Friday, May 29, 2015

Dog Friendly Wildlife Gardening....

Hello All,

Once again time has flown by and I have to admit that Facebook here has acted as a place for up to date daily reports. None the less this blog remains as the place where I post up my detailed projects and lists of plants, flowers and anything that I think might be of interest to others who are creating or thinking about starting a garden for wildlife.

Following on the dog theme from the last post and having now had Willow for a few months it has become apparent that wildlife gardening with a young dog isn't as easy as it first sounds and throws up lots of complications, especially with an untrained dog as Willow was when we first got her.

So here she is, Willow, cute isn't she?....


Well you might think she looks cute and generally you would be right as she is the most loving and affectionate dog that you could meet, but....

The first time we opened the back door and introduced Willow to the garden all hell broke loose! Plants got trampled, raised beds got dug and to top it off having spent hours of hard work erecting the fence she found the tiniest of holes and went to say hello to the neighbours garden!!!

What on earth have we let ourselves in for I thought to myself and how on earth am I going to firstly keep her in the right garden and then prevent her from wrecking it!?! Then how am I going to continue attracting my beloved wildlife into the garden when she wants to chase it and I presume eat it given the chance!?!

Quite a dilemma and not one we had experienced with out two previous rescue dogs!

So following some trial and error, plenty of head scratching and of course bundles of patience I have come up with a few tips that show that you still can garden for wildlife even with a mad dog. I hope that these will be of interest to some of you.

Fencing
This is a really interesting subject as we need to keep the dog in but at the same time welcome wildlife in....

So here is our fence that we have had to erect just to keep Willow in the garden. As you can see we have simply hammered in stakes and then used 5ft high chicken-wire. As we have been growing a natural wildlife hedge we placed it in front of the hedge which will in time grow through and make it more of less invisible....

So we can now keep Willow in the garden and by putting up this extra 'layer' of fencing we have actually created a perfect wildlife corridor. The hedge is effectively sandwiched between this new fence and the old 'Deer Net' fence that willow could get through. This has created and area of solid hedging about 3-4feet wide and runs the entire length of the garden. I am now allowing a few stinging nettles to establish in here where they are out of the way. I am also now starting to create a few wood piles in here. This makes for a 'safe' area away from predators for lots of wildlife such as hedgehogs. The chicken-wire mesh is also big enough for medium and small birds to dive through when danger presents and allows access to most small mammals.

All in all adding another layer of fencing has actually created a superior wildlife habitat around the perimeter of the whole garden. The only downside is that we now have denied access to larger mammals such as foxes and badgers. To be honest this isn't always a bad thing as they can often be quite destructive in the garden anyway. My only real concern is that I have denied access to Hedgehogs who have done very well in the garden over the last couple of years so I needed to come up with solutions to rectify this.

After some consideration I have come up with following ideas for giving access back to my hedgehog friends....

Firstly I have created little entrances at several points around the fence by hammering two post into the ground with a piece of wood across the top to give rigidity and connect them to stop them being pushed aside. It  is very important that you cut the net up the middle between the two posts. This can then be pushed back through the gap and the ends twisted around the existing netting, Then staple the wire to the frame to ensure that it is secure. I actually used a second piece of wire netting here for extra strength. A good site for a hedgehog entrance like this is by a path so that your dog can't dig out the pathway.
 A simpler way and one that I have used at the end of the fence is to thread a wooden cross piece through the net, screw this to a post and then staple the net to it. I then fix a 'looser' plastic mesh over the top that a Hedgehog could easily push past or get under but it prevents a dog digging. For extra security I have also buried bricks under the entrances so that they can't be dug out any bigger than I want them..... 

An even easier option than the two methods above is simply to dig a dip under the fence big enough for a hedgehog to get under and then create a tunnel with breeze-blocks or heavy rocks that a dog can't move. If necessary this can be buried under soil with just a shallow dip showing under the rocks.

So now that we have kept the dog in and given access to the wildlife that we want in the garden I set about trying to figure out how to keep her off of my flower borders and most importantly the wild flower area that she simply seen as an extension of the lawn!!...

Setting Boundaries

One of the biggest problems with an untrained dog is that there are no boundaries! So to aid her training and to keep certain areas dog free without a huge fence you need to set up clear and simple demarcation that your dog can be educated to adhere to.

