MAKE A MINI NATURE RESERVE

IT is not essential to have a large garden and lots of space to create a nature reserve. With some ingenuity very tiny areas can be converted into interesting sanctuaries. Plans may have to be scaled down to match the resources available, but the only real necessities are light and air.

Experiments can be made in corners of gardens and yards, and in narrow flower beds along walLs. An angle corner between two walls is easiest to start with, but assuming a space two feet wide and about six feet long, at the foot of a wall, something can be done, whether in a garden or yard, or on a terrace or balcony. Disadvantages of one sort or another may turn out to be plus factors. A bright sunny place will enable plants to grow well, and this will encourage butterflies, but a darker damp area will suit toads, snails, ferns, and fungi. Many of the suggestions already made for garden management can be adopted in miniature. A little experience of a particular site and its potentialities will soon show what the long-term possibilities will be. If the space available is overlooked by a window, so much the better, as it can then be observed from inside. Opposite the kitchen window is a good idea, but sometimes a landing window or one in an upstairs room will give a better view.

MAKING USE OF A WALL

If your mini nature reserve can be placed against a wall or on the side of a wooden shed, the first thing to do is to establish creepers growing up the wall or on a trellis. (If no background wall is available, a firmly fixed trellis has advantages.) Crowd the creepers together for maximum effect, and if possible use native creepers such as honeysuckle, ivy, convolvulus, bryony, and the wild clematis or old man’s beard. Honeysuckle turns in a clockwise direction, whereas convolvulus climbs anti-clockwise. You will soon be able to see this for yourself. Many of these will grow from seed. One of the best is the ordinary wild bramble, or even a cultivated blackberry if you can bring yourself to leave the fruit for wild life instead of eating it yourself. If the wall behind is an old one, poke little plants into various crevices, such as the ivy-leaved toadflax (any friend living in the country should be able to give you a bit to start with, and when it has really got going you will be able to give rooted pieces of it to other people) or grow stonecrop or moss. Garden flowers are often easier to establish than wild ones – aubretia, alys-sum or soapwort will all grow in cascades down your wall. If nails can be driven into the wall, hang a tit nesting box five or six feet high, preferably with some shelter from one of the creepers, or an old kettle, tipped backwards, with one or two holes punched in it to let the rain run away. Robins may nest there, and they have been known to do so in old two-pound syrup tins treated in the same way. Even an old boot hanging up may be used. An old-fashioned broom made of twigs, standing on its handle, or a bundle of pea sticks, may attract some other small bird to nest. A row of artificial nests for house martins can be put under the eaves of a garden shed. Keep an eye on such nesting places from a distance. Inspection may cause birds to desert. Other nails will support hanging baskets of plants, a bag of feathers or moss for birds to use when nesting, or seed hoppers with wild bird seed in them.

SOME ‘STARTER’ IDEAS

If there is soil at the foot of your wall, plant sunflowers at the back, or climbing nasturtiums to grow into your creepers. Nearer to the front, put marigolds, cornflowers, Shirley poppies, clarkia, mignonette, and candytuft, with aubretia and alyssum in front. Some of these are best grown from seed, as annuals. You do not need more than two or three of each, and they should be placed fairly close together. If you are using a paved area, some of them will grow in pots or tubs, kept watered. Petunias and geraniums are fashionable but have less interest for butterflies than less flamboyant flowers, although the ordinary red geranium is sometimes visited by them. Roses of the modern kind are useless for attracting butterflies. A small buddlcia bush is worth a place, and there is a dwarf garden variety called Border Beauty. Other plants to grow in pots are hyssop (another magnet for butterflies) and almost any herb, including borage, lavender, or chives allowed to flower. As already suggested for the garden wilderness, plants such as thistles, nettles and mint are best grown in buckets, tucked among the flowers. Also tucked among them you can have a pile of stones, or old tiles to attract mosses and lichens. A damp rotting log, or tree stump, kept wet, will harbour larvae, grubs, woodlice, and fungi, just as in the bigger garden. An upturned plant pot, resting on a piece of tile, may bring a toad or snails. A raw potato under a piece of damp sacking will be discovered by some small creatures. If it is placed on soil you will find snails, centipedes, or ants there, and certainly woodlice. Snails and slugs can be bred successfully in small enclosures. If space allows, you can experiment with pitfall traps -jam-jars set in the ground, either empty or baited with fish meat, or fruit, to attract tiny animals. A collection of mosses, or a fern garden, will add interest. A flowering wall made up of hollow breeze blocks has endless possibilities, or you can have a peat wall built up out of blocks of peat bought at a gardeners’ supply shop. Both of these can be as big or as small as you wish. You may be able to exploit the possibilities of roof gardening on your shed – roof gardening in the sense of growing plants such as houselceks actually on the roof surface. A tiny rock garden at the foot of your flowering wall completes the picture, or if this is not possible, many rock plants will grow in gravel or scree, or between paving stones.

