Wildlife Gardening by Lynn Fomison 2005

Lynn Fomison wasemployed professionally by Butterfly Conservation, being Reserves Manager of 4 reserves. There are only 28 such reserves in the UK.

(Former Branch President George Yorke, site manager Lynn Fomison and Sir David Attenborough)

However, Lynn is also noted for her large, totally organic garden, featured several times in magazines and on television, attracting all forms of wildlife, and her family are self-supporting in vegetables.

Over 90% of the plants in our gardens are non-native, or have been cultivated beyond recognition. The great plant-hunters during our empiric days, heroically ventured to all the corners of the earth, bringing back exotic plants and changing the face of our gardens for ever.

It is said that we are the keenest gardeners in the world, we can grow virtually anything in our summers, and the importance of this is that the land given over to our gardens, far exceeds all the nature reserves combined.

Unfortunately, much of our wildlife evolved slowly, simultaneously with our native plants. Many species of butterfly for example, are genetically programmed to feed on, or lay their eggs upon, one species of plant only. Although some butterflies are migratory, others are not and are unable to bridge large areas, consequently die out. Exotic plants may have brighter colours, larger flowers which are longer lasting, but are no good for our wildlife.

The most exotic sought-after exotic plant during the early Victorian period was the Rhododendron. Exbury Gardens of the New Forest, in the early summer, must be unsurpassed, 2 1/2 miles of Azaleas and Rhododendrons in every colour, vivid or pastel, for a few weeks one of the most colourful gardens in the world. But, Rhododendrons can run out of control, their roots sap all life; just look underneath, they are devoid of life, useless to our native creatures and plants.

If you do not want to go organic, and it is more difficult, why not consider just leaving a space, say 10% of your garden, and allow it to return to nature. Nettles are a favourite for many species of butterfly to lay their eggs, as few animals can eat them. Throw some wild flower seed down, and over the coming years, you will be rewarded with beautiful natural flowers. If you are of an unpleasant disposition, you should be a good wildlife gardener, as you have to be nasty to the soil. Reverse all of your programmed thinking about enriching the soil with fertiliser, that just encourages the strongest plants to thrive, grass will overwhelm everything; the poorer the soil, the greater the variety. Dorset has probably the greatest variety of wildflowers in the UK due to its poor soil, as can be seen by the paucity of its arable farming.

So, be unpleasant to that soil, leave a little land untended and untidy, and in time nature will reciprocate and will reward you.

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Our Wildlife Paradise

Lynn Fomison

In 1983 we moved to five and a half acre plot in the heart of the East Hampshire countryside. It could justifiably be described as ‘needing attention’, and we saw the neglected meadows as ideal paddocks for our horse. The bungalow lacked any garden but was surrounded by overgrown grass, weeds, a very old orchard and welcome shade was provided by an old walnut tree. There was ample space for the vegetables that we wanted to grow. Then, just before we had had time to make any grand plans, something happened.

It was the end of June and within a couple of weeks of moving in, the place was awash with butterflies. We had already been impressed by the birds, having regular visits from nuthatches, treecreepers, woodpeckers and so many others, from the adjacent wood. Very quickly we vowed that we must do nothing to spoil the place for wildlife. That decision moulded the way we gardened. The wildlife came first and we had to get it right. Stories abounded about declining wildlife and the poor state of the countryside.

So I turned to the library. Reading Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ made me a convert to avoid chemicals. Further inspiration, and the knowledge of how to tend land organically, came from the books of Laurence Hills, founder of The ‘Henry Doubleday Association’. We were not new to encouraging wildlife in the garden, as we had used Ron Wilson’s ‘The Back Garden Wildlife Sanctuary Book’ to good effect, at our previous home. Published in 1979 this was probably the first of the really useful books on how to encourage all kinds of creatures in the garden.

Although we had followed his advice on providing ponds, bird-boxes, plants that provided nectar for insects, and seeds for birds, somehow I had overlooked his opening section on – ‘A Poison-free Environment’. To a busy person, garden chemicals represent a quick solution to all manner of gardening ills. I had followed advice in gardening magazines, from my dad or the next door neighbour, and had been using the full range of chemical fertilisers, weedkillers, pesticides and fungicides. I did not know any better. Four years on I started following Ron’s advice.

Out went all the chemicals and in came wildlife-friendly methods, of designing and maintaining the garden. Our garden was gently carved out of a wild plot. We took it slowly, assessing the effect of changes as we went. The wildlife approved of what we were doing! It looked good too. The old orchard trees were allowed to keep their gnarled shapes and coatings of lichen & mosses. Weedy areas were garlanded with wild flowers. Matthew Oates (author of ‘Garden Plants for Butterflies’ gave me excellent advice which I follow to this day, ‘Don’t do the same thing to the whole of the plot at the same time’. So different mowing and grazing regimes were established, both to benefit wild flowers, and to safeguard the various life-stages of butterflies, other insects and wildlife generally.

Along came more inspiration, by way of Chris Baines and a wonderful TV programme ‘Blue Tits and Bumble Bees’, and his book ‘Making a Wildlife Garden’, republished in 2005. The positive approach promoted by Geoff Hamilton on ‘Gardener’s World’, meant that at last gardening for wildlife without chemicals, was really becoming a popular pastime.

As well as keeping us in organic fruit and vegetables, attracting abundant wildlife, including 28 species of butterfly, our plot has attracted many human visitors too, many of whom were enchanted by this wild garden and its inhabitants and, we like to think, are encouraged to garden this way too.

So, if you have not taken the plunge and safely disposed of all those chemicals, take encouragement from Garden Organic (formerly Henry Double Day Research association HDRA). A recent poll suggests that 61 per cent of British gardeners would like to grow organically but need help and advice to do so. I reckon they probably need a bit of motivation. What you do WILL make a difference. News has recently emerged from DEFRA proving that organic farms really do support more wildlife. Some years back research by Butterfly Conservation showed butterflies fared better on organic farms. Birds benefit even more as wild plants and invertebrates flourish. But don’t take my word for it; try it out in your own garden.

So no more slug pellets and you should see an increase in thrushes as snails increase, amphibians – very sensitive to absorbing chemicals through their skin - should thrive, and there will be more insects to provide ample food at the bottom of the food chain. So look out for bats, brilliant birds and marvellous mammals! Don’t panic you WILL still have an attractive garden, a natural garden, full of beautiful flora, birdsong, butterflies insects and animals.

There are now many books on this subject - just Google

Lots of good information to download from their guide gardening with wildlife in mind.

Also non-internet people can ring English Nature 01733 455100. They do a set of 10 booklets

A recommended book is ‘How to make a Wildlife Garden’ by Chris Baines

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