Those of you who have been following the blog since London times will know that I am keen to attract wildlife to my garden, particularly birds (except herons and magpies), frogs and toads, bees, butterflies and moths.

Unless you have the space for a wildlife meadow (which I don’t) the best ways to achieve this are to add trees and shrubs, lots of planting for cover, add water (preferably a pond or stream but any water helps), and plant lots of scented flowers in different colours so that the garden is scented throughout the year (especially with open bells and single, flat faced or open flowers that can be visited easily). Feed the birds and leave a bit of mess around somewhere (piles of logs, old bits of wood, old canes etc.) in a discreet corner for the smaller insects to nest in, feed on or hibernate in. You can also leave a few nettles and brambles because lots of butterflies and moths like to lay their eggs on them but I don’t need to bother with that. The farmer is doing it for me.

My new garden design and planting plans are designed to achieve exactly this but, even though there is nothing here now, ever since arriving I have been keeping a keen eye on what wildlife is around anyway, before I add my pond, trees, shrubs and flowers. And the great news is that it is already wonderfully busy.

Moths and butterflies

July was moth month. The entire house was filled with moths of an amazing variety most of which I had not seen before. I would have preferred them to be in the garden (they filled baths, covered walls etc) but, with the windows open and lights on, the inevitable happened.

Moth Black Arches

Butterflies too were abundant, especially red admirals, tortoiseshells and painted ladies. One of them died gracefully beside my bed and is still there – a colourful and delicate reminder of sunnier days.

The beautiful small tortoiseshell butterfly that died beside my bed

I suspect that the prolific brambles and nettles that are trying to invade the garden from the neighbouring field are responsible for this plethora of dainties but clearly I want to keep these spikey and stinging invaders at bay. I am removing them from the end of the garden because they are obscuring the view and wish to do the same at the side. It will be interesting to see whether I shall be visited in the same numbers next year.

Leggy things

In August I was thrilled to be visited by an enormous cricket. He must have been 5-6cms long, was beautiful colours, had huge eyes and legs and spent some time watching me through the glass on a French door. I’ve certainly never seen anything like him before.

The profile and undrneath of the huge cricket shot on and through filthy glass

In my London garden September was spider month but every month here seems to be spider month and most of them are indoors or around the windows. I think the cricket was after one of the flies trapped in one of the millions of webs that are spun in seconds.

September here was actually crane fly month – also inside not out. They were everywhere and often became trapped in the spider webs despite my clearing these on a very regular basis.

Frogs and toads

They are around because next door’s garden has them but the only one I’ve actually seen to date was a small male who found himself stuck in a watering can so was gently released into some cover in the field.


Despite removing most of the existing vegetation in the garden the birds are plentiful. My neighbours feed them well and have trees (as do I now - but more of that another time), so the garden is full of birds whizzing from side to side. Many are the same as in London. We have our resident robins, blackbirds – one of whom has a white feather, tits, goldfinches, sparrows and wrens. There is a pair of doves and a few pigeons, though thankfully fewer than in London.

The Jersey Tiger moths have been a very exciting feature in my garden over the last few weeks so when I saw an unusual small brown/yellow/white flutter in the garden I was even more thrilled. I managed to photograph and film the unusual butterfly on my Hibiscus leaves and then rushed to my trusty Collins "Butterflies and Moths" book to try and identify it.

All I could see was one circle on a fore wing and two on the under wing. The only matching butterfly I thought in my book was a Woodland Brown, which doesn’t exist in this country, it's just in central Europe. And as, you can see, my butterfly looked exactly like the one in the photo in the middle, opposite the Woodland Brown description, albeit with slightly more bashed up wings.

“My garden is becoming a home for unusual butterflies and moths” I thought and became even more excited.

So, in my enthusiasm, I tweeted having sighted one. Honestly, I expected the entire butterfly community to tweet back and converge on my home to witness this miraculous sighting. However, there was a big, blank, nothing in response. Maybe it’s because I only have a few followers so far (so please sign up). Also, on the first day of tweeting about the Jersey Tiger Moth, I got my Twitter account suspended for some still, unknown reason. I begged to be re-instated, promised I wasn’t a computer or someone with spamming software, and luckily they believed me and re-instated my account, within hours.

