Exploring a wildlife friendly garden in Cheshire

Clemley House garden

Clemley House garden - Credit: not Archant

Cheshire Wildlife Trust supporters Sue and Tom Makin have created a wildlife friendly garden at Clemley House, near Tarporley. Sue explains their passion

Clemley House garden

Clemley House garden - Credit: not Archant

There was very little in our two-acre plot when we first arrived in 2008. I was enthusiastic to create a haven for wildlife but also very apprehensive, having only ever owned a tiny garden.

My husband Tom and I began by planting dozens of trees which we knew would be great for wildlife. These included rowan, silver birch, field maple, bird cherry, oak, hawthorn, and amelanchier and an orchard of apple, pear, quince, damson and plum. All of these were bought as young, bare rooted specimens for winter planting. This kept the cost down and gave them a chance to establish their roots before spring.

Many nest and bat boxes were placed around the garden and house. We also planted several pyracantha against the cold north facing wall of our home. This evergreen shrub provides shelter, nectar, pollen and berries for birds and invertebrates – and it looks great too! Other fences, walls and arches were planted with climbers such as clematis, native honeysuckles and ivy as well as a variety of rambling roses including American Pillar, Frances E Lester and Kew Gardens.

Paul’s Himalayan Musk was used to rapidly drape our entire verandah with its highly scented delicate pink flowers. Cuttings from all the roses were taken to eventually cover the fencing between the garden and meadow area. All of these bear beautiful hips to feed the birds as well as having open flowers suitable for bees and butterflies.

Sue Makin at Clemley House garden

Sue Makin at Clemley House garden - Credit: not Archant

Several dog roses were planted in the meadow, and Rosa Bonica, an amazingly disease resistant and shade tolerant, warm pink shrub rose was added to our flower beds. This rose also thrives on the shady front of the house where it now flowers profusely from July to September reaching over 20 feet.

There had been a large pond in the meadow for hundreds of years but it dried out rapidly in the spring. We used heavy machinery to deepen the pond, creating different levels with gently sloping banks for easy access by small mammals and amphibians. In this way, we avoided the “drowning pools” created by many formal ponds.

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It became clear why the original pond kept drying out as we removed the 16th drain fitted by previous owners. Within 20 minutes of removing the last drain and the clay bed being smoothed, ground water was starting to accumulate on the bottom of the pond. An hour later, pond skaters were back.

To top up the water in the pond, rainwater is channeled under the lawn from the house roof. It’s filtered through sandstone rocks and then passed through a reed bed to remove any chemicals before it flows into the pond.

Red-tailed bumblebee on bird's foot trefoil

Red-tailed bumblebee on bird's foot trefoil - Credit: Jon Hawkins

Native marginal and oxygenating plants were added and several log and rock piles were constructed around the edges. Here, wild flowers and grasses are left to grow tall as shelter for amphibians, birds and small mammals.

Since then, two more ponds have been created and our area has been registered as a significant amphibian crossing site by the charity Froglife. Each spring we join a group of volunteers to aid the nightly journey of frogs and toads to these breeding ponds.

Growing our flowers and vegetables organically brings huge benefits for wildlife. Companion plants such as garlic discourage pests by the production of essential oils. Other plants attract useful insects. The vibrant poached egg plant, for example, is loved by hoverflies which feast on pests like aphids. In this way, we avoid using any pesticides or herbicides. Beneficial wildlife are encouraged to decrease garden pest numbers (see our top tips) and a “no dig” method of soil maintenance is used. This ensures a healthy, soil biome as opposed to digging and turning the soil, which destroys essential microorganisms in the soil structure.

Our ‘no dig’ method is a popular topic of conversation with visitors to our garden. It involves us layering an organic fertiliser such as chicken manure pellets or home grown comfrey leaves on the watered soil. A two to three inch mulch of organic mineralised (with iron) wheat straw – strulch – is then laid on top. This has many advantages. Water and heat are retained in the soil and it acts as an extremely effective slug and snail barrier. Worms multiply well and pull the straw into the soil which aerates it. Last but not least, it improves soil condition so heavy clay soils are loosened and sandy soils are more able to retain water and nutrients. The result is a healthy productive soil without the backache!

We have built a bug house based on stacked pallets and several more log, stick and rock piles. Compost heaps are left undisturbed and used as warm nesting sites by small mammals and possibly grass snakes.

Much loved by visitors, the meadow has been seeded with many perennial native wildflowers such as bird’s foot trefoil and knapweed. Semi-parasitic yellow rattle reduces the vigour of competitive grasses, and the meadow is grazed by sheep in the winter rather than cutting with machinery. Native hedges are kept tall and thick and left uncut until all berries are eaten. Our ever growing number of beds are also filled with a wide range of flowering plants, such as foxgloves and Verbena bonariensis, to support insects throughout the seasons. Lately we have planted alder buckthorn in the hope of attracting the beautiful brimstone butterflies.

Sue and Tom Makin enjoy showing visitors the benefits of a wildlife friendly garden. This year they open in support of Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the National Garden Scheme on June 23-24, 1-5pm.

For details visit www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden

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