Climbing species for walls to attract wildlife

You may decide to grow climbing plants to make some of your bare walls more attractive. There are those which need some support in addition to the wall itself, and those which don’t need any further support. You might decide to go for the latter group, as this will save you the time and expense of preparing the wall with supports. Those species which do not need additional supports, like wire or trellis, have their own means of ‘holding on’. Everyone will be aware of ivy, which uses small suckers to attach itself to the wall. Like the other clinging species, it is rooted in the ground, and derives its nourishment from the soil. Ivy does no damage to the wall and the suckers the plant sends out are only there to ensure that it has its own means of support.

Cultivated ivies

In addition to the wild ivy there are many different cultivated species. Some of them are extremely beautiful as wall-growing species, adding pleasant foliage colour.

There is no reason why you should not grow the ivy which often establishes itself voluntarily against the wall! This is Hedera fielix. Once established and flourishing this particular species will act as a magnet for all sorts of wild creatures, some very small, like silverfish and spiders, as well as large ones like mice. If you decide to select other ivies, then it is a good idea to visit your local garden centre and ask advice. The best time to plant ivy is in the spring, so that it will become well established in the ensuing months. Unless you buy container- or pot-grown species, you may find that they do not do too well if the rooting system is upset, as they don’t take kindly to being moved. If you dig in some rotted manure you will provide the plants with nourishment, and give them a good start. The foliage of ivies varies from the dark green of species like Hedera helix, var. caenwoodiana, to the variegated leaf of//, cokhica, var. dentata variegata. In between these extremes are many other subtle hues and shades and you might decide that a mixture would give added variety to your wall. The part of the country in which you live will, to some extent, determine the species which you buy, since some are particularly hardy, whereas others are less tolerant of severe conditions and might suffer in extremes of temperature.

The world of the ivy

If you already have ivy on the wall of your house you will perhaps already have discovered in it a hidden world of wildlife. Because the ivy is evergreen, and because it flowers and fruits much later than most other plants, it is particularly valuable in providing shelter and to some extent, food, all the year round. Although the branches higher up the wall will offer some protection, it is around the base where the ivy is at its thickest, that wildlife will seek shelter, not only during the spring and summer, but in the autumn and winter as well. Small tortoiseshell butterflies may settle behind the leaves to spend a quiet winter. There will be many other animal species which will come on the prowl for food, and foraging ants and millipedes may be overlooked. In very thick growth mice may find a suitable place to rest, and birds are also likely to seek shelter.

Nesting sites

The value of ivy and other evergreen creepers is that you will, hopefully, have a ready-made nesting site for your early spring nest-building birds. Among those which are the first to build are the blackbirds, species of thrush, the chaffinch and the chiff-chaff. As most other plant species are fading, the ivy will be bursting with flower in October, especially where there are shaded, rather than exposed, walls. Late insects, particularly if the weather is fine and warm, will take eagerly of the nectar which the ivy flowers offer. The familiar blue and black berries, which appear early in the following year, will provide a source of food and nourishment for birds when other natural foods may not be easy to come by, especially in hard winters.

If you have a hedge in your garden which comes into leaf early, and so becomes the target for the early nesters, you might want to include some creepers because their leaves appear later and will provide a nesting site for those species which build their nests then, like the migratory birds which do not arrive here until later on. You might want to consider the value of encouraging garden warblers and greenfinches to nest in your garden, and perhaps, with a species which comes into leaf later, you might even tempt a flycatcher to suss out your territory.

But if you have only a small plot and feel that trees and hedges are not for you, do not despair: even if your garden is only a back yard there is a lot you can do. If you can only hang up a bag of scraps you will entice the birds in to feed, and you can always suspend hoppers and feeding trays from the walls for them. To attract the small mammals who have probably already paid a passing visit, grow creeping plants up your walls, and while you are waiting for them to establish themselves, remove one or two bricks and plant trailing lobelia, creeping jenny or even the perennial aubretia in the cavities after filling them with potting compost.

All plants will attract insects, and there must be room for containers for annuals or even small permanent shrubs. Even window boxes will be a magnet for bees and butterflies, and there is a large variety available now. These and hanging baskets can be full of colourful scented plants well into the autumn.

However little you can do to help sustain wildlife on your territory, you will find it gives you an endless source of interest, and it may be the wildlife’s only hope!

