Wilder Dreams, Small Spaces

© Adam Hymphrys

Team Wilder member and Southsea resident, Adam Humphrys, used his small garden to create some big spaces for wildlife.
Adam Humphrys' garden before transformation

© Adam Humphrys

We were over the moon when we moved into our Victorian terraced house in Southsea. It wasn’t huge, but almost everything was done inside, just a bit of cosmetic work required. The garden, however, was the horticultural equivalent of a magnolia wall: bland and uninspiring, a small patch of rectangular grass with not much going on.

When we stood in the garden we heard the occasional bird, but it just felt a bit empty. Portsmouth is such a built up area and –like we do wildlife struggles for green space. Well, no more watching and wishing, it was time to do something.

We had to think big in a small space.
Adam Humphry's Wild Garden

© Adam Hymphrys

Designing a small garden is far harder than planning a big one; we had to think big in a small space. Our priority was to garden with nature in mind, we therefore had one rule: anything we wanted had to be beneficial to nature. We wanted a place to sit and rest full of herbs, flowers and trees - especially fragrant ones. We also wanted to provide habitats, food, water, and shelter for nature.

Luckily, we had a walled garden which was already covered in Passion Flower, Clematis and Ivy providing food, colour and fragrance for most of the year. Trees were important, the height in a small garden looks great and it provides loads of benefits for wildlife. We went for hazels, hawthorns and an apple tree. They don’t need much looking after, just a prune once a year so they don’t get too big.

Soon after, we had more birds visiting. They started to use the trees for shelter as well as food, finding spiders and insects - enjoyed especially by the robins, tits and wrens. May is a great time of year. Last year our garden was filled with white blossom and the sweet smell of hawthorn, beautiful green foliage in the summer followed by bright red hawes throughout autumn and winter.

Winter clematis in Adam's garden

© Adam Humphrys

One day I came home to find my other half three foot under.

One day I came home to find my other half three foot under; it appeared work had begun on the pond. Again, with a small garden where do you fit one in? The answer was simple - just make a rectangular one across the garden instead of in the middle. Two bits of wooden sleeper later and we had a DIY bridge. Oxygenating plants and a small water pump made a cooling, soothing pond for us and yet another habitat for wildlife. Within weeks it was teeming with water snails, pond skaters, water boatmen and tadpoles. We even had a few damselflies drop by last summer and it was wonderful to see their striking electric blue darting about. In the hot summer evenings, we would sit quietly in the garden, listening to the occasional frog’s croak. When we moved in we had loads of snails and slugs - the frogs have been great at keeping their numbers down.  

The raised bed came next, with the soil dug out from the pond proving a useful filler. This is now filled with plants that require very little work. We wanted to provide food for bees and butterflies throughout the year. In February and March the crocus and grape hyacinth pushed through, and though it was cold, we saw butterflies and bees feeding. In fact, it seemed to be the only source of food in the garden at that time of year. In summer we had our cottage garden favourites, hollyhock, foxglove and sun flowers full of colour and perennial herbs, for flower and fragrance – lavender, sage, thyme. All of these plants have flowers of different sizes and shapes, meaning that all sorts of bees and hoverflies can feed from them. 

We noticed a near constant buzz of life about six to twelve feet above the garden.

A quick word about flies - you may find them annoying, but they are such a valuable source of food for our resident and migratory bird life. Once we built the pond, raised beds and started our compost heap, we noticed a near constant buzz of life about six to twelve feet above the garden. A quiet din, causing no issues for us but, an important food source for local wildlife. Throughout summer we had a constant stream of swifts racing above the garden preying on the flies. Come evening, bats would dart and weave above the garden, picking up whatever the swifts hadn’t.

At this time of year the garden seems a bit quiet.

At this time of year, the garden seems a bit quiet. Not much seems to grow; the grass that we no longer cut has flattened – creating another habitat for moths and insects; and the bulbs are only just poking through. But give it a few weeks and it will all be kicking off again. In the winter time we planted around 150 bulbs to provide some early nectar and pollen. There’ll be lots of colour, fragrance and life this year for sure.

But there’s more to do, we want the garden to provide food and multiple habitats throughout the year. Maybe we’ll plant some more winter flowering shrubs. Just before breeding season we want to put up a few more bird boxes to provide the kind of habitat that is so desperately needed in our city. There’s also a pile of wood under the BBQ, it will stay there but after about 10 minutes of drilling will mean there’ll be plenty of space for our insects.

Now, we can really enjoy our garden.

The key thing for us is that we can now really enjoy our garden. We’ve got space for the BBQ, having friends round, or just sitting quietly. Even better, we get entertained by an ever increasing band of wildlife that goes to show that there is hope for nature’s recovery. Just imagine, if we could all do that bit more for wildlife in our gardens - how much greener, richer and interesting our city will be. 

Adam Humphrys

Wilder Future team walking into sunset

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