All my life I have wanted to learn the types of trees, to be able to identify them by their bark, their trunks, their leaves, their buds, their branches… To know their myths, history, ecology and more… I start off every new year with this unofficial resolution to learn my trees in the same way once, many years ago, I learnt my times tables.
But winter never seems a great time to learn once the trees have lost their leaves. Then by spring and summer, this resolution has fallen – like so many – by the wayside. And when it gets to winter again, and I embark on a frosty walk in the local woodland, once more I think “wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the difference between that tree and this tree?”
I love these majestic giants but how little do I know them!
So I will use this blog to act as an occasional tree journal to help jog my memory when it comes to learning about trees.
When I was a child I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and, for a while after, I was convinced that one day, just one day, I may just pop into a magic wardrobe in MFI, or some other furniture store, and enter a magical world. (The wardrobes at home were disappointing to say the least). Unfortunately I never found this elusive wardrobe, or indeed Narnia. (I never found a way to visit the Care Bears’ Care-a-Lot either, childhood is full of disappointments!)
But a different sort of ‘magic’ truly exists, one that inspires us, thrills us, motivates us, makes us feel happy… Sometimes some of its ‘magical creatures’ may appear to be invisible as unicorns and when we eventually glimpse one of these ‘fantastic beasts’, it feels like a magical experience. So what is this wonder that heals our spirits and minds, that makes us smile?
Recently, I bought a copy of Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes. Using the allegory of magic and the inspiration of fantasy stories, Simon Barnes explains in 23 chapters (or ‘spells’) how to make nature more visible. It’s a brilliant, easy to read, accessible book that would be perfect for those just getting into nature and inspiring for the well-established nature lovers. Each chapter feels magical – ‘We can make a magical transition from one kind of place to a completely different kind of place and do so, if not instantaneously, then certainly within astonishingly few minutes’.
And then there’s ‘so you can enter another country – the wild country – not through a wardrobe but by means of a Magic Tree. Enter, then, with joy. And after that, you can turn your mind to another spell’.
Yet along with this magical feel, thanks to Simon Barnes’ eloquent prose, each chapter has a handy practical – and often simple – hint to attract or discover wildlife. Do you have a pair of ‘magic trousers’ or have a ‘magic tree ‘ that attracts butterflies into the garden?
So while as an adult I know there’s little chance of finding a wondrous world at the back of my wardrobe, my garden on the other hand ….
Last autumn, Simon dug a pond in the newly cleared decking area of the garden.
The old pond, a large black container which was placed in the hens’ garden, had been dug out a few months prior. It was too deep, in an area which was sheltered with overhanging trees, hard to access or even see because of surrounding shrubs, and, perhaps worse of all, the chickens kept insisting on drinking from it!
The water had turned stagnant and smelt dreadful and I do not know what happened to the pond plants I had put in there a few years ago. The cobbles I had once delicately placed around had gradually slipped in over the last two years and there were no life forms living in or around this hostile environment.
So we took the large tub out, dug compost over the hole and relocated the pond – this time using a small (albeit heavy) sink. Duckweed and water plantain were planted in the pond and cobbles decorated the edges. It was all set and ready for wildlife to visit. In fact, a mere five minutes or so after completion, a little robin arrived and perched at the side of the pond as if giving his approval.
1. Wildlife loves ponds, whether it’s as a habitat or watering hole. In fact, I’ve heard that one of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden is to dig a pond. For example, frogs are dependent on garden ponds as they need water to breed.
2. My first pond was in an awkward place, not helped by overhanging trees. Christine and Michael Lavelle suggest trying ‘to avoid a site that is shared by trees because they will not only cut out light, but their leaves will drop into the water, enriching it with mineral nutrients.’ This attracts algae in the warmer months.
3. There are three types of plants for ponds – oxygenator (for oxygen), deep-water aquatics (shades water from too much sunlight), and marginal/emergent plants (offers shade and cover for animals at the edge of pond. They are also used by dragonflies and nymphs to ‘crawl out’ and pupate).
Information taken from The Illustrated Practical Guide to Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle.