Make your garden a stepping stone for nature

Outdoor Living

MEADOW-MAKER’S HELPER Yellow rattle’s roots lock onto grass’s roots, sucking the  life out of the grass and thereby making room for flowering wild plants to grow.

Tips on how to start turning your garden into a bee and butterfly oasis

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

Every Garden Centre on this island is reporting a similar phenomenon. A brand new army of gardening enthusiasts, many with the same story about an old forgotten packet of seeds in the back of some drawer. Instructions followed, ground prepared, surpassing expiry dates or any such trifling matters with the spirit of something new that’s as old as civilisation itself.   
People are keen to make something of their patch with layers of life and interest. We feel close to the seedlings and new life when we nurturing them from seed. Gardening is keeping us grounded and connected. We often get lost in the task.
And then there’s the rewards. We give something time and attention, and receive a wealth of gifts in return – it could be a blaze of colour, or nutritious sustenance to attract winged things big and small. Life and interest, back in spades.
The colours and fragrance of your flowers will add richness to your garden, but if it doesn’t have the buzz of the bumblebee and the wing beat of the butterflies then there’s something definitely missing, I’m sure you’ll agree.
All you need is a little bit of know how to make your garden that stepping stone for nature in your locality, so here are just a few pointers to get you started. If you have a question and it’s not covered here, why not ask the Westport Wildlife & Tidy Towns page on Facebook – someone there is bound to know the answer!
Create a sustainable ‘wildflower mix’ or ‘cornfield annual’ area, to save yourself some mowing, by laying down cardboard or newspaper, with grass cuttings and or seaweed on top to enrich the soil over the winter, it eliminates unwanted grass until it’s time for sowing in the springtime, although these shop-bought mixes are often non-native, the nectar they provide is always welcomed by the bumblebees, who’ll travel from miles around for the floral banquet.
Removing these lawn cuttings also gives wildflowers like white clover a chance to establish by creating gaps in the lawn. You can save white and red clover seed after they dry out Naturally on the flower heads, store in paper bags for sowing after the last frost next April.
Nature enthusiasts say that native wildflowers are always best, and I couldn’t agree more. Not only best for our wildlife, but also best for the gardener looking for a low-maintenance, good-quality way to help local wildlife, often at zero cost. Leaving an area of long grass to see which wildflowers appear is always a good way to start. You might be surprised by wild orchids you never knew were there, or some other colourful wildflowers will appear. There’s only one way to find out.
Yellow Rattle, also sometimes called the ‘Meadow Maker’ helps other wildflowers to establish by tapping onto grass root creating bare patches. Native stock can be purchased from, or watch out for it in the countryside to save your own which must always be sown fresh (three weeks old, max).
Last but most definitely not least, always buy peat-free compost to give our wildlife more wild places to live. If you’d like to see more butterflies and bumblebees, this is where to start. This one action by many gardeners in a trend towards sustainability has yielded positive and promising results this year for our butterflies.
Gardening is sometimes seen as something you do on your own, but really we’re a social community – one look at the Westport Wildlife & Tidy Towns Facebook page proves that! And there’s countless other forums where gardeners new and more experienced can get advice and swap stories.
It’s heartening to know that the pandemic panacea was there all the time, just outside the door, and that the joy of planting, growing and supporting nature is being discovered for a whole new community of gardeners. We all need to adapt to the changes, sometimes keeping the peace by being kind and maybe keeping our own peace of mind by being ‘bee kind’.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.