• Smoking trees

    I gave a talk to the East Grinstead RSPB Local Group this week (about my day job setting up nature reserves), but as always found a little time to talk about gardening for wildlife too.

    In the interval, a Mr and Mrs Bishop came up to me with a question about some insects that they'd seen in their garden behaving like Starlings, wondering what they were.

    They knew that they weren't Winter Gnats, which I blogged about…

    • 30 Jan 2012
  • Who's a clever Dunnock, then?

    Here it comes, the BIG one, Big Garden Birdwatch weekend - I hope you're all ready to take part.

    And don't hold back if you think there aren't many birds coming into your garden this year - that is exactly the kind of information we want.

    For me, one bird I think I'm guaranteed this year is a Dunnock. In past years, it has been far from certain whether one will appear during the hour count, but I'm confident…

    • 27 Jan 2012
  • Don't believe the seed hype

    A big, glossy seed catalogue from one of the big companies came thumping through my letter box this week, a timely reminder that the sowing season is only just around the corner.

    On the one hand, seeing all the bright, colourful photos of flowers in full bloom is an exciting reminder of the glories of the season to come. But it was with my usual horror that I noted the plants that they were claiming were good for butterflies…

    • 23 Jan 2012
  • Are you tempted to tidy?

    One of the things I always like to claim about gardening for wildlife is that it doesn't have to be messy.

    Standing next to part of my garden this week, I wondered where I was going wrong. What a dog's dinner!

    Old stems of Teasels, Meadowsweet and Hemp Agrimony that I have left standing in case they contain any seeds, insects or insect eggs are all battered by the wind and rain. It looks like I just don't…

    • 20 Jan 2012
  • Alexanders the Great

    With a morning free to spend in the garden this weekend, I decided to spend an hour doing some weeding. I don't know about you, but I find it quite therapeutic. And they do say that an hour weeding now saves nine later in the season.

    And there is was one plant in particular I wanted to bring under control before it overran my hedge, and it's something I have the Romans to thank for - Alexanders.

    It's a perennial…

    • 16 Jan 2012
  • Caw blimey!

    Two years ago, after 44 years of living at the same address, my parents had a species of bird nest in the garden for the very first time. And they didn't arrive quietly - oh no!

    Here they are:

    Black, crow-like birds but with a steep forehead, pale bill and vaguely comical air, they are of course Rooks.

    When I was a kid, in the same house in rural Worcestershire, Rooks never came into the garden (I know because…

    • 13 Jan 2012
  • The importance of climate for gardeners

    In my last blog, I looked at how much annual rainfall in gardens varies (and hence what our plants and wildlife have to cope with).

    But what about average temperatures? Do they bounce about all over the place too? Surely we have cold years and warm years? Bear with me! The results are really quite astonishing.

    Let's start with just one single date, a month from now - 9th February - and try and predict what the maximum…

    • 9 Jan 2012
  • When rain goes up as well as down

    As gardeners, we all need to be in tune with the climatic conditions where we live if we are to be successful. At its most simple, we probably all know whether or not we can grow tender plants, or whether our gardens are just too prone to frost and snow for them to survive.

    One of the really important variables is the amount of rainfall we get. If you live in Essex or East Anglia, you may well struggle to grow plants…

    • 6 Jan 2012
  • Black magic in the garden

    Happy New Year!

    I've spent the last few days up with my parents in Worcestershire, and the pick of the garden wildlife moments was all down to the magic of nyjer seed.

    I'm sure many of you are familiar with nyjer - it is a very fine, black, thistle-like seed that came onto the market a decade or so ago.

    At first the feeders for it were awful, with holes that spilt more onto the ground than went into birds'…

    • 2 Jan 2012