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A wildlife gardening Q&A with Kate Bradbury

Ahead of Kate Bradbury’s talk on wildlife gardening with Arthur Parkinson and Jo Thompson on Tuesday 17 October, we spoke to the award-winning author and presenter about her journey in gardening with wildlife in mind:

Kate Bradbury

What was your path into wildlife gardening, when did you realise this was what you wanted to specialise in?

I’ve always been a gardener and I’ve always been soft on wildlife. My defining moment, however, was when a bumblebee made a nest in an old duvet that my ex’s housemate had thrown out into the back yard, and their neighbours complained so we had to ‘move it’. I got in touch with Bumblebee Conservation Trust, who told me how to move the nest, and we cut it out of the duvet in the middle of the night, popped it in a shoe box filled with grass and moss, and took it to my allotment. I fell in love and have never looked back.

How do you approach gardening for wildlife in your own garden, have there been any challenges or surprises this year?

I garden for as many species as possible, which means creating habitats but also observing how species are getting on and acting accordingly. This year I had robins nesting in my garden but it was so dry they couldn’t find enough food to feed their chicks, so I rehydrated mealworms and left them in sheltered parts of the garden so they could find them and feed their chicks. It worked! Five chicks fledged a week later.

What are some of the benefits of gardening with wildlife in mind?

We are living through the beginning of a mass extinction event, caused by habitat loss and climate change. In the UK one in six species is at risk of extinction, in our lifetime. Gardening for wildlife is about helping to slow down or even stop declines, it’s about providing corridors so species can travel north to cooler regions, and it’s about enabling species to complete their lifecycles when they otherwise might not be able to (like helping robins feed their chicks, as above). Gardening for wildlife also helps calm me down. There’s so much wrong with the world that I can’t change but I can go into my garden and water a plant that will provide nectar for a bee. It gives me hope for my little corner of Earth. It gives me power when otherwise I would feel powerless.

Favourite plant you grew this summer?

I’ve grown a lot of bird’s foot trefoil in plugs, which I’ll be planting out next spring. It’s the foodplant of the common blue butterfly but is also loved by one of my favourite bees, the wool carder bee. It’s about time they nested with me again!

What are your favourite gardens or nature spots to visit for inspiration?

I’m not much of a garden visitor as I have an allotment and a dog which keep me very busy! But I love Great Dixter for its amazing meadows, huge habitat piles and abundant wildlife. It’s a great garden and lots of good things are happening there.

Are there any first steps you would recommend for city gardeners with limited space who would love to create a welcoming habitat for wildlife?

Whatever your space you can help wildlife. On balconies and roof gardens you can grow Mediterranean herbs in pots and let them flower for pollinators, leave a dish of water for passing birds and small mammals to drink from. If you have a small garden then grow flowers but if you have space add in a few native shrubs and ‘weeds’ that moths will lay their eggs on. A container pond may attract aquatic invertebrates and frogs while a patch of long grass will help beetles and moths, which are food for many species further up the food chain. Taken alone, your garden won’t do much but linked with other gardens it will become part of a much wider, wilder landscape, which will help huge numbers of species.

Kate Bradbury and Arthur Parkinson on Wildlife Gardening
Tuesday 17 October, 7pm
Tickets available in person or online: book tickets

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