I have now read every word of all their rules and regulations, glossary, terms and conditions etc (basically the entire site) and still haven’t worked out what I did wrong. As a result, tweeting is still a bit of a risky business and I am very careful now. Despite this, my Jersey Tiger Moth tweet continues to be "favourited" (if that's a word) by many tweeters to this day and the video is getting lots of hits.

I digress. Re this butterfly, I decided to investigate further. I found some sites online, including the UK Butterfly Trust. So I contacted them through the site and, very carefully, by Tweet. Some kind person who runs the UKBT site suggested I was completely bonkers and that, most likely, it was a Speckled Wood or a Meadow Brown and asked for photos and/or video evidence. So I set about providing this.

Whilst I was cropping the images to make them larger, I realised the butterfly had damaged wings – and could have been missing some vital extra rings that would make it a Speckled Wood not a Woodland Brown. And indeed, when they were sent to this un-named specialist, he/she confirmed that it was, of course, a Speckled Wood.

So how do I feel? Well, to be honest I suppose I am a little deflated that I haven’t had a complete foreigner in the garden and that this is not a sign of major climate change etc. but I am still very excited to have been visited by a Speckled Wood. I’ve never seen one before, to my knowledge anywhere, and certainly never in this garden. So it is still a first to be celebrated.

I also feel more than a little stupid and have resolved to be more careful with my Butterflies and Moths book. I've realised three photos without captions and two descriptions is a recipe for identification disaster. I suppose I should have realised the first two photos were the male and female of the same butterfly not the male and female of the second! I am now relying more on the web and my Domino, “Insects of Britain and Western Europe”, which is much more detailed, for identification.


Every year I grow plants from seed. There are the “must haves” that happen every year - tomatoes, Convolvulus and Nicotiana and then I choose a few new plants to try. This year one of them was Leonotis leonurus ‘Staircase’ which promised to be tall and interestingly orange. Perfect for my hot bed I thought - it would be ideal for the back of the bed: stately and wildly hot coloured like in the picture in the catalogue.

 Leonotis as they should look - Image sourced from Nole Hace.

However, as we know in gardening, not everything delivers as promised. The seeds germinated successfully in the greenhouse over Feb/March and were no trouble to pot on as seedlings. After hardening them off in the cold frame for a couple of weeks they were getting tall and I planted them out in the red bed. Since when they have shot up to the promised 4/6 feet – and now look exactly like over-large, green, straggly, well eaten nettles – not exactly the look I was after. The ‘flower’ sockets close to the stem occasionally have a flash of red but there has been not a sepal or petal to be seen.






Leonotis In my garden

At the same time, on the other side of the garden in the pink bed, I had been contemplating the fate of the Buddleja. Despite hacking it back, nearly to the ground last year, it has grown very large and threatened roses, astrantia and all manner of plants that are now under its shade. I have been thinking it is much too large for the bed and has to go. I have cut it back and thinned it during the summer and removed the most aggressive branches but it is still in full flower.

Two days ago..... I was about to root up the Leonotis and dig up the Buddleja when a Peacock butterfly arrived to feed on the Buddleja. Since then I have had the same (or different?) peacocks feeding on it all day, every day - and these were followed by Red Admirals and even a Comma butterfly.



Apparently Peacock butterflies like to lay their eggs on nettles. All the gardens around here are very well kept and I doubt they have many nettles, if any. I used to keep a crop of nettles for butterflies but they had to go a few years ago for space reasons. Since then the closest I have had to a nettle in the garden is Lamium ‘Ghost’ – until the Leonotis.

The seed packet says, “Leonotis seedlings look a little like nettle seedlings”. Actually they look exactly like nettle seedlings and apart from being taller and non-stinging, the full grown plants look exactly like tall, manky nettles. In fact I think they are less beautiful than nettles.

I have now researched the family and the Leonitis is exactly the same family as the dead (not stinging) nettle ie they are both family Lamiaceae (mint family) of Order Lamiales and Subclass Asteridae. So it is a nettle! Incidentally stinging nettles it appears are family Urticaceae, of Order Urticales and subclass Hamamelididae - completely different.

Now the big question is, have the Leonitis fooled the peacock butterfly into laying its eggs on them ‘cos they look like nettles and are they the reason I have so many peacock butterflies in the garden – or is it just the Buddleja attraction and the two things are entirely unrelated?

