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Gardening: How to make your plot wild at heart; IF you've been watching Wild In Your Garden on BBC2 you may be thinking about making your garden even more wildlife-friendly. ANN EVANS tracked down a local expert to find out how.

Byline: ANN EVANS

SIMPLY leaving out half an apple could make a difference to the bird life in your back garden. And if you hate mowing the lawn, why not leave a small part of it to become your very own meadow to attract butterflies?

Even leaving nettles to grow can help!

In a countryside which has changed dramatically due to farming and urban progress - where hedgerows have been dug up and ponds and ditches filled in - your garden could become just the haven that Coventry and Warwickshire's wildlife is looking for.

Humble back gardens, nationally adding up to a vast expanse of land, can provide a home for many species, from frogs, newts and toads, to birds, butterflies and bees.

And, the good news is, it's not too difficult to attract them.

Andrew Thompson, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's conservation manager at Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve, says: "A lot of people enjoy their gardens particularly for the wildlife that comes into them.

"It's brilliant if people can focus on nature. And if they can plant trees, shrubs and plants which are native to this country, they will support a wider range of wildlife than plants from other parts of the world.

"Our gardens are a very important resource for wildlife. Many species have been suffering a decline over the years, some through the change in climate, others through their natural habitat disappearing. Gardens cover a very large area of land and can provide a wonderful diverse habitat for a whole range of species."

Wildflower meadows are the natural home for butterflies, bees and grasshoppers but many have vanished over the years.

One way of helping to redress the balance is by converting a small grassy area of your garden into a mini wildflower meadow.

Experts suggest finding out first what is growing naturally by allowing the area to grow through summer so you can see what comes up.

You might be lucky and find a rare orchid growing, or it might just be buttercups and daisies, in which case you can introduce some wild flowers yourself.

To give the seeds the best chance of growing make gaps by removing squares of turf and topsoil and seed with one or two carefully chosen types of wildflower in the autumn.

You could even introduce wildflowers as pot grown plants.

Andrew says: "To attract a range of butterflies into the garden, you can grow plants which are the food for adult butterflies, and also plant to provide the habitat for the eggs and larvae. For example, by leaving a patch of nettles in a sunny corner, you'll attract the peacock butterfly and the small tortoiseshell butterfly. If you plant the common buckthorne you'll attract the yellow brimstone butterfly."

Having a pond can also make a big difference to the number of species in your garden.

Ideally garden ponds should not have fish in them as they eat the tadpoles. And they should have gently sloping sides to allow froglets to emerge from the water. They should also have plants in the water and around the outside of the pond to give adult frogs plenty of shelter.

"Garden ponds are excellent for gardens, although of course proviso must be made for the safety of children," says Andrew.

"But a pond planted up with wildflowers and plants can attract amphibians and dragonflies - as well as making an attractive feature in the garden."

MEADOWPLANTS

Flowers for your wildflower meadow that will do well in most types of soil include:

Ox-eye daisy, yarrow, bugle, selfheal, goats beard, cuckooflower, meadow buttercup, agrimony, birds-foot trefoil, perforate St John's wort.

BUTTERFLIES

Some nectar food plants for butterflies:

Buddleia, ox-eye daisy, cornflower, campanula, hyssup, columbine, petunia, thyme, heliotrope, polyanthus, sweet rocket, aubretia, red valerian, Michaelmas daisies, yellow alyssum, water mint, phlox, primrose, sweet william, catmint, wallflowers, scabious.

CATERPILLARS

You can't have butterflies without first having caterpillars. Caterpillar food plants include:

Common blue butterfly - likes birds-foot trefoil.

Green veined white butterfly - mustard, cuckoo flower, horseradish, charlock.

Small white butterfly - cabbage, mignonette, lettuce.

Large (cabbage) white butterfly - cabbage, white nasturtium.

Red admiral butterfly - nettles.

Peacock butterfly - nettles, hops.

Small tortoiseshell - nettles.

Swallowtail - milk parsley, angelica, wild carrot, carraway.

FEEDING THE BIRDS

Feeding birds in winter can be a real lifesaver for them, but there's also a positive knock-on effect for organic gardeners.

As the birds get used to finding food in your garden during winter, they will search for greenfly, caterpillars and snails during the rest of the year.

Make sure bird feeders are high enough so cats can't get at them - but not so exposed that the birds could be troubled by sparrowhawks, so put the feeders near to the cover of trees or hedges.

But don't hang the feeders near nesting boxes as the busy atmosphere will put birds off nesting.

If you have old trees, you could smear fats and fix nuts into crevices in the trunk which nuthatches, treecreepers and woodpeckers adore.

A simple apple cut in half meanwhile will be enjoyed by blackbirds and robins.

Fresh water should be provided at all times in a shallow container so birds can drink and bathe without danger of drowning. And if the bird bath is on the ground or in the form of a pond, other animals will also use it, such as hedgehogs, so make sure you have sloping sides so small animals can get in and out.

lDon't miss the Bird Fair at Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve today and tomorrow. Opening at 10am, there are stalls selling everything from bird watching binoculars to bird tables, bird books, bird food and lots more.

CAPTION(S):

LOOKING WILD: Conservation manager Andrew Thompson peers through honeysuckle and (left) birds-foot trefoil, which caterpillars like; REFLECTING ON SUCCESS: Andrew Thompson at the pond and (left) red campion. Pictures: RICHARD NELMES
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 31, 2003
Words:966
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