By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener can’t quite believe it, here I am penning the 100th ‘Note From A Wildlife Garden’. It’s almost four years since we moved into Moth Mansion with attached Wildlife Garden and The Ranger asked me, ‘How about writing an occasional article for The Ranger’s Blog?’ I agreed and then panicked, wondering what on earth I could write about with any sort of regularity. But I needn’t have worried. Wildlife in all its faunal and floral forms just kept on coming and coming and so did the articles. For four years. And rather than having to chase me for contributions, The Ranger had to find some way of managing the backlog clunking into his inbox. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading 100 articles. I’ve enjoyed writing them. So what have been the highlights? Universally, the thrill of discovering something unusual and unexpected: my favourite article has to be Blue Fazed Shrew celebrating the pygmy shrew that somehow shut itself in my fridge for 24 hours.
I discovered phoretic mites hitching a ride on a crane fly, how to calcify your teddy bear, what a furious caddis fly larva looks like, and why it’s not so great having great crested newts in your back garden.
I found myself developing passions and obsessions. Foraging became more than a pleasant summer’s afternoon blackberrying, it became a gourmet addiction, with expeditions bringing home mushrooms, wild garlic and nettles and dandelion roots to make coffee. I found myself becoming fascinated by ancient trees and strangely compelled to visit those featured in’Meetings with Remarkable Trees’: yews, a plane with an exotic eastern connection and an oak that won’t be around for that much longer.
Although spending as much time as possible out enjoying the beauties of the Surrey Hills, I was busy in the vegetable garden and occasionally in the kitchen, indulging my inner Domestic Goddess. I have a lifelong passion for passion for composting, growing tomatoes and other veg that I took great pleasure in bottling and preserving. I was even rewarded with some rude vegetables that would have made Esther Rantzen blush: Parsenip and the Rudolph Nureyev carrot. In love with hens almost all my life but having to wait for’the right time’ to get them, there was great excitement with the arrival of the Wildlife Garden hens and the first egg! Not just the perfect pets, but surely the greenest too. However warm, fuzzy and homely Notes From A Wildlife Garden can sometimes be, I rarely shied away from controversy. Unfashionable as it was at the time, I supported Godstone Farm through its horrible E-coli episode. I enjoyed mischievously prodding creationists with my articles on Darwin and my part in The Ranger’s Creationist Museum trilogy, but it was an article on magpies that drew more ire. The Wildlife Gardener could do provocative too, with the purchase of some saucy thigh-high waders for pond work . We rolled about in mud, slid around in snow and caught ticks as we cuddled friendly goats.
There was drama, wondering if the frogs would return to the Wildlife Pond, tears that perhaps my great-grandfather’s carthorse Barney was a war horse, delight at little pink ballerina waxcap mushrooms popping up in the churchyard and pain as my verucca failed to respond to any treatment other than time (and bizarrely getting the most hits of the entire catalogue). We observed the circle of life, ‘breeding’ some vapourer moths and watched a dragonfly emerge from its nymph. Wildlife doesn’t get sweeter than this. I’ve been a lucky Wildlife Gardener and I’ve seen lots of amazing things so far: The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, various deserts, southern right whales mating, hyraxes whistling, a partial eclipse of the sun, the Hale-Bopp and Halley’s comets, the Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, a golden eagle, a dragonfly larva catching a tadpole, and a huge invasion of goose barnacles.
Despite my efforts there are lots of things I haven’t yet seen, but hope to, for the next 100 articles (with my long-suffering family of Mr WG and Junior Wildlife Gardeners nos 1 & 2 being dragged into the undergrowth too). Bizarrely, I’ve managed never to see a slow-worm, even though they’re really common round these parts. Neither have I seen a weasel, a stoat or a dormouse. I’d like to see wild orchids, a crossbill, some waxwings, a hummingbird hawk moth and a mole cricket. Before I die I’d like to see some volcanic boiling mud and some really brilliant fossil fields. Are these too much to ask for the next 100 articles? Watch this space… Have you got a favourite Ranger’s Blog article? Let us know!