|salvia atrocyanea with ubiquitous common carder bee - they LOVE it
Inspired by the need to help bees and butterflies and then encouraged by this years Dorset Wildlife Trust campaign to get Dorset buzzing, we set out three years ago to create a gravel garden that would enhance the attraction of our little patch of wildlife heaven. What follows is the story of our ‘work in progress’ -
‘CREATING A GRAVEL GARDEN FOR THE BUZZERS’
We started by visiting inspiring gardens such as Beth Chatto’s where she dug up her car park to create a stunning gravel garden, then reading books and seeking advice from our delightful Knoll Gardens near Wimborne.
|as tall as our cottage, the bamboo thicket on the right is the chosen spot for our creation - lots of hard work ahead!
The site we chose picked itself, for it is the sunniest area in our wooded two acres. Trouble was, this large patch was a forest of invasive bamboo, so tall and thick that giant pandas raised young in it!
|cutting the bamboo provided a lifetime of kitchen garden poles and allowed us to admire our lovely oak tree behind
If you’re wondering what the scaffold is there for, we were building ‘Hugh’s Folly’ at the time, a picture window that looks out over our frog marsh and as it faces east, allows us to bask in the sunrise of winter dawns. It’s beautiful but cost twice as much as estimated and took twice as long to build, hence the term ‘folly’!
|a timber framed 'folly' maybe, but warming in a winter sunrise overlooking our frog marsh is a delight
|in the summer it's a very wild garden - just as we like it
|winter pollarding and pruning - and progress clearing the gravel garden area on the right
Clearing the bamboo jungle was the first priority and after a couple of years of sawing and digging bamboo and snowberry roots, along with a jungle of bramble and ivy, we had the beginnings of a workable site.
|bottom left is our chosen spot, sunny in the summer but we'd hardly started even clearing it
|blink and the jungle returns - bamboo and snowberry growth is relentless
There was also the smelly matter of an old toilet soak-away buried under all this growth, left over from the days when there was a privy outside our ancient cottage.
|a glass plate pic of our old cottage built on sunny heathland before the top story was added in 1910
The three thatched cob dwellings are shown on maps dating 1747, set in a heathland habitat and when we first moved here thirty eight years ago, the area behind the house was still heathland and had a population of stonechats and linnets. The extraordinary speed of the oak and birch growth behind the cottage since living here still surpises us every week.
After many weeks we had
cleared the site but still had the problem of deeply buried tree and bamboo
roots and had to remove them without damaging the roots of our majestic oak
|the cottage has changed a bit over the years but look at the growth of the oaks and birch behind the cottage - awesome
|what a beautiful tree - 100+ years old and growing fast - the gravel garden will be on the left
|the fibreglass skin I'd added to the wood survived under the compost heap
Buried underneath the jungle of roots was a compost heap for grass snakes and slow-worms, covered by my old boat that in my early twenties enabled me to row around the Norfolk Broads, looking for birds and fish.
|making a start between the stream and main pond
|Steve making excellent progress
|piles to fill many barrow loads - good excersise
|dismantling the woodland privy soak-away and filling the hole with roots and soil
|roots all dug out and cleared and almost ready for covering - didn't he do well!
|several layers of tarram left for two growing seasons would kill any growth below - we hoped!
|a lovely tidy job created by Steve and now we could make a start creating our dream garden for buzzers
|after nearly two years it's almost ready for removal, then the hard work of tons of soil, gravel and planting can commence
|we were advised by Knoll Gardens to create raised areas of soil and gravel so the plants were free draining
|barrows of delight for bees and butterflies
|paths through the area will become less formal as the plants grow
|we mulched the new plants with 2" of 10mm gravel to keep them moist but weed free - dream on!
|aster nectar for hoverflies that arrived within minutes and we have a years planting still to go - exciting times
|silver-washed fritillaries love hebes
The Dorset Wildlife Trust’s campaign to encourage members to plant for invertebrates ‘Get Dorset Buzzing’ has been an impressive success. They hoped to win support from about 1,000 and have now attracted upwards of 4,000 so well done to them all because it’s great for bees and for all those other pollinators that are so essential for our own long-term survival.
In the meantime, we’ll just keep digging for England. Flowers, colour, bees and butterflies in our gardens. What’s there not to like!