Habitats In Walls in wildlife gardens

Walls can become an important habitat for wildlife, and there are ways of increasing their potential. The materials used for building the wall vary from one part of the country to another. The most common material is brick, particularly in modern walls. In some places local stone predominates, and if you go to some areas, like the Norfolk coast, you will see that large pebbles and flints from the beach have been used. These walls are valuable to wildlife because of the irregular spaces between the stones. Slate, limestone, ironstone, granite, flint and sandstone, all these feature in walls to a greater or lesser extent. If you are fortunate enough to have a wall made of limestone which is not newly constructed, you will probably already have realized how rich it is as a habitat for wildlife.

The importance of aspect

The aspect of the wall is of great importance to the animals and plants which will colonise it.

The first colonizers

Which are the first plants to colonize what appears to be a bleak and barren substrate, lashed by rain and wind, and perhaps scorched by the summer sun? The first species to arrive will be the lichens. Indeed, it is generally only the lichens which manage to survive the uncompromising conditions which a south-facing wall presents. Initially the form of these simple plants is so small that they cannot be detected by the human eye. Gradually they spread out, often forming circular patches, although this shape is by no means unique. Their growth rate is extremely slow, but once they are established they survive for a very long time. It is possible to gain some idea of the age of a wall by looking at the size of the lichen patches. Similarly, by looking at gravestones, which have dates on them, it is possible to work out their rate of growth. Lichens reproduce by means of spores, and it is because these are very small and light that they are quickly carried to new habitats. Various types of lichen are distinguished by their colour, the attention of the sun for large parts of the day, the wildlife which they contain is usually negligible. Plants and animals are unable to tolerate not only the intensity of the sun, which heats up the wall, but also the drying effect which this has. Contrast such a south-facing wall with one which has a north-facing aspect and, as you will see, the change is very great. Here the wall remains cool and shaded, and where it is well established, will have a wide variety of plant species, not to mention the animals which take refuge either within the wall, or among the plants.

The maturing wall

We have mentioned that it is the old walls which are obviously richer, particularly in terms of plant life, than the newer ones. Over a period of time, the elements will have taken their toll or done their work, and this weathering is very important, because it will have been effective in breaking down some of the mortar and cement between the building blocks, releasing nutrients necessary for the well-being and development of wall plants. Coupled with this is the fact that over a period of time soil blown about by the wind will collect in nooks and crannies and provide a supply of food for the plants.

And you may find grey, orange or yellow forms. All glory in Latin names; none has a common English one!

The arrival of moss

Where some soil appears on a wall, the spores of moss may also settle and grow. If you look at various walls you will see that there are several species of moss which grow, although by far the most common is Tortula muralis, known as wall screw moss, whose bright green form enlivens many walls.

Next the wall will support several flowering plants, once the habitat is suitable for them to gain a foothold. You may find the wall pennywort and the wall barley, although they may not be exclusive to the wall. Before these species can become established, a reasonable supply of soil has to accumulate.

There are times when no soil is visible, but plants have become established. Where either weathering or poor workmanship has provided a supply of loose mortar, these plants will have something in which to sink their roots. One species which has taken advantage of many a niche which the wall offers is the rosebay willow herb. But there is a wide range of plants which will grow on the wall provided that the conditions are favourable, and I remember watching with interest as an elder tree grew out from between the blocks of stone in the village church tower where I grew up as a lad. It obviously found plenty of nourishment, because in a relatively short time it reached shrub size.

Light seeds

Nature has provided various plants with suitable adaptations so that the species will continue. Many species have very light seeds, and as the wind carries these along a lot unexpectedly come up against a solid barrier, the wall, and from time to time the odd seed falls, where there is a suitable place in which to survive. Where a wall presents a shady aspect, other plants including ferns, will grow as well as the flowering species. The maidenhair spleenwort will grow where conditions are not too adverse, and will flourish as will the wall rue. It stands to reason that species like these are adapted for the demanding conditions which are found on and in the wall.

A hedge by the sea for wildlife

Those people who live along the coast may find it difficult with certain hedging species, as they are susceptible to the salt-laden air, and so do not do well. If you have been to some parts of the coast you will probably have been confronted at some time by a shrub with rather sharp spines. If you have been in autumn you will have seen yellow berries being taken by flocks of migrating birds. The shrub is the sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides. Within a short time its vigorous growth, aided by good sucker development will provide a dense hedge. It has a maximum height of about 1.8 m (6 ft), and needs virtually no attention, at least in the early stages. Some pruning may be necessary later, together with the removal of the sucker growth, otherwise it will take over the garden.

