Dragonfly in the Wildlife Garden

 Over the past few years our gardens have been dramatically expanded and improved, with many new structures and features being added.

One of the recent developments was the addition of our wildlife garden, which was opened in May 2016 and is a fabulous addition to our gardens here in Attleborough, Norfolk.

Dragonfly perched over pond

The wildlife garden is managed in an entirely different way to our main rose gardens, with our gardeners demonstrating a more relaxed and natural approach to maintaining and developing the area.

This new section of garden features two ponds, a wildflower meadow, areas to sit and view birds at several feeding stations, beds of rare and unusual species roses, a woodland walk and a children’s play area.

Rambling roses

Rose hips

As well as the main beds of rare and historical roses, you will find many species roses are also planted throughout the wildlife gardens. These roses can be seen growing seamlessly with their surroundings, just as they would be found growing in the wild. Forming hedgerows, growing as individual shrubs amongst other wild plants or growing up into trees or over structures. These species roses are varieties that share their characteristics with wild roses, often producing single flowers that are easily accessible to insects, making them a magnet for pollinators. Many will also go on to produce hips in the autumn, which are not only attractive, but produce a nutritious meal for several species of bird as food sources start to become scarce.

A beautiful rose to look out for is 'Wickwar', a summer flowering rambler that produces masses of medium sized white  flowers that later develop into pale orange hips. 

Rosa Wickwar

Rosa Wickwar hips

Although the gardens are still fairly young, the array of wildlife that has been spotted visiting the gardens within a short space of time is thrilling!

The wildlife gardens have a lot to offer all year round, although my favourite time has to be during the summer, when the gardens are literally buzzing with activity, as a wide variety of bees, butterflies and other insects busily visit the wildflower meadow, which is a joy to walk around on a warm, sunny day.

During the winter many birds including blue tits, great tits, willow tits, coal tits, goldfinch, dunnocks and robins can be seen visiting the feeding stations. Buzzards, sparrow hawks, wren, goldcrests, kestrels and even a heron have also been spotted within the garden.

As well as a wide variety of bird life that can be seen throughout the garden, our wildlife ponds also support an abundance of life. Although the ponds aren’t currently set up for pond dipping, tadpoles, water boatman, pond skaters, freshwater snails, water beetles, dragonflies, sticklebacks, frogs, newts, damselfly nymphs and moorhens can often be seen in, on and around the water, especially on a warm summer’s day. Even a goldfish can regularly be seen swimming about in one of the ponds, although we have no idea how he got there!

Wildlife PondBug house

By making a few simple changes and providing a variety of different habitats including hedgerows, grasslands, trees and ponds we are seeing that wildlife can be very quickly attracted to a garden. 

Whilst having a wildlife garden at home may not be to everyone’s taste, there are areas within this garden which we hope might inspire you to try at home. Whether it’s putting up bird feeders, creating a pond or planting some native wildflowers or species roses to encourage bees, butterflies and birds, it can all make a difference.

The addition of a pond, no matter how small, is one of the best ways to encourage more wildlife into a garden. Providing a vital place for creatures to drink, shelter, bathe or live. Whilst the bigger the pond the better, you will be surprised by how just a small washing up bowl buried into the ground and filled with water will still attract wildlife. Simply dig it down to ground level, add some large stones on one side so that creatures can easily climb in and out and put some pond plants at the other end, like marsh marigolds or irises. Fill it with water and just sit back and wait to see what comes to visit. You might be lucky enough to see a frog bathing in it, a water beetle swimming happily or birds visiting for a drink.

Head Gardener Vaughn Limmer digging a pondElephant Hawk-moth caterpillar

When adding any pond to a garden it is important to make sure that animals can easily climb out. Whilst hedgehogs are actually good swimmers, many sadly drown each year after getting stuck in swimming pools and ponds.

Hedgehogs were once a common sight in our gardens, with an estimated 30 million of them snuffling about in the 1950’s. Sadly there is now thought to be less than a million alive today. It is therefore very important to help these delightful little creatures as much as we can and try to stop them from disappearing altogether.

