Gardening for a future - Andy Lester writes...

Hampshire can be proud of very many things; from its historical links to the sea, through to two incredible National Parks and its stunning market towns with history going back many centuries. And yet one of the unsung heroes of Hampshire are its amazing gardens. From the formal splendour of Mottisfont through to the beauty of Hinton Ampner and the formality of Exbury and the Hillier Gardens.

But it is not just the formal spaces that are important for recreation and wildlife. Our own small green spaces at the back of our houses cover an area much larger than our national parks. Some of the best places to try and help nature as well as create places of beauty and peace are in our own gardens.

Nature as we know is in deep trouble. From the 1960’s onwards we have changed our Hampshire landscape beyond recognition. Ponds, orchards, wild-flower meadows, grass verges full of herbs are in many places only found in the distant memory. Great swathes of our countryside have become increasingly sterile for nature and devoid of interest to walkers and holiday makers. Only by travelling into the formal gardens, nature reserves or national parks do you still get a feel for what it was once like. But in the height of summer you are often competing with hundreds of other people……..honey pot sites are sometimes anything but peaceful.

So this year I would like to encourage you to take action for nature in your immediate neighbourhood. If you have a garden focus on five things you can do for wildlife. In no particular order you could consider planting a native wildlflower mix. This will create a great habitat for bees and other pollinators as well as a riot of colour through the spring and summer months. A second possibility could be planting fruit bearing trees if you have enough space to do so. We have an apple tree in our front garden, which my sons helped me to plant and after ten years of growing now produces over 200 apples each autumn. Those that don’t get eaten by us; fall to the ground and provide valuable food for small mammals and insects.

Thirdly; dig a pond. The quickest way to encourage nature to your garden is through creating a place where reptiles, amphibians and birds can feed and breed safely. It is amazing how fast living things will find a new area of water. Another idea is to create a quiet space, where you can silently enjoy your hard work. Maybe a place to do yoga, to meditate or to pray-but ultimately somewhere to sit back and enjoy the life that is going on around you. And finally don’t forget to avoid using harmful pesticides and fertilisers. There are lots of green ways of dealing with pests and diseases-from mugs of beer for troublesome slugs to fall in to; through to baffles for your bird feeders to avoid trouble from squirrels.

And if you don’t own a garden; get onto a list for looking after an allotment. It is a cost- effective way of managing a bit of land yourself-as well as a brilliant place to make new friends!