Spindle tree (Euonymus japonica) can be used and will form a useful hedge. ‘Spindle tree’ is something of a misnomer, for it is better described as a shrub. It is tolerant of salt spray as well as pollution. It reaches a maximum height of about 6 m (20 ft), although as a hedge species this is usually reduced to 3 m (10 ft). When planted at a distance of about 60 cm (24 in) it will grow to offer a substantial hedge, which will prove of value as a nesting site for many different species of birds.

Other fruit-bearing hedges for wildlife gardens

We could turn our attention to the barberry for a hedging plant. There are many different species which are evergreen shrubs, producing a good crop of berries in the autumn. The most popular are B. rubrostilla, B. thunbergii, B. stenophyll and B. darwinii. B. rubrostilla has a maximum height of 1.25 m (4 ft), with a spread varying from 1.8 m to 2.4 m (6-8 ft). It is particularly attractive in the garden, because it produces a mass of brilliant coral-red berries and exhibits a rich ruby leaf colour in autumn. B. thunbergii reaches a maximum height of 1.8 m (6 ft), and its greatest spread is 2.4 m (8 ft). In spring the shrub is characterized by its beautiful yellow flowers which give rise to brightly coloured red berries in the autumn. B. darwinii will reach a maximum height of between 2.4 and 3 m (8 and 10 ft), and its spread is usually about the same. The orange-yellow blossoms appear in May and June. The berries of this variety are purple-blue. The fourth species, B. stenophylla reaches the greatest height, with 3 m (10 ft) being a maximum, and it also has the widest spread at 3.7 m (12 ft). The golden flowers appearing in April are particularly pleasing to the eye. In autumn the berries will be blue, although they have a visible white sheen. Berberis can tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions, and a situation in full sun to partial shade. Like the rose, as far as soils are concerned, they are not particularly fussy and grow well on almost any type, including chalk. It is easy to propagate the plant by taking hardwood cuttings in the autumn.

Cultivated roses in wildlife gardens

Apart from the wild roses, you might also want to plant some cultivated varieties, and there are a number which will fit the bill. The advantages are obvious in that they all provide good cover for those birds which start to nest later in the year, and in autumn they should provide a good crop of hips. Not only will the blooms add a very good splash of colour in summer through to autumn, but most of the roses will attract insects out in search of nectar and fill the garden with their scent. It is as well to remember that unlike the hawthorns and the evergreens, the roses will need some form of support at least in the initial stages. Since you want a hedge which will reach a height of about 1.5 – 1.8 m (5-6 ft), any trellis or stakes which you use should be at least this height. You’ve probably realized that a rose hedge will usually achieve a maximum of around this height, although there are some species which grow to 2-2.4 m (7-8 ft). Another factor with rose hedging, as with holly, is that the cost might prove prohibitive to many people. The rose hedge needs very little attention beyond the annual removal of dead wood and there is such a large number of species to choose from, that it would be wise to discuss your choices with your local garden centre. Amongst the varieties which present a good display of blooms are Penelope, Nevada, Heidelberg, Kassel, Chinatown and Charles de Mills.

Wild shrubs for your hedge

We have already touched on the blackthorn. Known also as sloe, from the fruit, it is the ‘ancestor’ of our modern-day plums. Clusters of white sprays appear in spring before the leaves are out. It is naturally attractive to those insects which are out early, like the bees and, sometimes, wasps. There are a number of varieties, the common, wild planted species is usually Prunus spinosa. As its common name suggests, the wood is black and has many thorns. Birds find its dense cover useful for building their nests and so, around a garden, it will attract many species. You could also collect the fruits in autumn, to make wine or, as many country folk prefer, sloe gin. Although there are some cultivated forms, it is P. spinosa, the wild variety, which has the richest source of nectar. It grows quite vigorously and unless trimmed back in autumn it can become unmanageable.

