Welcome to the first of my updates on what's been happening in my garden since RSPB gardening expert Adrian Thomas paid a visit last summer, as featured in Nature's Home Spring 2020. Adrian knows his stuff and I was all too aware I hadn’t done as much as I should in the garden since we moved in, so committing to these "what has he done since?" blogs seemed like the perfect way to make sure we turned his advice into practical action.

I’m pleased to say that in the weeks since Adrian visited, my wife Laura and I were so inspired by his advice and the potential of our garden, that we cracked on and already the garden is much better for wildlife. To see Adrian's masterplan for our garden, you'll have to check out the magazine, but he set out a series of tasks and a plan for the whole garden (which is actually a lot bigger than you see in the mag as we also have a "side" and a "front" part to the garden - so even more potential to make it nature-friendly!).

Nature's Home Spring 2020 has loads of great content for RSPB members, including a wildlife masterplan for my garden.

If you’ve read the feature, you’ll know we had just come out of an extension project to build over the flat roof extension at the back of the house. This means the garden was very much in recovery stage from months of heavy machinery and builders, but also (being the hoarder that I am), there were some materials left over that I knew I’d be able to put to good use.

What do you do with 200 old tiles and bricks?
I had more than 200 old large roof tiles stacked in the corner of the garden and a similar number of bricks, but I had a plan to put them to very good use and also save me from having to get rid of them…

I'd also managed to rescue several big sections of trunk from willows that had been felled nearby. In an ideal world, they wouldn't have been felled at all but it was too late to do anything about that, so cheeky as ever, I asked the landowner if I could "help them to clear up" by generously taking away the wood for them.  

I was going to build a bee and bug hotel, but what I hadn't planned was how it would look and how big it would get. I just kept on lifting, stacking and covering up more and more of the horrible, broken fence next door. As you can see form the photo below, I had a ready-made bee hotel on the fence, but that was soon to be eclipsed, totally eclipsed, by my masterpiece. It does give you a good sense of scale though.

Half an hour in and things were looking like this:

A work in progress - the tiles kept coming and I kept on stacking...

Stacking up
I kept on stacking and realised that stacking the tiles in a set pattern made the hotel look pretty smart and also created loads of extra holes that I could later fill with hollow stems and other material for insects.

I'd already drilled in a variety of hole sizes into each trunk section and removed as much sawdust as I could (bees aren't keen on that).

Three hours later and "Ta dah!" here is a mega bee hotel (below). I call it "mega" because Adrian has made and seen a lot of bee hotels in his time and I know even he was impressed with the size of mine, which made me very proud! It also showed that the scraped and cut hands, and occasional heavy tile dropped on a toe, were well worthwhile.

The nearly finished mega bee hotel - something you can make at a much smaller scale or even go bigger. Note the bucket of twigs and stems, front left, that I then filled the gaps among the tiles with.

However, things were soon to get even more worthwhile as bees moved in with unbelievable speed. I remember the excitement of seeing the first hovering around the holes and as the weeks passed, there was a regular pattern of several of them checking out seemingly every hole to see if it was suitable.

Build it and they come -  they really do!

I'm still working out exactly which species of bee are using the mega hotel, but there were at least 8 in a mater of weeks with many sealing the tunnels showing they had used them for breeding. 

I finished the hotel in the summer and it is still standing proud after all the autumn and winter storms. I've also been busy filling in all the holes with bamboo cane and hollow stems to make even more tunnels for bees and other insects to overwinter in.

Of course, making nest sites for bees is only part of the needs they have, so we also got very busy with our planting and filling all that space in the garden with nectar-rich plants. More on that next week..

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