Embracing the Garden

Gardening has been Elaine Ingram’s passion for many years so when nearing retirement, she and her husband started looking for a house in the country with a decent sized garden and found their dream plot in a small village in Fife with a large garden of about 1/4 of an acre. 

Making small steps in the garden to benefit the planet in terms of reducing their carbon footprint and supporting local wildlife were important to the couple, and they set about turning a blank canvas into a space where biodiversity flourishes. 

Channel Water

Elaine’s new-build house had been built on a small hill – a challenge in many new-build gardens, which presents the issues of slopes and water run off to deal with. 

“We embraced the slopes,” Elaine says, “and started work on making a stream from the top of the hill down to a pond. We love seeing damselflies in this area alongside the birds who drink and bathe in the stream. Frogs and toads abound and give me a fright when they spring up as I’m weeding.”

“We also put in a water feature at a secluded area which is frequented regularly by small birds for drinking and bathing and managed to source used whisky barrels to use as water butts for collecting water from the sheds and greenhouses.”

Erect Nest Boxes

“As this was a new garden, we had no large trees for nest boxes or bird feeders so we hung nest boxes on the sheds and any other structure that could take them. We have learnt, though, that bees like nest boxes and birds like to make nests anywhere else, such as in our imitation cannon behind the North Wind Man Mask and on my seed trays outside the greenhouse.”

“We got a local blacksmith to make us ornamental bird feeder stations so we can put out a variety of feeders. The ground feeders such as the dunnocks, doves, pheasants, and wood pigeons clear up all the food dropped from the feeders. One is outside our dining room window so we can watch the birds. Our favourites are the long-tailed tits and the great spotted woodpeckers.”

“I love getting up on a spring morning and getting into the garden to hear the young house martins, seeing them fledge and watching their acrobatics in the sky along with the swallows. Then, as darkness falls, the bats come out and swoop and turn so quickly.”

Plant What Thrives Locally

“We love the Scottish countryside so decided to try to bring part of it to our garden by planting heathers, rhododendrons, dwarf pines, and conifers on one side of the stream and on the other side we made a wild area with a Scots pine surrounded by birches and cedars, tree heathers, and ferns, all of which thrive in our conditions.”

“We have added some bulbs to naturalise and introduced primroses and giant cotton thistles, Onopordum acanthium. Teasel has self-seeded.”

“The back of our garden is bordered by an area set aside by the farmer for wildlife, so I can get nettles to add to the comfrey that I grow to make natural plant food.”

Plant for Pollinators

“I love all plants, but productive plants which give a long season of interest and will benefit the pollinators and wildlife are my favourites, such as hardy geraniums which just keep on giving – cut them down and back up they come with more flowers.”

“Plants with smaller flowers are good for the pollinators, such as veronisastrum, persicaria, and cotoneaster. Kniphofia come in so many different colours and sizes and if you watch, the bees will go to where the flower is attached to the stem and make a small hole to get the nectar out.”

Amelanchier lamarckii is another good productive plant with colourful early foliage, flowers, then berries and autumn colour.”

“I try to make the best use of the space I have by growing climbers up all fences and walls to provide further habitats to support wildlife.”

Plant Trees

“I also have a passion for trees with lovely bark, hence the white birches in the wild area, and I’ve planted an Acer griseum and a multi stemmed Prunus serrula. When the sun shines through their bark, the colour is amazing.”

“I love the colouring on the leaves of the Populus candicans ‘Aurora’ and prune it hard to keep it compact in a smaller garden as it can grow to 8m x 4m.”

Compost Waste

“Beside my shed are my precious compost bins and leaf bins. I’m constantly looking for paper and cardboard for them to add to the garden material and kitchen waste that I shred. Luckily, a local lady who has horses gives the manure away for free to gardeners, so this helps heat up my bins. Mixing the compost bins certainly helps to keep me fit.”

Reuse Plastic

“All household plastic containers get used as either pots with holes for drainage or mini greenhouses or trays.”

Share Plants

“My greenhouses (I soon found that one was not large enough so had to get a second) are my next treasures and are constantly overflowing, especially in spring as I always plant more seeds than I need. I give lots away to friends and neighbours, and in winter the greenhouses are full of succulents, plants, and tubers overwintering.”

“I am constantly taking cuttings and propagating. Prunings rarely go to waste, it is always worth trying to propagate.”

“Don’t bin seed heads, put them in a paper bag and you have got free seeds. Most of the antirrhinums in my garden came from saved seed heads. You will always find someone who will take spare plants if you cannot find a place for them.”

Grow Your Own

“Sourcing fruit plants was a priority. My parents had always grown fruit and I used to have my own apple tree. We wanted to have several apple varieties but didn’t want to use up too much room, so decided that we should plant step-over apples as we would get a good yield from a small area.”

“Raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries were a must. When the family come for a visit, they love getting up and picking fresh fruit for breakfast right from the garden. I have introduced them to eating calendulas and nasturtiums as additions to their meals.”

“Jam is also made from our fruit harvests and distributed to family and friends.”

“I love getting up in the morning and getting out into the garden – it is difficult to get me back in again.”  

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