Saturday, June 15, 2019

Starting to garden mindfully : Michelle Styles

Last month, I happen to read Rebirding by Benedict MacDonald and it was one of those life-changing world -altering reads.
 In my defence I had not clocked how dire the wildlife situation had become in the UK. I suffered from shifting baselines and simply accepted a lack of butterflies, the disappearance of birds etc as the new normal. I had failed to connect that the way I garden might make a difference. One of my immediate changes was to alter the way I garden — although I don’t use pesticides as we have kept bees since 2000, I have been afflicted with Ecological Tidiness Disorder and am attempting to overcome this. Also although I had wildlife at the back of my mind when I garden, I didn’t really think about the eco-system and how things were interlinked, right down to the microbes in the soil.
Verge with nettles where
I hope the butterflies will grow.

For example, I love butterflies and try to ensure that we have nectar plants. (We also keep bees so this is pretty easy). However, I had not really clocked that caterpillars have different needs than butterflies. I wasn’t thinking about the whole lifecycle of the insect. Some of my UK favourites (the Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies) feast almost exclusively on stinging nettles. No prizes for guessing what plant I have spent ages pulling up. While I am not at the stage where I want to give the entire garden over to nettles, I am ensuring we have several large clumps which are in sunny spaces. Hopefully that will entice the butterflies to lay their eggs, and the lifecycle to take place so that my garden can be filled with butterflies in the late summer. Instead of thinking – weed, I am thinking nettles will bring butterflies. In California where I grew up, if you want Monarch butterflies, the best way to do it is to plant milk thistle. In the UK, it is the humble stinging nettle.Opefully that will entire
My liberated lawn.
birdhouse where tree bumblebees
are nesting.
Similarly I have decided to liberate the back lawn from the tyranny of mowing. Eventually I am hoping for a wildflower strewn orchard, maybe with an orchid or two (a woman can dream). But it is going to take time for the wildflowers to establish, particularly as the soil is rich and the ryegrass does grow strongly. In the autumn after I have done the annual mow, I will scatter Yellow rattle seeds as the plant preys on ryegrass and makes it easier for the wildflowers to set. This is the second year of my experiment and already I have noticed more birdlife visiting the area. We have such red-listed species (i.e. those species whose numbers have crashed) as the house sparrow, dunnock and song thrush nesting in the garden. A pair of bullfinches have also started visiting, instead of just coming around when the damson is about to burst into bloom. I do think it is working but my husband sometimes just sees the scruffy lawn. And I discovered the bird box which I should have cleaned out has become home to tree bumblebees who are new pollinators to the UK but  at the moment very welcome. 
It is about changing mindsets and recognising that sometimes what I consider normal isn’t how it used to be at all. I have been blogging on my own blog about my journey and what I am learning.
In this age of doom and gloom about the environment, it feels good to be doing just a little more.

When not gardening, Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods  for Harlequin Historical,Her next book A Deal with Her Rebel Viking will be published in December 2019. You can find out more about Michelle and her books at  

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