Another interesting and varied talk, on sustainable gardening, was given by Jon Allbutt to an audience of nearly 20 at the WI Hall on 14th January.
He started off by explaining what biodiversity is – all the plants, animals and microbes in a given area, which might be as small as a garden, or as large as the UK, or Tatsfield, and all their interactions. He always used to be a tidy gardener, but now encouraged us all to leave some areas for wildlife. A closely mown lawn, for example, is a desert as far as most wildlife is concerned, but from his own experience (at his house in France) he knew that wildlife was just itching to take over, if only it was given a chance. He explained that all County Councils must have a Biodiversity Action Plan, but this did not have to be very detailed – the Surrey plan did not even mention Tatsfield, or indeed the Hill Park Estate (off Chestnut Avenue).
He gave us a lot of tips for gardening to increase biodiversity. When he originally came to Tatsfield, he was disappointed with the number of birds that came to his garden but now, after expelling the squirrels – or tree rats, as he called them – there was a great number, and a great variety, of birds.
Hedges are very valuable as ‘green corridors’, but they must be managed. This might involve laying the hedge (a very skilled job) which would initially have a negative impact, but in a few years would be very positive for
Ponds are a very complex subject. They need to be sited correctly, and to be maintained properly, but are a very valuable resource for all kinds of wildlife.
Nest boxes – for both bats and birds – are also very valuable, although (as Jon explained) some are just not liked by the birds despite being sited correctly. They must have the correct diameter hole for some birds, although others (eg robins) prefer an open-fronted box. Almost as important as nest boxes is somewhere to drink and bathe.
Bees can be encouraged by planting pollinating plants, eg antirrhinums, and even in winter – when most bees are hibernating – primroses, daphne and mahonia perform a valuable task in feeding early bumblebees.
Grass snakes and slowworms are commonly found in compost heaps, so these must be turned or emptied carefully.
Mice and shrews like long grass, so leave a longer area in your lawn. This will also encourage many other plants like orchids.
Trees are an undervalued resource. The common oak is home to up to 350 species of mini beasts, so (if your garden is large enough) why not plant one? Or possibly grow small native trees as a hedge. Jon was very encouraged to see many Leylandii hedges failing, as these were very poor habitat, and hoped that they would be replaced by bullace, sloes, spindle and similar local species that grow so well in the wild.
As usual, Jon answered all questions as they arose from those present. I am sure he could have gone on for another couple of hours, as he is so interested in sustainable gardening, which is a real and positive change from when he was trained. Everyone can do it! It is no more onerous than ‘traditional’ gardening, but gives much more pleasure.