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GARDENING: Don’t be too tidy – the birds and the beasties like it messy

By Andrew Dixon

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Gardening columnist Ewan MacKintosh, manager of High Life Highland’s Inverness Botanic Gardens, shares his and the team’s gardening tips each month.

Ewan MacKintosh, manager of High Life Highland’s Inverness Botanic Gardens.
Ewan MacKintosh, manager of High Life Highland’s Inverness Botanic Gardens.

Three surveys recently caught my eye: animal populations world-wide have declined by 70 per cent since 1970 (WWF); native breeding birds in the UK have declined by 22 per cent in the UK since the 1960s (Avian Population Estimates Panel); flying insects have declined by nearly 30 per cent in Scotland in the last 20 years (Bug Matters National Report).

Changing climate, farming practises such as insecticides and monoculture, and the encroachment of humans who consider tidiness a prime virtue, all lead to wildlife habitat loss. So, what can we do?

Leaving a wild corner of the garden is now no longer a leftfield whim, but a vital action (or non-action!) for us all. Bugs and beasties love being undisturbed and left to get on with their bug lives, and birds love to interrupt this and eat them.

Feed the birds

The RSPB recommends we put out food and water regularly and feed twice daily in severe weather.

Birds require high-energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to survive the frosty nights. Don’t let uneaten foods accumulate – adjust the quantity according to demand.

Once you establish a feeding routine, try not to change it as the birds get used to it and visit to your garden with an eye on the clock!

Grow to feed

Shop-bought bird food is satisfying to use, but we must take a holistic approach and provide shrubs and trees to feed them.

If you are short of trees, and able to plant some, November is a good time. Rowan, Holly, Cotoneaster, Hawthorn, Rosa Rugosa and Guilders Rose all have delicious red berries, hips and haws, irresistible to birds.

They provide valuable nesting habitat and roosting perches, helping take care of many bird needs. If you can bear to leave things a bit ‘messy’ under the bushes, you’ll create an insect haven, and wildlife will thrive.

Sweet peas

Sowing sweet peas in November is a lovely way to look forward to encouraging pollinators into the garden next summer.

Easy to grow from seed, they will happily overwinter on a windowsill or greenhouse bench.

Just push two or three seeds to a depth of about 2cm in a 9cm pot. Green shoots will push through after a month.

Keep them frost free. Pinching out the tips of the seedlings at around 10cm, gives you stockier, more robust sweet peas, and a joyful anticipation of summer.

Armchair gardening

Autumn is a time to reflect on your gardening year (while fresh in memory) and plan for next.

What were you most happy with? What would you like to add to, or change?

Start your plan, and doodle ideas for next year, thinking about what wildlife would you love to see.

Consider the possibility you can provide both food and habitat. Some gardeners get a lot of enjoyment from scrapbooking their garden throughout the year.

Notes, sketches or photographs of birds and beasties can really enhance your understanding of the wildlife that will hopefully live alongside us for years to come.

For more information about High Life Highland’s Inverness Botanic Gardens visit www.highlifehighland.com/inverness-botanic-gardens

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