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A Walk on the Wild Side

A Walk on the Wild Side

Issue 9 Jan / Feb 2005

Environmental concerns, religious values, or a simple desire to let nature run its course, are just three good reasons why the 'wild' garden is making a comeback in Britain. There are some of us who have a back garden so natural  that they wouldn't know where to start ordering it, but for many, the back yard natural eco-system has retaken its rightful place in the forefront of contemporary gardening practice and theory.

Unfortunately, the handkerchief-overmouth and pump action weed killer days are far from over, but alternatives are beginning to make a welcome comeback. Pesticides and chemical controls, even in small scale gardening, are proven to be detrimental to the wider environment. They are also harmful and dangerous to have around the house, and although they ultimately kill garden pests, they often indiscriminately wipe out pest, predator, and any other innocent bystanders, thereby destroying the garden’s natural eco-system. Once used, gardeners will rely on the product forever as their pests build up resistance to it. Eventually, a never-ending cycle of resistance and advanced pest control occurs, helping to keep this harmful, unfriendly industry thriving.

Meanwhile, a garden devoid of life, other than a few brave survivors and the artificially protected plants, will start to grow, devoid of ‘natural cycles’ and a block in the spokes of nature’s lifecycle. It may be common sense, but gardeners are beginning to turn their areas of refuge into thriving cyclical eco-systems offering solace to insects, birds and plants, whilst maintaining an ethical, clean, beautiful area. The method involves using insects, birds and small amphibians to control garden pests. Once a pest dies out, there is nothing to sustain a population of predators so they either die out or move on. It may seem a bit odd to invite bugs into your back yard. However, it could be the cheapest, most effective way to control pests and encourage plant growth, not to mention bringing life to a host of new animals. It’s amazing how many creatures would love the chance to live out there. Here’s a few that could be of service to you, as well as a few ideas outlining the best way to invite them into the mix.

The easiest and most obvious way to attract insects is to provide them with somewhere to live and something to eat. Given the right environment to shelter and lay eggs, as well as access to their natural source of food, most insects and invertebrates will quietly, almost miraculously, appear from nowhere. Compost heaps are perfect for recycling waste from the garden or house, but they also act as home to woodlice, millipedes, and slugs, all of which are essential for breaking down garden refuse, allowing you to do your small bit for recycling.

Not everyone would be happy with a nest of bees at the end of the garden, but those with enough land may not mind. The good thing about bees is that they ensure pollination for all garden plants.Places which bees like to use for nests include old walls, so you may want to consider providing a place for them to nest. Another easily arranged habitat is a small pile of wood in one corner of the garden. Wood piles are perfect habitats for wasp beetles and pot beetles, both of which are excellent predators of various garden pests. The wasp beetles’ methods of reproduction are gruesome, but they are completely harmless to humans, and very effective at pest control.

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to lay out a few flat stones. These act as shelter to both ground beetles and centipedes that are also excellent predators of garden pests. It is not only insects and invertebrates that have a role in exterminating pests. You may also consider inviting birds and amphibians into the garden. By creating a water feature, amphibians are attracted into the garden where they will feast on insects of any variety. Birds are also attracted by water features, as well as things like climbing vines which are good for nesting. Apart from singing and looking good, birds eat insects including predators and slugs which, if not treated properly, turn from friend to foe. If a garden is left roughly raked or not raked, slugs will decompose the dead leaves in a garden. Without that source of food, slugs turn to garden plants and flowers for food, becoming a predator through starvation. The temptation to wipe out slugs using pellets is a big one, but it’s better all round to leave a few fallen leaves out or have other animals devour any surplus slugs that may be around.

As mentioned earlier, you do not need manufactured pesticides. Aromatic herbs at the base of prize flowers will act as a mild, discriminatory killer, which will not harm predators such as ladybirds - that famed greenfly farmers, and others.

T. Glick in ‘Islamic and Christian Spain in the early Middle Ages’ said, “...nature is a ni’mah, a blessed gift of God’s bounty, granted to man to use and to enjoy, to transform in any way with the aim of achieving ethical value. Nature is not man’s to possess or to destroy, or to use in any way detrimental to himself and to humanity...”

Creating a more natural garden is not just good for the local eco-system. It can also be useful in the wider scheme of things. One of Britain and Ireland’s few remaining natural habitats are the various peat bogs of Hatfield Moor, Thorne Moor, Dartmoor and many more. Many soil compounds used in gardening are mixed with nutrient rich peat from the moors. Each bag of this being sold is another nail in the coffin of our remaining areas of natural beauty. There are plenty of alternatives, just ask at your local garden centre, nursery or check out the websites below.

Whether your garden is a little paradise, a piece of grass to escape the high street, or a little plot that keeps you happy, it can teem with invisible and visible wild life that you have a hand in controlling, without resorting to the industry answer of ‘kill ‘em all’. “It is fantastic to see that so many gardeners are welcoming wildlife into their gardens and creating mini-nature havens,” Prof. David Bellamy on the Wildlife Garden.

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