If you are lucky enough to still be visited by hedgehogs within your own garden, I would highly recommend building a hedgehog feeding station. Hedgehog feeding stations provide hedgehogs with a safe and dry place to eat, as well as keeping hungry cats out!

Feeding hedgehogs as the weather starts to get colder during the autumn is very important, especially for younger hedgehogs, so that they can fatten up enough to survive hibernation during the winter. Sometimes young hedgehogs that haven’t put on enough fat reserves can be seen waking up and wandering about during the winter in search of food. Sadly most of these hedgehogs then won’t be able to find enough food and will fail to survive. Hedgehogs can be fed on dried meal worms, pouches of cat food (but not fish flavour) and dried hedgehog food. It is also important to give them some water to drink, but NEVER give hedgehogs milk or bread as it can make them very ill!

If you would like to build a hedgehog feeding station of your own there is a lot of useful advice and ideas online. Simply type ‘how to build a hedgehog feeding station’ into your search engine.

Wild FlowersSkipper Butterfly

Another very simple idea to try in your own garden, which I appreciate won’t appeal to everyone, is to leave an area of lawn unmown. This will provide a haven for many different insects, as well as safe corridors for a variety of creatures, including hedgehogs and frogs.

Within the wildlife garden at Peter Beales we carefully manage which areas of grass to cut and when, creating beautiful winding paths amongst a meadow of wildflowers during early summer.

The garden also features a number of structures created from recycled materials, including arches from old ladders and an arbour made out of unwanted wooden pallets. These structures are then used as supports for several rambling roses, which once established, will cover the structures. We hope that by recycling old materials in this way, the structures will start to blend into their surroundings, instead of distracting from the beauty of the roses which they support. It also breathes new life into things which would otherwise have been condemned to a landfill site.

As well as growing happily over structures, rambling roses are perfect for growing up into trees adding a real sense of romance and interest through masses of beautiful blooms during early to mid-summer.

Recycled Rose Supports

Rose supports in the wildlife garden

Several bug hotels can be found around the site, as well as a hedgehog house and areas for reptiles to sunbathe and seek shelter, all in the hope of creating the perfect environment for a wide range of creatures.

At Peter Beales we are always working hard to create a great visitor experience for the whole family and the wildlife garden is no exception, proving to be a big hit with our younger visitors too. As well as being able to enjoy the adventure of looking for bugs or seeing what they can see living in the ponds, we have also carefully created a small children’s play area amongst the woodland trail. Bugs and birds aren’t the only things to look out for either, as you might be able to find six small fairies living within the garden if you look carefully enough!

Hedgehog HouseOne of the fairies living in the garden

Some people may be put off by the idea of encouraging more insects into their garden, out of fear of becoming overrun by pests, but by providing a haven for a variety of different species of creature you are actually more likely to equip your garden with the natural tools it needs to deal with pests naturally. A good wildlife garden will successfully encourage a greater number of beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lacewings that enjoy feasting on aphids. Many birds will also feast on caterpillars. A pair of blue tits for example can catch up to 1000 caterpillars a day when feeding their young, with each blue tit chick eating up to 100 caterpillars a day!

Both our rose gardens and our wildlife garden are free to visit throughout the year. Whether you decide to visit during a crisp winter’s day to enjoy watching the bird life feeding busily or choose to sit and watch the many butterflies that like to visit the area on a warm summer’s day, our wildlife gardens are definitely worth visiting at different times of the year as they change with the seasons.

A great range of wilidlife friendly products are also available  to buy from our gift shop and garden centre, with a good choice of bird feeders and food, nest boxes, bug hotels, bat boxes and hedgehog homes.

Ringlet ButterflyThe children's play area in autumn

Whilst we don’t expect many people to go away and completely convert their own gardens into a wildflower meadow or a natural woodland, we do hope that visitors will go away with a few ideas that they might like to try themselves. This new area of garden also works well to show how roses can be used effectively in different situations too. Roses are so often seen growing within a formal garden setting, but of course this isn’t the only way to grow roses and we were keen to show not only their diversity, but their ability to bring joy to any garden, no matter its size, shape or style.

Rosa RoxburghiiRosa x harisonii