Willow was simply seeing the longer grass in the wild flower area as another lawn so when she was shouted at to 'get off' it meant nothing to her. A simple solution to this is to give a visible barrier that clearly says that it's a different area. If it is clear and obvious and you remain consistent in your commands it's amazing how fast a dog will pick it up and stay off of the area (most of the time!)

I erected a low rail alongside the path that I wanted Willow to take and to protect the wildflower and pond area. This clear demarcation clearly shows your dog why it is being told to keep off or out of an area. We are now rule setting but using a physical example that your dog will understand....

Although I have found simple demarcation very effective sometimes you have to opt for more substantial physical barriers and on my raised beds I have found this necessary.

The use of a more substantial approach is however not due to the bad behaviour of the dog as such but due to the neighbour's cat who see's the raised vegetable beds as her own private toilet!!! It's does stand to reason that when a dog gets the scent of a cat in the garden they will want to explore and unfortunately cat poo seems to be a delicacy to the canine taste buds!! (Yukk!!)

Sometimes you have to simply use a 'fence it off' approach, although here it is to actually stop next doors cat from using the raised bed as it's toilet!!..
If you are really against using a fence then I have had good success with just using wire-mesh pieces placed on top of the soil. This has to be several smaller pieces rather than one large piece. The cats don't like this and it's great for soil that you have dug but not yet planted....

So there are a few of my ideas and projects that I have put into practice recently to great effect. There is no substitute for a well trained dog and I have certainly found that being consistent and setting clear boundaries is helping with Willow's general behaviour and training. This is a great thing for her or any other dog as she doesn't need to stress about it as I make the decisions and put the rules in place for her, which is what most dogs generally want (strong leadership).

Interestingly since we have had a young dog who could potentially catch a cat and certainly makes that known to the local cat population, we have had very few cats in the garden. This means less cat mess and less birds being caught off the feeders so all in all gardening with dogs is beneficial in so many ways as well as being great fun! ;-)

So before I go here's a quick round up of what's going on in the garden at the moment and to prove that it hasn't been wrecked by our four-legged friend...

It's really encouraging to see numbers increasing of Mason Bees like this Red Mason Bee and other solitary bees. They were out early this year also....

Esperia sulphurella  is an interesting but tiny moth that feeds on decaying wood. A moth trapping session in the garden this week produced ten new garden records from the 26 species recorded...

This dragonfly hatched form the new wildlife pond created last spring! Unfortunately it was plucked out of the pond by Willow!......
 I managed to rescue it from between her teeth and to my amazement it recovered and flew off unharmed, even better it was a Four-spotted Chaser so another garden first!!... 

 It's that time of year when the garden is full of different Iris and they fit in well with the 'wild' feel of the garden and all the water. I'm always amazed how often they are visited by bees and too often overlooked in the wildlife garden....

 Now that the wildflower area is growing up we start to see lots of weird and wonderful bugs and beetles that are really interesting and surprisingly colourful close up, this one is Malachius bipustulatus..

 I love the Orange-tip Butterfly as it's one of our first emerging spring butterflies and the male pictured here is quite difficult to photograph as they never sit still for more than a couple of seconds. The good numbers this year enabled me to get e few good shots though...

 Persicaria in its many different forms is a stalwart in the garden and this has been a source of early nectar for early Bumblebees this Spring...

 Probably my best performing flower of the year so far is  Wall Flower 'Boules Mauve' I'm growing more and more of these each year and they flower profusely for such a long time making them a superb addition to the spring/summer border....

 There have been a couple of small projects recently such as the addition of this new raised bed in the seating area. Of course in true 'Higgy recycling' fashion it was made from reclaimed roof timbers!!....

 A look down the Spring formal lawn. The perennial borders are starting to get going and the white and purple Evening Scented Stock' show well. Supported at this time of year by Geums and perennial Knapweed that the pollinators love....

The wildflower area and wildlife pond created only a year ago have been superb in attracting all sorts of wildlife including, frogs, newts as well as damselflies and dragonflies. It's simply amazing how quickly life moves into a new pond!....
This small damselfly hatched from the wildlife pond and was immediately predated by a larger Large-red Damselfly! Nature can be so cruel....

I have created a couple of beds for my newest experiment. I have now planted twelve different species of  Buddleja to try and establish if there are any species that are better at attracting butterflies than others. Whatever the results turn out to be I will be assured of plenty of colour I'm sure!...

