Gardening: Taking a walk on the wild side

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Are you in the process of clearing and tidying your garden for winter? Before you sweep away every last leaf and twig you might want to consider the valuable habitat dead material can provide for wildlife.

You may think wildlife and vegetable gardens make a terrible combination, but a garden rich in biodiversity can be beneficial to the edible gardener. Many creatures help control pests in the vegetable patch and, of course, there are the invaluable pollinators who ensure your fruiting crops are successful.

Blackbirds, thrushes, robins and crows will make a meal of slugs and snails, as will frogs, toads and hedgehogs. Aphids are a common problem for the gardener, so attract aphid-eating hoverflies by allowing a few carrots and cabbages to flower. Ladybirds and lacewings will also make short work of any troublesome green fly and will be attracted to a variety of flowers such as marigolds, fennel and coriander.

A good wildlife garden has a wide variety of habitats to support these pest-controlling creatures, such as lawns, ponds, flowerbeds, shrubs and trees.

In order to attract pollinators, like the ponderous bumble bee, a wildlife garden needs nectar rich flowers – from snowdrops and crocus in early spring right through to ivy and viburnums in the autumn and winter.

Very tidy gardens with lots of decking and paving are not inviting to wildlife, so don’t be afraid to leave the odd pile of twigs and sticks here and there.

Dried seed heads on plants can be left for the birds, providing them with a welcome snack over the colder months. Even seed-eating birds will feed their young on insects.

With the spread of urban areas, it is more important than ever to use gardens to support biodiversity, and the vegetable garden doesn’t have to be the exception.

nJenny Foulkes is Edible Gardening project manager at the Botanics. The project is jointly run with the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society and funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. www.rbge.org.uk/ediblegardening