And because I am now totally enthralled by the butterflies, I am in a complete quandary as to what to do with both plants. Is there a link? Should one or both go or should they stay?




I feed the birds and don’t own a cat, so the garden is usually full of them.

The major residents and visitors are just what you would expect ie robins, blue and great tits, sparrows of various sorts and blackbirds. Through regular feeding of nyjer seed I also have large families of goldfinches and greenfinches. Collar doves and pigeons of course also try to eat from the feeders.

Irregular annual visitors include families of long tailed tits and starlings, lone jays and magpies and of course our new South London regular, the parakeet. Finding bright green/yellow feathers on the ground still shocks me.

Sadly I’ve only seen thrushes thrice in all my years here and around the same number of chaffinches and bullfinches.

The only bird that is not welcome in my garden is the heron (see Daphne blog).

And this is a video compilation of birds washing and feeding in the garden.



Back to top






Though not strictly wildlife, the pond is a fish pond and the fish play an important role in my garden. Big Yellow is a large carp I have had for seven years now and he has a smaller friend, Silver Rocket. They both seem to be too large now for the heron. However, most of the other fish are still up for grabs. When I first stocked the pond with goldfish, shubunkins and others, they were obviously very happy because they bred like crazy and I had to take about 30 small ones out and transfer them covertly to somewhere nameless they could start a new life. As I drive past a fishing pond on a certain common nearby I often wonder how they did.

Back to top


Frogs and toads



Vast numbers of frogs and toads inhabit the pond especially in February and March for breeding. They also hibernate in the gaps between the stones in the raised stream structure, under the shed and around the beds. Some days I can count 30 at a time in the pond and that’s just the ones I can see.

What I love most is their singing. Many evenings I can sit outside to a choir of frogs and toads. It honestly sounds musical not croaky! See blog re singing.

What I find most difficult is the frog and toad “balls”. See frog balls blog.

Obviously I get lots of spawn of both types in the pond but I am not sure how many make it past tadpole stage because the fish seem to get hungry again at exactly the same time as the water begins to warm up in spring. In the early years I had to be very careful not to tread on mini frogs the size of the smallest piece of gravel but nowadays it doesn’t seem to be a problem sadly.

One year I had to deal with almost daily beheadings of frogs. I would find a headless body on the gravel and a head somewhere else. I suppose it was cats or foxes. It doesn’t happen now which might be thanks to my dogs. Phew!

Despite their tough life, the numbers of both each spring don’t seem to be diminishing so obviously they are doing something right.

To see them in action, watch the videos in the various blogs on their singing and mating practices.

Back to top



I love worms. They are the sign of a living bed and I take great care not to kill them. When I dug up the ancient front privet hedge recently there was not a sign of life down there, so I emptied the entire bed and started again. Soil and compost one can add easily. Worms are a different matter and I can often be seen now carefully carrying worms in a gloved hand from the back garden to the front bed in the hope of introducing them. My neighbours think I’m nuts and I suppose it does look pretty odd.

The garden robins also watch me very carefully, from a close distance as I dig because they know I am likely to bury any that come to the surface or take them to the front garden before they can get them. Before you think I’m being mean, they get fed so they’re fine - all large, fat and healthy even in winter and there lots of little things like millipedes for them eat instead once I’ve dug.

Back to top


Slugs and snails



Well what to say? I have lots of them of course. In high season I do snail hunts after rain, often at night by torchlight and randomly when moving pots around. I’m afraid they are despatched into a plastic bag with salt at the bottom which kills them.

In the early years I treated the main beds with nematodes to eat the slugs underground and this seemed to work and has kept the slug problem under control since then - though I think I might do it again this year.

I also take care when buying plants in pots from nurseries to remove any slugs from the bottom of the pot before I leave the nursery and check the underside of the root ball before I plant it.

And of course I have frogs, toads and blackbirds to help me in my endeavours with this lot. They could work harder though!

Back to top





When I first bought the house I was besieged by foxes. They became so brave they would face up to me in the garden and I had to get a stick to chase them out. Two male cubs also tried to dig a den in my hot bed. They dug up plants the moment I had planted them (I’ve not used bonemeal or dried blood and bone when planting since that first year), they ate my water lily flowers and then they even ate the plastic ones I put on the pond to replace the real ones! They ate the wiring (luckily low voltage) and even tried to catch the fish. Then to add insult to injury, they poo-ed everything all over my garden. They generally made my life a misery.

