had been watching this dark hellebore for some days, waiting for it to open so I could photograph it against the bright yellow-marked snowdrop in the background.
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I lay on my tummy on cold and wet grass to get the angle I wanted and…..
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I was photobombed by a pheasant who wanted a snack and who wouldn’t go away.
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Now, she is happy with a pinch of rolled barley at her feet.

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And keeps an eye on me also…
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before toddling off again with a full tummy.

Paddy Tobin

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12 thoughts on “Gardening with Wildlife

  1. I love this post! I had to look up what a stoat is, we call them weasels here in the US. The shots of the mother pheasant with chicks and accompanying commentary endearing. I have the same attitude as you, plant enough for everyone and live with the wildlife. Mine is not as exotic as yours, (run of the mill rabbits, mice & both lg & sm birds) but I do enjoy seeing them. Look forward to your next post.

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    • The stoat is quite like a weasel but is smaller and has a dark tip on its tail. It is an amazingly energetic and agile animal. I have seen them dragging dead rats, which are much bigger that them, through the garden on several occasions.

      Glad you liked reading – I enjoy writing. Nice to hear from you. Many thanks.

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  2. Although the park- garden I intend to recover is in a mediterranean place, it s very nice to read your blog and very edificante. Thank you.

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  3. Marvelous post ! , Love that you work in harmony with the enviroment and still get such fabulous results . Sadly gardens are becoming one of the last refuges of wildlife as so much natural habitat is destroyed. In the UK gardens are more important to many bee species the the natural world as so few flower actually get to flower because of herbicides and strimmers .
    kEEP UP THE GOOD WORK !

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    • Rebecca – recent developments: The other morning we were woken by the cock calling outside the bedroom window. We pulled the curtains to see a cock and hen on a raised area of the garden about 3 metres from the window. I opened the window to look at them and the hen flew over to me, landing on the windowsill.

      They follow us around the garden – for the peanuts in my pocket! – and if I open the garage one of the hens follows me in because that is where the peanuts are stored. She stands there waiting for me to give her a pinch.

      At present we have one cock and two hens. Last summer we had two clutches with a total of 15 chicks in the garden. It is nice to have them. Paddy

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  4. You are lucky. I think pheasants are beautiful. I grew up on a 10-acre hobby farm in Northeast Washington State, USA, and my parents kept a few turkeys amongst their assortment of creatures on the farm. One Spring, a peacock moved in with our turkeys, but we never had the luck of any pheasants. We dubbed our peacock Fred Astaire for his dancing abilities and colorurful, noisy displays put on for the turkey hens, who were generally unimpressed. In the Fall, he was simply gone. We never knew from whence he came nor where he went, and we missed him.

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