Let the prequels begin ;-) My garden saw foliage chosen over flowers, straight lines over curves, shrubs over perennials and little attention to birds, birds, bees, butterflies or hedgehogs.
Basic garden history: We inherited an ‘L’ shaped back garden space ideal for a young family growing up and for one very keen gardener to make it her own. Rocks, paving slabs and plants were all moved around to make small, roughly themed areas with a strong focus on paths and seating but also keeping areas big enough for play – including myself in the borders ;-)
Having more room to play with plants my love of ferns, hostas and other foliage plants began to grow. However, I wasn’t at all fussed about the flowers of the hosta and often cut them down as their petals spoiled their lovely leaves. Pre blog, I wasn’t thinking of the bees but now I look out for the bee friendly symbol on plants at garden centres. I welcome hosta flowers now :-)
The image above, taken Chelsea Flower Show 1996, brought the black grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'), heuchera, slate blue pebbles (collected up and moved around many times!) and heuchera into my garden. It also influenced me to under plant foliage in drifts and I have lifted and divided the heucheras many times. I’d say this was the key inspiration image to my present garden and I have many images collected!
Once again, pre blog I never paid much attention to the tiny flowers of the heuchera and that bees would feed from them. I have since discovered that the added bonus is that mass drift planting benefits the bees too as it becomes like a feeding station for them and is a great idea. Bees need our help with their declining numbers.
Pre blog I was gardenwatching of a different kind – note the arm of the seat in the LH corner in the photo below and on the other side of the trellis. Using the seating in my garden is something I have always done and would seriously recommend. Then, I would be watching my daughters in play as I sat considering my next plan for my garden ;-)
Alpines, pre having my own garden, were my first plant group love and a serious renovation was required to the rockery we inherited which I made into a scree with a path into it (not seen from this old scanned photo) for my daughters to walk up and sit on the big key stones. Now… I always looked for flowers in the alpine world – especially the tiny delicate ones.
I loved this original hosta bed view but, to my annoyance at the time, so did the birds. I believe Blackbirds were the main culprits that scattered the earth over the edges on to the gravel. I wasn’t a fan of the birds then.
Pre blog, I had only been feeding the birds a short time but way back 18 years ago just by covering the ground with plants, not considered by me at the time, I was helping provide food for the birds – insects and slugs. Yep... and I was only thinking of cutting down on the weeding!
You can see, above, the original chequered washing drying area I inherited above and you can take a guess at the work, compost and soil improver required to grow plants here. This area is quite different again as seen in this blog already. My reason for including this image is to show that I have learnt that an open garden area like this doesn’t attract birds and wildlife and that’s what I say to people when they say they don’t see birds coming to a bird table. Often there is no shelter.
The pergola view shows a focus for the garden as a whole but it was also constructed as shelter from the sun for us and we kept a table there for a while. A number of plants have grown up the trellis and poles but after winter losses it is now covered with ivy and wisteria. My reason for showing this is that pergolas and arches also provide shelter for the birds– food too with the many insects including spiders that live there. Pre blog, I never considered this either and now I deliberately create areas like this.
I am trying not ramble on here, but the message I want to share is that Pre blog I was a gardener enjoying plants and never saw myself as a wildlife gardener. However, I can see now that even by ‘controlling’ my borders and not letting them grow wild I was still providing homes and food for wildlife. I was building up a simple eco system that was growing in species.
The bottom two images above show the most dramatic change my garden has seen from straight lines (gravel mulch) to curves, no gravel mulch and plants with height. It really is easy to see now, as my daughters were playing on their swing (on the right) there just had to be birds watching, waiting for them to go indoors so they could resume foraging for food.
Garden Show visits with my daughters began as did my interest in adding grasses (before they got popular - honest) and dots of colour from flowers. I was still drawn to foliage but the bottom RH image above from my garden shows I was mixing up foliage colour and adding tall flowers like the foxgloves in the centre that… were feeding the bees :-)
I still have a love for woodland flowers but now I’m looking at different varieties and adding wildflowers to my border plantings – all for the sake of bees and butterflies. Pre blog, I never noticed if butterflies were around and if they were I had no idea what they were – now I do and if I see a new one I am delighted! Recent wet summers haven’t helped their numbers either.
