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  • Writer's pictureCrone

While I was away... garden creatures came out to ply.

First, a description: this garden is in the outskirts of a town, surrounded by busy arterial roads. My house is terraced and very small, with the garden equally bijoux. I’m a matter of 500 metres from a high street. This is not some village idyll: it is decidedly built-up. There is always traffic noise, and at night there are streetlights and garden lights all around me.

Second, an admission: I have never been much of a gardener. My fingers are very far from green. Although I appreciate flowers (especially scented ones); respect the glorious beds and borders of the more horticulturally-minded and relish the idea of eating home grown vegetables, my tiny strip of land has been more like scrub that I hacked back every few weeks to let the sun-light in.

In lockdown, I did a little more in the garden – you know, a hanging basket here, some more considered pruning there, that kind of thing. But perhaps more importantly, because I was in the garden more often, I began to get to know my resident birds and squirrels. So, I started to feed them. Dunnocks, blackbirds, robins, blue tits, great tits. Then a pair of wrens nested in the eaves, and I was enchanted.

When I saw the articles about gardening for nature on the Wildlife Trust website, I thought that it sounded like a good plan for my future garden management.

I made sure there was water in various places around the garden, for drinking and bathing. I left a pile of large cuttings at the back of the garden. I kept on feeding the birds. I refrained from hacking during nesting season. I’d never used pesticides or herbicides, so there are always aphid infestations somewhere. On the positive side, my liking for scented plants meant that among the overgrown shrubs, I have lavender, honeysuckle, roses, sweet peas, mock orange, rosemary and jasmine. Always something for the pollinators. My two lilac trees and one cherry also offered plenty of flowers at different times of the year. And that messy area where I sweep all the mess is, as it turns out, heavenly for worms. There are four or five in every trowelful of what I call ‘my home-made compost’.

As I said, my backyard is, well, scrubby. There is a lot of what you might describe as habitat, even though it really is tiny – 4 metres by 20.

The garden became busy with starlings, magpies and fat pigeons. A thrush used the water bath. A coal tit and a blackcap took to making occasional visits. I heard goldfinches above and wrens in the hedges.

Just in case there might be hedgehogs, I left food for them as well. When I bought a bat detector to use in the bat surveys that I take part in, I took it into the garden and heard soprano pipistrelles after sunset.

What really blew my mind, though, happened when I had to go away for work and a friend stayed to house-sit. She put up a trail camera in the garden and it turns out that my little plot is a hive of night-time activity as well as day-time feeding and bathing.

This friend has done a hedgehog rescue course and she had expected that hogs might be resident in my rather untended garden. She was right. At least two hedgehogs roam around throughout the night. There are also two foxes who seem to feel very much at home in my backyard. My dog, now deceased, used to bark sometimes in the evening and ask to go out into the garden where he’d run after something. He knew there were foxes, but I never did.

While I was on this work trip, my friend sent me the videos. A fox sitting down and sneezing. A hedgehog scratching his belly so hard that he rolled over onto his back. A robin hopping about and inspecting the camera. A squirrel running right up to the lens and sniffing it. Another hedgehog digging under the camera and turning it over. A second fox nibbling at spilt bird seed. A mouse climbing a tree to reach the suet block. A tailless blackbird pecking at the mealworms.

Never had I been granted such access to the life of my garden – and I was so many miles away.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than to know that all the work I haven’t put into my garden has reaped such wonderful rewards. I share my space with many other species. We are a community. It is their turf as much as mine – and I am privileged to have their company.

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Aug 13, 2022

Wonderful to hear about the backyard community you are part of !! Great photo of the hedgehog 😃

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