Few people think of using the wild shrubs for their hedges, and although hawthorn might feature in garden hedges, blackthorn is not seen as often. There are other species too which can be used, and which, if tended carefully, and not allowed to get out of hand, will add a new interest to the garden. The wild roses should be considered, although, as you will realise, they tip-root easily and so spread very quickly. However, there is perhaps nothing more pleasant than the dog rose, Rosa canina, with its large pink flowers. Autumn comes and the flowers, long since faded, give rise to the familiar hips, which I am told were collected, particularly during the War, for their valuable vitamin C content. But of course the hips are best left to the birds, and to some extent to the mice, which seek them out in autumn, as a rich source of food. If you have plenty of garden and can leave a rough area for the wild rose to colonize it will almost certainly soon become a mecca for a variety of bird species.

You might like to try the sweet briar, Rosa rubuginosa, as an alternative. Like the dog rose its flowers, single and pink, which appear in summer, are an attractive feature. Species roses which are grown today in the garden as shrubs have been derived from wild stock, originally found in various parts of the world. Such roses can be traced back to the very earliest gardens of which we have any record. Take R. gallica, more popularly known as the Red Rose of Lancaster: there is proof that this species was one of those which the Ancient Greeks cultivated. In mentioning this species we would be in trouble if we didn’t refer to R. alba, the White Rose of York. Although we do not know for certain, it is possible that this species was brought to the British Isles by our Roman ancestors. A distinct disadvantage in growing these wild roses is that the flowering period is quickly over. Two species recommended are R. rubrifolia and R. moyessi, because the latter has very large bottle-shaped hips and R. rubrifolia is generally grown because of its attractive foliage.

The right hedge for your soil

Soil conditions have already been mentioned, as providing a clue to the type of species which you could grow in your garden. Box, beech and yew thrive well in chalky soil conditions. Don’t forget that yew is poisonous, and is best avoided where children are likely to use the garden. One species, Taxus baccata will form a very dense barrier. The foliage, which is dark, almost black, acts as a very good backcloth for other brighter hedgerow plants, which you might want to include in front of your screen of yew. If you have clay soils you will find that hawthorn does particularly well. Hornbeam is also useful, and both these are species which can tolerate the sticky conditions. The catkin-bearing hornbeam makes an attractive hedge that will withstand close clipping, making a leafy shelter for small animals. Similar to beech in appearance, it has the same characteristic of keeping its autumnal leaves throughout the winter.

One of the standbys for any garden is the privet. Now that there are a number of varieties available, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be one to suit most people’s tastes. Unlike many of the species which we have mentioned so far, privet needs attention throughout the summer, so there is a possibility of disturbing some species later in the year when clipping the hedge. Although its growth does not provide the same sort of dense cover as, say, the hawthorn, this can be overcome by planting a double hedge, consisting of two rows, particularly if individuals are planted 35 cm (15 in) apart, using a staggered arrangement with about 45 cm (18 in) left between the two rows. There are a number of varieties on the market. The most popular is Ligustrum ovalifolium. Although an evergreen species, in a very exposed situation it is likely to lose its leaves.

The Importance Of Hedges in wildlife gardens

By far the greatest asset to any garden is the hedge; it is a refuge for birds, and a home for several species of animal. To some extent its value is in the way in which it is managed, and in the type of hedging material which is used. Of all the places in the garden it is the only one which offers wildlife a screen, a place to hide, a place which gives them a certain amount of privacy and seclusion from the ever-present threat of man. The hedge also has other values, which we perhaps don’t usually think about. Our weather, as well as being totally unpredictable, shows great extremes. A hedge around a garden helps in various ways. It acts as a windbreak and so encourages birds to use the garden, and even seek refuge there when open country round about might prove too hostile. It provides cover and shelter, not only during the nesting season but at other times of the year, and can be a valuable roosting site.

In the countryside in general the mixed hedges are those which often support the best and most varied bird population. Like trees, the hedge is something which takes a while to ‘mature’, but it will become established more easily and more quickly if various actions are taken, as we will explain shortly.

If your garden is large enough, you may feel that you have room for other hedges as well as boundary hedges.