HOW TO ATTRACT BIRDS

Some further provision is needed for birds. You already have some nesting sites, and seeds growing to attract tits and finches. Drinking water for them can be provided in a bird-bath, preferably shallow and not too elaborate. A dustbin lid resting on three bricks is often recommended. A baking tin will do, or an old frying-pan, or a shallow flowerpot of the kind with no hole in the bottom, or one of the plastic trays now sold for gardeners. In summer birds will drink and splash there, so if you place the container carefully among your plants the birds will do your watering for you. Clean fresh water is needed every two or three days. Try to see that the drinking water is not underneath the feeding table, or much food will be lost there. A similar receptacle for use as a dusting area is also needed. Again a dustbin lid will do, full of coarse sand mixed with fine gravel or soil and occasionally changed to remove any insect parasites. These may include various fleas, lice and mites and are themselves worth looking at. A broom handle driven into the soil, or placed upright in a large plant pot of stone and soil, will hold a bird table. A small wooden tray is as good as anything, or you can nail a crossbar on to the broom handle and hang on it bags of peanuts, pieces of fat from the butcher, seed hoppers, or cartons of fat melted down and poured over breadcrumbs. If many birds are attracted, small experiments in feeding can be made. Try sunflower seeds, hemp, coarse suet, oatmeal, rice pudding, cheese, bacon rind, strings of peanuts (blue tits soon learn to pull them up and hold them in position while they eat), apples, cooked potatoes (starlings like them peeled) but not porridge (too sticky on the feathers), currants, or too much bread. Dried coconut should never be given as it may swell up inside the bird. All this is for winter feeding. At other times of year there is usually plenty of food about for birds, but they will use the water and dust baths at all times. Nuts and fat can be put out for tits at all times of the year, but in spring and summer it is more for fun than actual feeding. Bird canteens, snack bars, tit bells, suet logs, and many other devices for feeding birds are available, but perfectly good ones can be made at home. Plastic garden netting of various sizes, made into tubes and tacked on to a wooden base can be used. String bags, or nets such as those used by greengrocers for carrots or oranges, are easy to fill and hang. Remember that if you start feeding birds in a hard winter, you are obliged to go on doing so, because the birds become dependent on you.

For amusement only there are many other things you can do. A mirror hanging on the wall interests birds, and you may see them posturing and displaying there, but if it seems to frighten them, or cause them to dash against it as if attacking an enemy, take it away immediately. A water garden, however small, or a tiny fishpond, with the smallest possible fountain, would be great additions, but visiting cats and dogs may be interested in them too.

In a country garden or even in the suburbs water often attracts foxes.

SOME FURTHER SUGGESTIONS

All sorts of containers for plants and other material can be used. Strawberry barrels save space. Stone sinks and urns are decorative, but old baskets, pans, and crocks have their uses. Three-tiered cakestancls, vegetable racks, or tall pan racks, can all be used to great advantage as they will support creepers as well as shelves full of oddments. Even an old hatstand can be incorporated, because of its different levels. An old wheelbarrow, especially the sturdy wooden kind, can itself hold a complete zoological display. Some of these objects may have a conservation interest of their own, as cottage antiques or ‘bygones’, such as old wooden butter churns or dolly tubs. Junk shops often have oddments that don’t qualify as valuable antiques but have an interest as fragments of the past. In a modern setting, structures of concrete blocks, or decorative white plastic trellis, can be made to give a unity to the display area as a whole.

The ideas sketched here are only starting points. The enthusiast and the specialist will soon wish to do more. An outdoor vivarium for toads, frogs, or lizards, according to interests and circumstances, has a very special appeal. A tiny arboretum is a talking point – that is, a collection of trees grown from cuttings or seeds such as chestnuts, acorns, beech mast, lime seeds or haws. Most of these are best collected as seed in the autumn, kept in damp sand during the winter, and planted in spring. Trees such as willows grow well and quickly from cuttings. The keeping of bees is a subject in itself, and a fascinating one, but there is equal interest in keeping and breeding ants, wasps, snails, slugs, and worms. The scope is unlimited. The important consideration is that wherever you live you can surround yourself with living things. And as you will want your plants and animals to flourish, you will soon find out their likes and dislikes and how their needs can best be met either in these limited surroundings or in the wider world beyond your garden gate.

If you can do absolutely nothing else, at least in winter hang half a coconut outside a window. Even the housewife shaking the table cloth in the yard is to some extent a conservationist.

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