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  • Matt Hoad

The shade of a tree

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

The estate agents pamphlet for the mid-terrace ex-council house I bought 15 years ago said ‘In need of modernisation’ and that was an understatement!

For some that might mean that the house needed all the latest mod cons, like a new kitchen and some paint. But for my family the interpretation of modernisation meant using clay paints on walls and ceilings, natural oils on wooden floors to create a beautiful healthy place with a small garden full of wildlife and adventure.

Every home is an opportunity to do something amazing for wildlife particularly if you are lucky enough to have some outdoor space. Nature needs your help and only requires the opportunity to regenerate itself. Back gardens are often busy private spaces hidden behind fences, but the front garden is often an underused semi-public space but presents a fantastic opportunity to make a difference!

Our front garden started off as lifeless concrete and grass, so I got going by planting a small bamboo plant in an old water tank. This grew to over 4 meters and was clipped to form a lower bush with selected stems grown up in front of the lounge window to create privacy.

Reclaimed western red cedar shingles then wrapped around the tank and on to form a screen for bins. A border was made with piled high topsoil which should never be thrown away. It gave rise to a self-seeded bed of opium poppies and other flowers that shook with happy bees.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now.” ― Chinese proverb

The big move was to plant a silver birch tree sapling and a transplanted hedge dug up for the studio build in the back garden so that nothing was thrown away. The privet hedge was supported with chestnut stakes with woven hazel, a few bird seeded holly trees and some Dogwood (midwinter fire) for colour.

The tree – now almost as high as the house - has created a micro-climate supporting wildflowers and insects and the hedge is full of birds.

The grass is left long and is full of wild flowers and a pumpkin is planted every year in garden compost as it can sprawl around the edge of the lawn. Grass and hedge clippings are mulched along the new hedgerow and around the tree to keep moisture in so nothing is wasted!

But the best bit of all is when I came back late one night from hospital after my daughter was born and I sat on the front step only to hear the crunching of snail shells and the snuffling in the bushes. I recognised that noise but could not believe that it was a hedgehog in our suburban front garden. This was after all a garden planted for biodiversity and the next generation!

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