Shady dealings, deer and wildlife gardening

I have just discovered the wonderful Long Acre Plants – a nursery which specialises in plants for shade, and which is only just down the road (actually the A303) at Wincanton on the Somerset/Wiltshire/Dorset border. As I seem to have a lot of shade to deal with, both in my own garden, and in clients’ gardens, this is a real find. I have just had a quick browse of their website, and there appear to be lots of interesting and different plants to choose from. They do mail-order too. Thanks to the Enduring Gardener blog for the tip-off.

A brief conversation with a neighbour from the allotment reveals that deer have been spotted – bold as brass, in broad daylight – on the plot. It may well be the deer, and not badgers as I first thought, which attacked (nay, destroyed) the sweetcorn crop. I am not sure how they are getting in as the fences are good and high – but my neighbour has alerted Salisbury City Council, so we’ll see what happens. I assume they are roe deer, which are fairly often seen in the fields around Salisbury, and do occasionally wander closer to the centre at least as far as our dreadful ringroad. They perhaps use the railway line, and the embankments alongside it as it enters the city, as a thoroughfare – from there it is a short deer-leap to the allotments, which actually sit on top of the railway tunnel carrying the main line to the station from the east. 

Speaking of urban wildlife, I am really enjoying Ken Thompson’s ‘No Nettles Required’ which I picked up yesterday in a 2nd-hand bookshop. I was hooked before I had read past the introduction, and nearly completed it in a single sitting once the children had gone to bed last night. It is not a new book, and I had read Thompson’s equally excellent ‘An Ear to the Ground’ some time ago – but I’m glad to have finally got round to it. Essentially, the author tackles a whole series of myths, preconceptions and sloppy science around the subject of ‘wildlife gardening’ – and exposes those which need exposing, all based on detailed (if inevitably limited) scientific research. So, he argues, lots of what we are advised to do by wildlife garden experts is essentially fairly useless – not detrimental in any way, but unlikely to make a real difference on the big scale. He also addresses the – again, inevitable – focus on larger fauna such as birds, butterflies and mammals: most of which are too big, and range over too big an area (like my wretched deer) to be affected by any one gardener’s activity. On the other hand, we can make a difference to invertebrates – unglamorous, unlikely to feature on ‘Springwatch’ – but fundamental to the biodiversity of our environment. There are also helpful reminders of some key facts – slug pellets are bad, especially for snails rather than slugs; nettle patches are probably a waste of time as they are too small and nettles are so common; ponds of any size are good; most ‘native’ plants are neither native at all, nor are they better than ‘foreign’ plants; gardens of any size are good, as they add to the total of green space where creatures might live… I enjoy Thompson’s iconoclastic approach, his wry self-deprecating humour, and his insistence that we examine things level-headedly. He is also right to remind us that large quantities of advice – about gardening in general, and wildlife gardening in particular – are commercially motivated, deisgned to sell us products which are at best unnecessary, and at worst completely useless. If we garden well, sensibly and sensitively, looking after the soil, planting to foster as long a flowering period as possible each year – then nature will mostly find its way well enough.

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