Learn wild gardening – lesson 1: compost & window boxes

Gardening makes you more attractive – to six-legged friends! Get buzzy with wildflowers and weeds, says blogger Sparclear

Wildflowers in a vase: Cornflowers, barley, sweet william, daisies

Cornflowers, barley, sweet william, daisies… wildflowers put a huge smile on your face, and on the face of your neighbourhood insects too. Laura Eades 2014

Sparclear writes:

‘We must make a garden dahling’

Why, my sweetpea? Because it’s a joy to gaze at green stuff growing, of course. And it’s a lovely ritual to water your plants on warm evenings. Or maybe you’re thinking of fresh food? Herbs? Or of the beauty of blooming flowers. But close your eyes, imagine your plants, and what can you hear? The insects.

For most wildlife however, the right flora (the naturally-occurring plant life) means the difference between life and death. Winged insects can barely adapt to all these choice plants we bring in from garden centres. They crave a little weed, to be honest.

Learn wild gardening, and you’ll soon set up a million happy layers of biodiversity in your locale!

Prepare for the unplanned, and let go of total control

The first hurdle for a re-wilding gardener is that wildflowers we sow often don’t germinate, whereas the unplanned arrivals succeed.

For millions of years the native plants have been attracting wild creatures to eat them and help this along. Garden birds and animals don’t just transport the burrs stuck to their fur and feathers, the successes are also already there in the form of pre-digested material on your planned garden. So the first thing I learnt as a wild gardener was to respect this existing terrain already belongs to its creatures, and to stop tidying up.

It’s time to be as hospitable as possible.

As often as possible, in as many seasons as possible. Urban or rural, this is where to start.

How to get ready to make a tiny wild garden

  1. Get a window-box. Even our windowsills can become a miniature paradise. However small they are, because they become springboards for re-seeding the neighbourhood, their creation is our delight. Under the pot itself put a drainage tray and to help with watering.
  2. Rotate your boxes. Better still, have a couple of window-boxes. As each season turns your boxes will want refreshing, so see that some go downstairs to give them a rest, and opportunities for soil renewal, while others come into their moment of glory.
  3. Mix up some real compost in a bucket. Commercial peat-based potting compost robs the Earth, so do not sponsor it. Instead, assembling real compost is your first gesture, an act of dedication. In a pinch, collect up spent material from old flowerpots, topsoil and unwanted turf from skips, and leaf mould that is at least one year old. This last ingredient is a favourite with bulbs. Mix it all in a big builder’s bucket, and break it with your hands, and let strong sunlight dry it for an hour or two to cleanse it.
  4. Line your box before you fill it. Instead of broken crockery or gravel in the base of a window box, a layer of brown cardboard is good. If your plants must withstand winter chill, line the sides of the pot too, using old woollen material.
  5. Now put in the mulch. Do not fill the pot to its brim. Keep an eye on the moisture as boxes dry out drastically in a heat wave.
  6. Fertilise the soil as you go. Every couple of months, some soil nutrients can be added via organic plant feed, liquid seaweed extract. Most wildflowers prefer relatively low fertility anyway, and they will greatly appreciate a healthy community of mycorrhizae in your soil. What’s mycorrhizae? That’s a delicate network of fungal threads around the roots of things. This is the plants’ real life-support; their subtle canvas.

Great! Done it! But what shall we plant?

Ha ha! Good question. I’ll tell you next time, when I will write about the shoulder bag, the borrowed kitchen knife, and the stolen seedling.

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About the author: 

Sparclear is an avid gardener. She blogs and comments widely, and is passionate in the campaign for biodiversity and wild spaces.  She has authored a series of photoessays for the organic allotment pages of guardian.com.

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Enjoy gardening and want to share what the joy of it is for you? Never tried it? Gonna give it a go? You are welcome to leave comments. Just click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign below the blogpost to open the comment thread.

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