So that's about it for tonight, I hope that this post has been of interest and that you fellow dog owners will view gardening with a dog in a different light now? It's like all things you adapt, make changes but work it out in the end.

I continue to promote wildlife gardening as something for the whole family to enjoy, even our four-legged friends!!...

Next time I will get back to some more summer planting for pollinators and let you know what else I have been up to between now and then!

As always thanks for your continued support, I hope that you continue to enjoy my mad ramblings and please do send me your comments and ideas as I'm always keen to hear them!

Best regards

Higgy











Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Loss of a good friend and planting for summer's Pollinators....

Hello All,

It really has been quite some time since my last post back in the nice weather last year when I was building a bridge over a flower border into my daughter's play area!

Time has moved on and to be honest no further work has been done in the garden other than the erection of about 220ft of mesh fencing around the bottom sections of the garden!

"Why the mesh fence when you're trying to encourage wildlife in?" I can hear you all asking.

Unfortunately just before Christmas we lost our old dog and best friend Choco! Those of you that watch my progress on here, facebook or even know me from the RSPB on-line Community will know that Choco really was my shadow and was always only a few inches away from me, particularly whilst I was out working in the garden! He was the most wonderful companion and so trusting for an older rescue dog who had such a bad start in life.

He featured in many a post on-line and some of my infamous 'badger stake-out' videos that we ran on the RSPB forum. In fact he became quite a celebrity in his own way.

Unfortunately Choco gave up his fight having suffered from old age and a couple of illnesses and on December 1st 2014 he let us know that he had had enough and was put to sleep at home in his bed with all his family around him. I'm not too 'macho' to say that I shed a good number of tears over the loss of such a special friend!

Choco having a snooze in his favourite place - out in the garden by my side so that he could keep an eye on me to ensure I didn't abandon him as he had experienced in earlier life...
Choco R.I.P 01/12/2014

You are now probably wondering where this post is going and how it will ever link into my garden project?

Well it's that fencing again, remember that I said that I laid about 220ft of fencing at short notice over the Christmas period? There was a reason.....

Following the loss of Choco our home and lives felt empty so the decision was made to rescue another dog and this would be our third rescue to date. Having rescued Choco in his later years we wanted a younger dog so that our daughter could be a bit more hands on and we hoped would have a good amount of time growing up alongside it.

When you put children into the mix your choice of dog has to be considered very carefully so after much deliberation and research we decided on a Lab or Springer Spaniel. We looked at several dogs but just couldn't find the right one as they were too big and boisterous or just completely mad!

After some time we were rang up by Happy Landings Animals Shelter in Shepton Mallet, Somerset and they stated that they had an 18month old Sprollie (Springer/Collie X) that they felt would fit perfectly into our family set up and lively life style. Although a good distance away from home we paid several visits, fell in love and eventually brought home Willow....

Welcome to the Higgy madhouse Willow!

We soon learned that taking the mind of a Mastermind champion, the endurance of an Ironman and a formula one turbo charger then mixing them all up and creating a dog gives you a Sprollie!
Basically a Sprollie is a supercharged brain on legs!

Although highly intelligent, highly trainable it soon became apparent that she was also highly 'escapable!!' which I hope explains the reason for my hasty and very rushed erection of the fence!

Unfortunately in my haste to secure the garden I trampled over most of my flower borders and did a fair bit of damage to the garden! this combined with heavy water-logged winter ground ensured that the garden was well and truly trashed! This has now caused me to have rather a lot of work to do to get the garden back looking as it should this summer!

I am looking at this as a positive though and an opportunity to rethink some of my planting scheme by digging up the borders, splitting large perennial flowers and replanting for pollinators once again.

So after quite a long introduction here are my thoughts of what I shall be re-planting in my trampled borders and why....

My Perennials For Pollinators - PART ONE

Astrantia - One of my favourite perennials for early summer, plant front to middle of a border and they will take most situations including both shade and damp ground. Irresistible to Small Tortoiseshell butterflies and most other pollinators

Bergenia 'Elephant ears purpurea - Again front of the border for Spring flowers and evergreen ground cover. Will take sun or shade and again a range of soil conditions. Great source of nectar for early Spring Pollinators.

Campanula Canterbury Bells - Flowering at the height of the summer you will be amazed at the bee activity around these unusual large cupped flowers. Mid birder in sun will keep these happy but be sure to watch the bumblebees that will come out of them covered in pollen!