Bedding plants and annuals have never been plants that I have gone for, although I completely understand their value for the gardener, wildlife and birds. I did have a phase of grouping pots together with flowering plants and added busy lizzies there and they have occasionally appeared on a border edge as have violas. I love to mix things up and am always treating my borders to a new look :-)
My sunny open front garden (that edges car parking space) originally had some shade from a mature cherry tree that we had to regularly prune. I began a collection of hybrid yak rhododendrons and a mulch of cocoa shells was fantastic for colour and smell and a great weed suppressor at the time. Unfortunately the birds made the biggest mess ever digging into the edges. I really wasn’t a fan of the birds back then!!
Reluctantly the cocoa mulch had to go and I found myself adding log edging (with the soil level not to the top) in an attempt to contain the soil as the birds continued to dig for food. The cherry tree was beginning to lean so we took it down which opened up full sun to the area so the rhododendrons had to move into my now partial shady back garden. Now I could embrace sun loving foliage plants :-)
A gravel mulch now covered my front garden making it easier to maintain (yes I’m like other gardeners by not liking working there). However the biggest reason for this was as the soil was drying out with the heat of the sun. The light coloured gravel mulch reflected the heat and helped keep moisture in the soil. Plants and layouts have come and gone since then but pre blog I had no idea that this could be such a valuable area for wildlife but now I am planting with this in mind – butterflies especially :-)
What a trip down memory lane this has been I and quite a challenge in selecting just a few images from so many. For those gardeners that see me as a birds person you can see now that I haven’t been really.
However, once we put bird feeders up for my daughter’s school project and we saw how many different ones there were to be seen, it became just the same as a new species of plant to me. I took photos and read up about them and looked out to see more species. My garden borders got little tweaks here and there to accommodate feeders and so it went.
Pre blog I could never have imagined that this gardener would have pruned one of her precious low domed palmatum dissectum Acer trees so a cat couldn’t sit underneath it to pounce on a bird! I could have imagined even less that, a few years later, I would be tucking a low bird table beneath this same precious Acer tree for the Blackbirds and friends (that had been messing up my border edges) to feed during heavy snowfall.
Pre blog I was a very different gardener but now the value I have from my garden is greater than ever and it gets better with every year as I discover new visitors arrive. I can’t imagine gardening without considering wildlife and with one special visitor in particular – the hedgehog. Pre blog I had no idea they were even visiting and now I make sure my borders always have a space out for them.
Through taking photographs and video for our blogs, I’m sure other bloggers would agree, this closer look has given a new value to having a garden. We have learned so much on the way with the research required when we discover something new – often influenced by reading other blogs and the comment chat that follows.
Pre blog I wouldn’t have had an ID for the image top left above which I was kindly given by bloggers. Pre ‘this blog’ I discovered an old photo taken at garden show display by a nursery that I bought heuchera’s – maybe a seed from this plant was in one of my heuchera pots? The mystery arrival continues… as does inspiration from seeing photos of plant species in other blogs and displays by the side of a busy road. I now have crocus in my lawn :-)
Pre blog I wouldn’t have an image of allium christophii for my face in a wide range of forums and websites I have joined and enjoyed many interesting chats. Neither would I be looking out for hedgehogs on a IR feeding station cam at night, experimenting with fun bird feeding stations and trying to ID a different bird I notice in my garden. Nor would I be in the privileged position to see what goes on during nesting time for a pair of birds. It’s been fun to share :-)
Finally, thanks to any other bloggers who’ve joined me to share prequels to their blogs too. I’m guessing you too found this trickier and more time consuming than I expected it would be. I’ll share links to any other Prequel posts here :-)
Update with link to HolleyGarden at ROSES AND OTHER GARDENING JOYS who has joined in with a post where her spin is titled Experimentation. I completely agree with what she says in her post - do pop over to see what she is chatting about :-)
This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.