I tried everything – Lion poo, a high pitched cat detractor and a black, foul-smelling tar on sticks and rags but nothing deterred them for long. Eventually, with the support of my neighbours who were also being terrorised, I called in a professional. We caught one a night for eight nights in an humane trap and then four more in a neighbour’s garden. We must have cleared the population in the gardens because they were no more trouble for years.

There are a few around now but my dogs keep them well away during the day. I occasionally spy one looking over the back fence from the roof of a neighbour’s shed but generally they don’t give me trouble now.

Back to top



I have one (or more?) very pretty mouse that I sometimes see dashing around behind the pots on the terrace. I think he lives outside (most of the year) and he helps himself to what the birds drop from the feeders in the Rowan tree – if the blackbirds, robins and sparrows don’t get there before him. He is small, brown and furry – and quite fat!

Back to top





September is spider month and they are everywhere – in the beds, the greenhouse, the shed etc.. They seem to be able to spin a line across any width in minutes. I like spiders because they catch less pleasant insects such as flies.

Back to top


Nice insects

Butterflies and moths


In 2012 we had peacock, red admiral and even comma butterflies as well as large and small white, and large and small blue as regular visitors to the Buddleja and Verbena bonariensis. See the video above and related Blogs.

I also found a newly hatched Elm hawk moth in a pot and the hard brown case it had germinated from. Mint moths appear regularly, as do many other unknown ones.

By August 2013 we had had all the same butterflies except a peacock and then, suddenly, an unusual visitor arrived - a Jersey Tiger moth. See the video below and blogs.

 Back to top





Luckily I am blessed with a large population of many different sorts (though not Harlequin I think). They and their larvae munch through my aphids with relish. I have a ladybird/bug house too but I don’t think it's ever been let.

Back to top


Bees and the like



The bees love this garden especially the pineapple tree, Buddleja and Verbena bonariensis. They come in many sorts and sizes from huge bumblebees to small worker honey bees from a nearby neighbour’s hives. I look forward to their arrival each year with eager anticipation – just as important as the first snowdrop. I also have the flies that look and behave like a cross between a bee and a mini Hummingbird as they push their proboscis into flower heads while they hover.

Back to top



A few lace wings appear at the right time each year. I have a lacewing house box above the greenhouse door but I suspect they have never used it.

Back to top


Crane flies


This a very beautiful crane fly I spotted this year on the raised bed wall.

Back to top


Pond insects



The pond often has blue and red damsel flies visiting. Sadly I haven’t ever seen a proper large dragonfly there. It also has skaters, waders, paddlers and many others including midges!

Back to top


Less nice insects and pests


Aphids and others

I have stopped growing Lilies for the moment so red Lily beetles are no longer around but I still get my share of Capsid bugs, swarms of aphids in quantities too large for the tits and ladybirds. I have to intervene and I squish them by hand (usually but not always gloved) and smear their residue on the plant stems which seems to deter others. This is a fairly unpleasant thing to do and even worse when they are being farmed and milked by armies of ants as well – which is frequently – but it has to be done.

Back to top


I don’t like ants. I admire them but they are very destructive and they bite! I hate it when they build a nest in the flowers beds or pots and kill the plants – which are prone to doing when it’s dry. I also hate those flying, storm ants that suddenly arrive in swarms. Luckily they never seem to be around for more than a week.

Back to top


Dung beetle

The first I was aware of these was when the large wooden stump supporting my black ‘Family’ sculpture started to crumble and became dangerous enough for us to have to remove it. Inside the dead trunk were enormous larvae which turned out to be dung beetle larvae. They looked like something “I’m a celeb” contestants would have to eat. Despite treating the whole area and the new stump I bought in to perform the same task, it lasted only two years before falling foul to the same fate.


This year I saw the adult beetle for the first time (it’s in the welcome video). I don’t plan to try to stop them doing whatever they are doing so I have removed the stump and put the sculpture in the ground for fear of it falling through the fence and killing a neighbour. So the humble dung beetle has had a real design impact on my garden!

Back to top