Salvia - I use lots of different varieties and sizes. Bees love them they smell great and generally flower mid-late summer. They need full sun and good drainage. they don't over-winter on our damp heavy clay here but should if you have good drainage and dry conditions for them.

Crocosmia Lucifer - Not known as a pollinating plant but they get plenty of visits from Bumblebees in my garden and are a nice plant to add some drama in the border. Again surprisingly adaptable and despite popular belief they actually benefit from plenty of water or a slightly damp ground.

Aster - There are lots of different varieties of Aster and we will use a few different types to add interest and longevity to the feeding season. Aster comes into it's own late summer and into Autumn where it will keep flowering until we have the first frosts. Best in a sunny spot on reasonably well drained soil, doesn't like our waterlogged winter ground but will happily over-winter in drier conditions.

Helenium - A great pollinating plant loved by bees and butterflies! Tall so can be used in the middle or back of the border. Sunny position prefers a well drained soil. I under-plant these with annual Corn Marigold wildflowers and it works really well for attracting in all sorts of pollinating insects!

Inula - Great summer butterfly & bee plant, especially useful in very hot sunny areas or extremely hot years as they cope well with drought and seem to keep attracting pollinators even when other plants are stressed and struggling

 Monarda - great bee plant for a sunny summer border

Rudbeckia Goldstrum - An underrated plant. Adored by the Small Copper Butterfly. There are plenty of other Rudbeckias to chose from also. Mid to back of the border depending what type you plant. They like full sun and well drained soil but do over-winter on our heavy wet clay soil here.

So that's my first ten pollinating perennial plants that I will be planting in me borders when I revamp them in the Spring. I have plenty more choices that will be going into my garden and to share with you also.

Next time I will continue with my list of pollinating plants but will start to include a few other ideas such as wildflowers and bulbs that can be added and make perfect partners for your perennial plants and give your pollinating bed a real 'Zing!'

I will also get some pictures of the new fence and give you a few ideas of how we can still let some wildlife in whilst keeping Willow safe and sound inside the garden!

Until next time....

Best

Higgy










Monday, September 1, 2014

Easy Build Bridge for Child Friendly Wildlife Garden...

Hello All,

Yet again I start another blog post a long time after my last post and as is usually the case the good weather has seen my time spent in the garden and not on the computer writing about it!

Although I much prefer my time outside I felt that I must come on and update you all on my wildlife pond and show you a new feature built for my daughter recently.

Before I tell you about the new child friendly feature I will give you a quick update on the pond that you will know from previous posts was dug this Spring.

 So at just six months old you can now see that the wildflower planting around the outside of the pond has really taken off and gives the area a nice natural feel. The planting inside the pond is also adding to this feel and providing a great habitat for variety of animals and insects...

Visitors to the pond...
 Last time we spoke about the Damselflies but now these have made way to Dragonflies that are also depositing eggs into the pond. Above is the plentiful Common Darter and below is a Migrant Hawker both seen in the garden around the pond....

Although my Blackbirds still bathe daily in the pond all sorts of birds use the facility to wash and drink from like this thirsty Greenfinch...

I always talk about my wildlife and the things that I enjoy in the garden but for some time I haven't mentioned my daughter in this blog!

If you cast your mind back to my first post one of the key things for this garden was to demonstrate that you can have a wildlife garden that is family and more importantly child friendly!

Of course my daughter has her play area with slide, climbing frame and trampoline etc but like all young children they get bored and desire other things to keep them active and entertained.

This presented me with a bit of a challenge as I was also looking to find a little more planting space so building new play equipment would take up space that could be planted in!?!...

Cost is of course always a factor and in the current climate we really couldn't afford to be buying brand new equipment or even materials to build something.

After much head scratching and discussions with my daughter as to what she wanted it was decided that building a bridge into her play area would be just the thing to add a bit more fun to her part of the garden! I could also see this as an opportunity to provide more planting space by creating a pollinating flower border the complete length of the play area and using the bridge s a means to get over the border and into the play area, how exciting!!...

Materials!!??...

Now this was a question! obviously wood would be first choice as it fits into the theme of the rest of the garden. Also I had a large pile of reclaimed roof-joists in the garage just waiting for a likely project!! These joists are 3x3inch and between 6-8feet long so I would need to be creative in my design but at the same time wanted to show how someone could make a really simple but effective 'play-bridge' feature out of reclaimed materials....