Evergreen hedges

You will obviously want to know what sort of hedge to plant. Mixed hedges are very useful, but often the length of garden available is too short. There are many advertisements in the gardening press and the gardening sections of the popular press for quick-growing conifers. If you want a quick-growing hedge then one of these species, like Lawson’s Cypress, will fit the bill. Because of its rapid growth it needs very severe pruning since, unlike hawthorn and blackthorn, it is a tree rather than a shrub. Nevertheless, it does quickly form a thick, tall hedge. This variety is quite cheap to purchase, but beware of ‘bargain’ offers, because such trees may either be less than the best or not have been hardened off. Although more expensive, there is a species which grows more quickly than Lawson’s Cypress: this is Jackman’s Green Hedger. You will have probems with these particular trees if you live close to the sea, where your garden is affected by salt spray. As an alternative, there is a more hardy species. Known as Cupressocyparis leylandii, it is best obtained in pots or containers. There are various names, but one of the most popular, and one which is recommended is a species known as Castlewellan. In a good soil this species will grow at the rate of between 40 and 50 cm (16 and 20 in) per year. Once established it forms a very dense, wind resistant hedge. For a really good barrier it is a useful idea to plant the trees in a double line, the plants spaced at intervals of about 60 cm (2 ft). Within a short time the main shoot will show quick growth. You should allow this to continue until you have the desired height: at this point it is time to trim it.

Another fast-growing conifer is Thuja plicata, and although it does grow quickly it needs attention from the shears only in the summer months. Some species are susceptible to too severe clipping, but not this one, which makes it a useful variety. It can be cut back, but will still produce plenty of growth. Birds are quite attracted to it, and find it very acceptable for nesting sites. It is best to select younger trees of between 50 and 60 cm (20 to 22 in) in height. These should take well, provided they are planted in May. There should be about 90 cm (3 ft) between one tree and the next. They will reach a maximum height of about 2 m (7 ft) and, after planting, growth should be allowed to continue until the trees reach the height which you think is suitable for your requirements.

A species which has always been popular as a hedging plant in gardens, although it has often been kept too short to be of any value to birds when selecting their nesting sites, is Buxus semper-virens, or box. It has a preference for chalky soils, like those of the Downs, and here it grows well. Indeed, one of the few places in Britain where this species grows wild is the chalky Box Hill in Surrey. Here the shrub thrives on the exposed hillside, and the air is filled with its pungent scent.

It is particularly suited to the western parts of our shores, where a combination of climate and soil are advantageous to its growth. Here it can reach a maximum height of 1.5 m (6 ft). Not only does it grow upwards, but unless checked and trimmed regularly it will grow untidily in width. It is best planted in early spring, late in March if the ground isn’t frozen, and strong plants should be purchased. Individuals should be placed about 60 cm (2 ft) apart. Because of its very thick foliage and a good branching system it is often favoured by the smaller birds. Not a difficult hedging species to maintain, it will only need clipping about once a year. Of course, if you really want to be ambitious, you can try your hand at topiary instead of simple trimming, as box is the shrub most frequently used for this art!

Deciduous varieties

Of course there are advantages to evergreen hedges. You have green throughout the year, and your garden is not subjected to the ‘problem’ of leaf fall in autumn, although you will miss the leaves for your compost bin. There may be some problems though, and the usual ground-layer flora associated with mixed hedges may either be absent or very restricted, whereas with a mixed deciduous hedge, before the leaves appear there may be a considerable growth of plants, providing a habitat that supports many small animals and insects. The presence of the insects will attract such creatures as the hedgehog and the wood mouse, enticed by the mixed diet they afford.

As an alternative to the conifers, perhaps nothing looks better in the garden than a hedge of copper beech, especially in autumn. Or you could use ‘green’ beech instead. There are advantages and one of the most important is that because this species is in leaf quite early in the year it is likely to attract some of the first nesting birds. In addition, you will have plenty of leaves in autumn, when, by the way, this species needs trimming back. Its maximum height of around 2.5 m (8 ft) provides a good screen. As with conifers the main growth points should be allowed to carry on to the desired height before cutting back is attempted. Although the beech is a deciduous species, when used as a hedge it will retain much of its foliage from one year until the following spring, when the new growth starts to appear. It takes time to establish a good beech hedge when compared with some of the fast growing evergreens, but if you have the time and patience you will be well rewarded.

When the enclosure Acts and Awards of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries demanded the fencing in of fields, many landowners turned to hawthorn and, to a lesser extent, to blackthorn. The reason for their choice was that both are relatively fast-growing shrubs. But another attribute is that, although deciduous and devoid of leaves from autumn through to spring, well trimmed and maintained these hedges provide a very good supply of haws or sloe berries in the autumn, which is much appreciated by many different birds. As a garden-hedging species, both have similar properties. Haws in particular will attract birds in the colder months of the year. Growth is good, with a maximum of about 35 cm (15 in) annually. A maximum height of 1.5 m (6 ft) can be expected, and this will probably be achieved in five or six years. Soils, as well as management, do affect growth rates, and it is a good idea to have a soil test, so that you can get advice on management from your local nurseryman or garden centre.

