Allotment gardeners in west London with their winning wildlife garden
The winners of The Big Garden Wildlife Competition share some of their top tips so that you can create a wildlife haven of your own.
A new-build with a boggy garden that had 42 species of edible plant in less than a year
"I always say to people that I buy a garden with a house, not the other way around. We’ve been here for two years and it’s the first garden I’ve put together properly with my partner Vibhuti Mion.
My advice for a garden with a newly-built house would be to negotiate with the builders for added topsoil. Our builders lifted the fence and put on about 12 inches more soil, and put more drainage in. It was still waterlogged, so we decided to put in raised beds.
We had access to a lot of the stuff builders tend to dump – salvaged things like scaffolding boards – but we worked very hard on a tight budget. We concentrated on planting fruit, veg and herbs, and had 42 varieties growing in the first year.
We loved the south-facing nature of the garden. It’s quite a formal arrangement, but with lots of wild flowers. There are some large ponds just over our fence, so we get dragonflies, frogs and newts.
We have similar trees to native ones, chosen for their colour and bark. I’d definitely do that again; white-barked forms of the birch, Betula jacquemontii, and Prunus serrula with copper coloured bark that peels.
My daughter Phoebe is seven. It’s all so new to her. She made a nest box and a week later blue tits were nesting in it. We bred some ladybirds in a jam jar and saw the whole process. Young ladybirds are incredible – they’re black and yellow and look quite ferocious. We had a dozen or so juvenile ladybirds, so now when I see a ladybird I wonder if it’s one of ours."
- Kathryn Entwistle, Lancashire (winner of the New Residential category)
Wildflower turf helped turn one couple’s tiny London garden into a mini meadow
"My wife Sarah and I moved in four years ago after living in a flat in Hackney that had no garden. The garden here is about four metres wide. To begin with I just wanted to get rid of its palm trees: we’re in England, not in the tropics!
I’m not an expert but I’m not afraid of getting on with it; as a teenager I used to help my mum in our garden in Annecy near Geneva. Gardening is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I drew it all on paper. I saw that my neighbours were mowing their lawns every weekend and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted somewhere near the kitchen where I could eat out and have a glass of wine.
I dug out all the grass and spent weeks researching pre-seeded meadow turf. One thing to look out for is that some turf comes with a plastic mesh which isn’t biodegradable. You don’t usually see it, but you come across it if you want to move things around. And if I were doing it again I would go for a selection of grasses and flowers that are shorter, not one metre tall, because in the summer it gets long and starts to fall over.
We get lots of bees. I was surprised how much they love the raspberries. We’ve got foxgloves, lavender, oregano and marjoram and the butterflies love it.
The wildlife focus is a very good thing. I love coming home and being in the garden, and I don’t think about work."
- Thierry Suzanne, Forest Gate, London (winner of the Small Residential category)
Once a neglected corner in a large allotment field; now a focus for the community
"There are 240 allotments here, like a big oasis surrounded by houses. I applied for mine four years ago and cleared it okay. Then I noticed an area in the far corner where allotments had gone wild and it looked like a dump.
I thought it would make a great wildlife garden, so I went to the committee and they said, ‘We’ll fund it; you do what you want to do.’
I got a working party of allotment holders together. To start with it was all brambles and tins and bits of wood. We gathered all that up and took it to the dump and got a machine in to remove the brambles. We planted hazels, willows, cherry blossom, and a wildlife meadow with flowers and grass. We fenced the pond off for safety, and planted bulrushes and yellow irises and it looked really beautiful. It attracts pipistrelle bats, frogs and newts, the odd heron and loads of dragonflies. People sit there and watch the wildlife.
It’s the first time I’ve ever taken on anything like that. I always liked wildlife and could see something could be done; to me it was just a waste.
Today it’s lovely and beautiful. People say how nice it is. It’s made a hell of a difference. We take the children around and dig up potatoes and show them the ducks and chickens and the eggs. They draw pictures.
There’s more discussion about wildlife. It seems to have brought everyone together."
- Dennis Wilkinson, chairman, Framfield Allotments, West London (winners of the Community Garden category)
A big, not-too-tidy garden established for 13 years and surrounded by native trees
"We moved in 13 years ago and the previous owner had done nothing but plant leylandii, which we removed. We had someone do the hard landscaping, then we took care of the planting.
I’m the gardener and Terry is the wildlife expert: he volunteers at Sussex Wildlife Trust.
We decided to have a native species wildlife hedge, with hawthorn, blackthorn and wild roses. We wish we’d never put blackthorn in it now because it suckers everywhere. The birds love it though.
We’ve had all three species of woodpecker in the garden – green woodpecker especially, but also great spotted and lesser spotted. I think it’s really useful to see other gardens.
Sticky Wickets at Buckland Newton in Dorset was very useful to us when we were planning the meadow. We just let things like foxgloves seed themselves. We don’t really do weeding. Some people like everything in its place. Our garden isn’t like that."
- Terry and Christine Oliver, Sussex (winners of the Large Residential category)
A West Yorkshire primary school's place where children learn about wildlife, grow vegetables and pick plants to eat. And they love it
"I started work here as a volunteer when my children were at the school and I was studying garden design. Then I was applying for jobs and the head teacher said: ‘No, come and work for us!’ So now it’s a part-time job.
More work goes into it than it looks. When you’re making a wildflower meadow people think you just scatter the seeds, but you have to impoverish the soil. Either strip the grass off, or mow it and take the clippings off and keep doing that so no goodness goes back in. It’s a long process.
I remember one child saying, ‘I think you’re the best gardener in the world, Mrs Fletcher.’ The children want to eat everything – they’re always asking ‘Can I eat the chives?’
The best event, I think, is the first warm day each spring when it seems like every frog around comes to our pond."
- Helen Fletcher, gardener, Farsley Springbank Junior School, Yorkshire (winner of the Educational category)
A patch of industrial land, now transformed
"I retired at 60. At first Elizabeth and I did voluntary work at a country park. Then someone asked if we’d tackle some rough ground belonging to the cement works two minutes from our house.
The land was very overgrown, but after a while we found a bit of path and that was a turning point. We chopped down some trees and laid them down to form a natural edge – invertebrates live under the old trunks.
We’ve been working on it for about a year, two days a week, eight to 10 hours a day. We’d come home needing a good bath. At the beginning I’d set myself targets, but then it would be too big a job. Just enter into it. Just roll with it and enjoy what you are doing.
A kestrel nests in the cement works and he comes looking for food. We get greenfinches and goldfinches. And we’re right on the water so we get small mammals. This isn’t our village really. We’ve only been here three years, but people come in here now. We’ve made something better."
- Allen Mitchell, volunteer gardener for CEMEX, South Ferriby, Lincolnshire (winner of the Business category)