So first job was to sort out how many lengths of wood we would need and cut them all down to about the right size. I left the pieces that would be used for the steps slightly over sized so they could be 'adjusted' as required. This is also a good time to get the kids involved and once cut my daughter and I spent about two hours in the garage painting each piece of wood. This has two effects; the first being that you get a protective covering on every side of each piece of wood. But it also makes your children feel like they are really involved in the building of these play features with you!!....

So once the posts had been cut and painted we ended up with a wooden jigsaw like this...

 To get started on your bridge lay the small base pieces on the ground where you want the steps to be located whilst using one of the longer lengths to ensure that they are in the right place at both ends of the bridge...

Once happy with the position of the base pieces of wood start building your bridge 'dry' without screwing anything together or using any fixings at this stage...
 Building the bridge 'dry' like this enables you to make adjustments as you go along to ensure that you get it in the best position possible. You can see by the picture below and above that the design is a simple 'stacking' of the various pieces of wood. It is at this stage that you could decide to add extra pieces to make your bridge higher or as you can see here trim pieces to ensure they fit in the space correctly.....
So now you have the base of the bridge fully assembled. You are 100% happy with it's positioning and have made any adjustments or cut pieces of wood that required it you are ready to proceed to the next stage....

DISMANTLE!! Yep that's right you now need to take it all apart again! Now a word of Warning here. When dismantling do it piece by piece and very carefully. What you don't want to do is move your base pieces as they are in the exact position where they need to be to support your new bridge!...

Having not disturbed them cut around your base pieces with a sharp spade and then dig out the area where the bases will sit..... 
Back fill the holes with concrete and reset the base pieces into the concrete using the end of a lump hammer handle to gently tap then into the concrete mix. Important - At this stage you must use a spirit level to ensure that the base pieces at both ends of the bridge are level or as I did just very slightly off level to allow drainage of water along the bridge.

Once you have got to this stage and the base pieces are firmly concreted into place it's a simple matter of following the above process but screwing each piece of wood into place and into the piece below. For ease I pre drilled and countersunk every piece to ensure a nice even and neat finish.

You now have the base of the bridge finished and fixed firmly in place....

The final part of the build is to add some handrails to make the bridge safe to use but to also make it look a lot more 'bridge like'

To add handrails simply get six round stakes (like the wooden stakes that are often used in fencing or to stake trees) and cut the spiked end off of two. Put those two posts aside and hammer the other four into the ground right next to the bridge. Use a tape measure and spirit level to make sure that they are evenly spaced and level and then drill and screw each leg onto the bridge base as below.... 
Hammering the post into the ground is for safety reasons to make sure that the rails are solid and any children leaning on them aren't going to cause them to collapse. Make sure that they have had a couple of good coats of preservative to slow down any rotting of the posts.

Now take the two 'spikeless' posts and lay them along the upright posts on one side of the bridge and mark with a pencil where each upright meets the rail. Using a chop saw it you have one cut the section between each pencil mark out to create a shallow grove the width of the end of the upright. Once cut out simply lay back along the two uprights so they sit in the groves and screw a long screw down into the upright to fix the handrail firmly into place as below. Then simply repeat this process on the opposite side...
At this point add another lick of paint and remember to paint the ends of the pieces of wood that were cut earlier. This obviously makes the bridge look finished but more importantly helps prevent the naked ends from rotting...

So there you go a really simple and quick way to build a garden bridge and of course another fantastic feature in our child and family friendly wildlife garden. The size and height of the bridge is only limited by your imagination so why not have a go and bridge a flower border like I have rather than have a boring path or bridge a garden pond and then paint it whatever colour you want!!...

 The finished bridge built in just one day!...

As you have seen from other posts I used the same design for the new pond and it works well over water also!!...

That's about where I have to leave it this time but I will leave you with my Top Tip...

TOP TIP - My bridges have been built using reclaimed roof joists from a builder that I know. This is a very cheap way to source timber for this sort of project as the price of tips has escalated recently meaning that many builders are more than happy to create extra space in their skip by letting you have some wood! Just remember that you can't help yourself and must always ask before taking away anything such as this. 
The only downside is that the timber won't be treated so will need painting or a few coats of wood preservative but what a great way to recycle and if your really lucky Freecycle!! :-)

See you next time

Best

Higgy