Again, this species is very useful because it is one of the earliest hedgerow shrubs to come into leaf, and is therefore much sought after, particularly by the earlier nest-builders, although later ones will also use it. Its growth form provides thick, almost impenetrable foliage which provides a good selection of sites for nest-building. Among the first of the new season’s builders will be dun-nocks, willow warblers, thrushes, chaffinches, pied wagtails and blackbirds.

Hawthorn is not only valuable as a species which will provide cover for birds; there are lots of other animals, mainly invertebrates, which feed on the foliage. To provide a good dense hedge, plant the shrubs about 30 cm (12 in) apart. You will be pleased with your hawthorn hedge for most of the year. The white flowers warrant the constant attention of bees and other winged insects, then the autumn fruits complete the seasonal offerings.

The holly hedge

Holly is another species which comes high on the list for providing a good hedge, with some naturalists suggesting that it makes the ‘best’ hedge of all. This is probably true as far as birds are concerned, providing a hedge with a dense growth, which other species, and particularly the unpredictable one – man – have great difficulty in penetrating. Although it is necessary to have both male and female trees in order to have a good crop of berries, there is another feature which many people will take into account. The plants are rather costly, and this is one of the reasons why so few gardens have holly hedges. Added to this holly is generally slow-growing, and these are the two main reasons for not planting it in your garden. If you can afford it, do think seriously about holly for your hedges. There are a number of cultivated species, as opposed to the natural variety, and these tend to grow more quickly, although the fastest will average no more than 15 cm (6 in) in any year. Such a growth rate will take place only on good soil, where the ground is well manured, and to have a hedge 1.5 m (6 ft) high will take at least twelve years. There is no reason why the holly should not be used in a mixed hedge, and hawthorn is useful here.

Log Homes For Wildlife

In older methods of managing forests there would always have been good supplies of timber of all ages and at all stages of development, from the newly planted tree to the tree stumps left to decay. Unfortunately for wildlife, in many woodlands this is no longer so. There are some species of insects, like the large, harmless, but nevertheless ferocious-looking stag beetle, which must have rotten wood. The female will lay her eggs in the decaying timber, which acts as an important source of food for the grubs once they have hatched. Less rotting wood – less beetles; no rotting wood – no beetles. Then there are wasps which also use them, and indeed the rotting log will harbour a whole world of smaller wildlife. The digger wasps are quite partial to a log, where they can lay their eggs, and nearby they will look out for caterpillars and flies, which they can catch to provide a source of nourishment for their hungry growing offspring.

Similar to the wasp in appearance, but having only one pair of wings, is the hoverfly. Surviving under the guise of the wasp, a form of ‘evasion’ which is known as mimicry, helps to protect this creature from its enemies. The females of some species of this insect lay their eggs in rotting logs. But perhaps you wonder why you should encourage these insects to your garden. There are some species which are as effective as ladybirds, in devouring large numbers of aphids – greenflies.

So while you are out in the countryside, and without doing any damage, pick up a few rotten logs and take them back to ‘plant’ in your garden. Once established they will prove a valuable home for many different species of invertebrates and the chances are that some of the species which your logs encourage will be useful in your garden. You will want to take a peep to see what new inhabitants have taken advantage of your hospitality. Do so discreetly, and you won’t do much harm. But also beware, because most of the animals which live there will be fast movers, and the chances are that you will hardly see them, before they have made their getaway!

A home for many animals

Both slugs and snails will take to the habitat in the damp ground beneath the log. Although some species of slugs are a nuisance in the garden, there is one, the great grey slug, which does no damage because it lives on a diet of decaying leaves and fungi. Leave it in your garden and one day you might thrill to its acrobatics as it performs its courtship ritual. Having secreted a thick length of slime, it hangs suspended from a tree or other suitable object and performs a ritualistic display. Snails also need a moist atmosphere, and the log usually satisfies their requirements. They tend to alternate between periods of activity and prolonged periods of rest. These sleeping sessions are brought on by spells of dry weather, and are not the same as the winter hibernation. For their once-yearly deep sleep they will secrete a number of layers of slime over the entrance to the shell, in an effort to keep out the penetrating cold. In extreme spells of low temperatures even this precaution does not save them from the cold, and many will often die.

