Trials & Tribulations of a Wildlife Gardener

May 10, 2021


Apple blossom. Rose Cottage Garden Diary.

It strikes me that modern gardens are a lot like Mars bars. For them to work at all we need to be able to work, rest and play in them! Achieving that balance in a single space at the same time is trickier than we all imagine. Compound the difficulty by adding in – wildlife friendly and low maintenance.

We took over the Rose Cottage garden several years ago now. When the house is a wreck, the garden is very low down the order of priorities. I think we bucked that trend for one very laudable reason – in terms of demands on us, gardening is heavy on time and very light on the balance sheet! A concept familiar to any renovator i.e., the lulls between having sufficient cash to achieve the things you want to and, well, having none at all.

Pasque flower. Rose Cottage Garden Diary.

We set out to make our garden a place to work (many of my garden images have been taken here), a place to rest from the sheer exhaustion of working all day at the day job only to start again in the evenings / weekends on the renovation, and above all a place to play. Having major projects in life shouldn't negate the need to kick back and play whenever the opportunity presents itself – within reason.

Wildlife gardening.

We started by keeping what is good. You can’t do that if you don’t know what is there. This means, great news, doing very little for a year. We did mow – mistake – but much more of that later, oh and we trimmed hedges. In that time, we learnt an awful lot. We learned where and how to rest in the garden, we learned that the mature fruit trees and boundary hedgerows were a real plus for us and the wildlife. And, we learned what a great space it was in which to play and enjoy relaxation time for ourselves and with our friends.

Acer canopy. Rose Cottage Garden Diary.

Our garden is not and will never be a show garden. But it’s ours and we love it. That’s about as complex as it gets for us and in the coming weeks we’ll expand on the trials and tribulations of turning a village plot into a Mars bar.

Small blue butterfly - Cupido minimus - Rose Cottage Garden Diary.

We set out to ensure that at least half of the garden was dedicated to a pollinator friendly space. A place where insects, amphibians and mammals could call home. And crucially, a place that didn't come with much in the way of maintenance demands! I was asked at the time to write about the transformation of our small garden plot. The challenge of providing a monthly column was very useful, since I had to, in effect, document the monthly developments resulting from what we did and didn't do. Providing a haven for pollinators doesn't have to be hard work. Over the years I had read all of the "How to" books and skimmed off the turf in back breaking afternoons. None of it worked. But back in 2015, I worked out the secret. Let nature do the work. There is a hero plant in re-wildling and it's called Yellow rattle. 

Snake's-head fritillary - Fritillaria meleagris

Fast forward to March 2020 and as the full implications of Covid were beginning to sink in, it was to the garden I turned to keep my photographic activity alive. Now instead of words, I photographed the garden everyday throughout the lockdown. Each day something new inched closer to perfection and each day provided a whole new subject and distinct lighting. 


It's also good for the soul. I haven't ever met a wildlife gardener who worries too much. It comes with the territory. You worry less. About what it looks like or what people think. You just take the joy from it. The joy that you are doing your bit in rewilding your patch. But most of all I take the joy from lying in the hammock, amongst the wildflowers and the heady buzz of life that should exist in a proper meadow - albeit a mini one.  

Spring at Rose Cottage.

This time of the year at Rose Cottage Garden is always a rewarding time. Winter is well and truly behind us and now we see the first encouraging signs that our plans for a wildlife and pollinator friendly garden weren’t all just pie in the sky.  The seemingly unstoppable freight train of spring rolls on. And, as the daffs fade and disappear beneath the racing lawn they were planted in, so the Primroses and Snakes–head fritillaries planted along the fruit path give way to Cowslips and Lady’s smock. The orchids, one of which just appeared when we stopped mowing beneath the fruit trees, are showing through the short grass on impressive spotted foliage. Much more so in our garden situation since the soil is still (even though intentionally impoverished) much richer than their native habitat. All of this makes for wild orchids on steroids!

Rose Cottage Garden

The fruit trees, winter skeletons for so long, are now bursting with blossom and thank heavens for June drop because I don’t think the Conference pear could survive under the potential crop weight if all of those tiny fruits came to fruition.

It’s a little early to tell yet, but we are just holding our breath now for the Yellow rattle to show through. Over the years we have tried everything in the book to create a mini-meadow. Turns out that the best technique is the one nature uses anyway! It needs a cold period to germinate and so our half a kilo of meadow magic rolled around in the fridge for several months before it was broadcast sown into the frosts.

Yellow rattle, so called for its flower and dry seed heads which rattle as you walk through them, is a parasite on the lawn grass and supresses it’s vigour just enough to give everything else a chance.  It really works – and you keep a relatively grass sword dotted with pollinator friendly and colourful flowers.



These stories (in italics) first appeared in print in the St Briavels Village News in April 2015 onward. The garden has developed a very great deal since the early days. Last year we counted 70 Common-spotted orchid flower heads in the meadow. Follow the current story on Facebook


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