The centipede and the millipede are quite often confused, but with further investigation the problem as to which is which can be solved. Centipedes have rounded bodies: millipedes are more flattened. The former are carnivorous by nature, and in order to catch their food they have to move quickly. On the other hand, the millipedes are herbivores, and so they move at a much more leisurely pace, since the plants and decaying material on which they feed are there for the picking. The poison fangs of the centipede, which will quickly inject their lethal liquid into the unfortunate prey, ensure that there is no getaway. You might have time to look more closely at the millipede as it makes its leisurely way across your garden. You will see that there are two pairs of legs to each segment: in the centipede there is only one.

These small animals would quickly become desiccated if they did not have the moist atmosphere which exists under a log, and under stones as well. The woodlouse is another species which falls into the same group. Although earthworms are to be found in other parts of your garden, they will tend to be near the surface under the log, again because they can benefit from the dampness which is generally a feature.

If your log still has some bark left on it, you are providing yet another habitat for those species which can cope with slightly drier conditions. Here earwigs usually abound: other species of woodlice are also likely to view such a situation favourably.

Over a period of time the log will begin to deteriorate, much of this brought about by unseen plants, as they act on the wood. Once the log has begun to soften it will be attractive to those solitary wasps and bees which need such a place in which to lay their eggs .

What and how to plant trees for wildlife gardens

Deciduous trees have a resting period from autumn through to spring and this is really the only suitable time to plant them, unless you are buying container grown ones, in which case it is possible to plant them all the year round. Apart from the fact that it will generally be difficult to dig a hole when the ground is frozen hard, when the soil is like this planting should be avoided. Conifers are active all year round and the best time to move or plant them is in the spring. Great care should be taken that the soil and the roots are disturbed as little as possible. Again, many of the conifers can be purchased in containers. Although this is more expensive you may decide that the convenience is worth the extra cost.

Tree, as opposed to seedlings, in the area where it is going to stay. However, when planting is only temporary a tree should be placed in soft, damp soil. With large trees a hole needs to be dug, and care should be taken to ensure that not only is it wider than the spread of the roots, but also deeper. Once you are certain that you have excavated the soil to the correct depth, you will now need to loosen it for a depth of about another 15 cm (6 in). Artificial fertilizers should not be put into the hole. However, it is a good idea to dig in a small amount of peat, natural compost or bone meal.

Careful support

The stem of the young tree needs a support, which will prevent damage, particularly in gale conditions. A strong stake is needed and this should be driven into the ground for about 30-40 cm (12-15 in), with enough above ground level to reach the lowest branches. When securing the tree proper bands should be used, as these can be adjusted as the tree grows. They can be purchased from most gardening shops. They are rather like belts with buckles which can be released as the tree grows. Wire should be avoided, since it will damage the tree. The number of bands needed varies according to the size of the tree. A large tree needs three, a smaller specimen two. In the case of larger trees there should be bands at the extremities of the stem, I.e. near the ground and near the top branches and a third in the middle. Having prepared the hole ready for planting, check the tree. If it is container grown this should be removed carefully and the tree then placed, complete with its ball of soil, into the hole. In the case of a non-container tree, care should be taken to ensure that any roots which show signs of damage are carefully removed; these should be cut with a sharp knife. Once in the hole, fine top soil should be shovelled in until the roots are covered. The rest of the soil is placed in, a few spadefulls at a time. To ensure that the tree is firmly planted, the soil should be trampled on. The soil at the top should be level with the soil mark on the tree stem.

Care after planting

Even the smallest tree consumes quite large quantities of water. During the summer when drought conditions often exist it is necessary to ensure that watering is carried out in the cool of the evening, otherwise the sun tends to draw out the moisture, almost as soon as the water is poured into the soil. If the tree is planted in a grassed area, there should be a clear patch of soil around the stem. This is important while the tree is becoming established. Depending on the situation of your garden, you might find it necessary to protect your tree with a guard. If you live in an area which borders on open countryside, you might find that wild animals getting into the garden attack your seedlings and small trees. The bark of the tree is very important, acting as both a protector and an insulator. Should it become damaged the tree will suffer and perhaps die.

Care should be taken to check the tree regularly. Twigs in particular, and occasionally branches, do get damaged, and a sharp knife or pruning shears should be used to remove the offending material. The tree should be pruned regularly for the first few years.