Go Wild in the Garden

PUBLISHED: 15:14 16 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013

A wide range of flowers attracts a variety of insects

A wide range of flowers attracts a variety of insects

Warwickshire Life is delighted to welcome Ross Barbour, head gardener at Ragley Hall, near Alcester to the magazine. Ross will be bringing us a monthly column about the gardens at Ragley Hall with practical advice for those of us with slight small...

Warwickshire Life is delighted to welcome Ross Barbour, head gardener at Ragley Hall, near Alcester to the magazine. Ross will be bringing us a monthly column about the gardens at Ragley Hall with practical advice for those of us with slight smaller gardens.



We may have had a poor summer this year but the gardens at Ragley haven't complained. In fact with the late sunshine at the end of September it's never looked better. The trouble is the grass and weeds have enjoyed it too and we've spent much more time than usual cutting and weeding, making it difficult to get stuck into our longer term projects.


One of the main management principles at Ragley is encouraging wildlife, creating a diverse habitat which will encourage insects, birds and small mammals, helping to maintain a natural balance throughout the garden. Water is crucial for encouraging wildlife no matter how big or how deep and one outstanding project that is desperate to be finished is the pond area. We already have two established ponds, but the third is just a hole in the ground and has been for some time.


There are many ways to create a pond in your garden in order to suit different budgets, but when we build our ponds we use a butyl liner. One cubic meter of water weighs about a ton and that's a lot of weight on the liner when it's full of water so first we have to put down a 10 cm layer of sand, followed by a special underlay to prevent any stones or sharp object puncturing it from underneath. All you need to do after that is fill it with plants!


When trying to encourage wildlife into your garden, it is worth growing a wide range of plants and flowers as different insects are attracted to different plants over the season. You don't even have to rely solely on native species. It also pays not to be too tidy! Leave a patch of long grass - it doesn't have to be massive - and it will provide a haven for insects and small mammals. A log or stone pile, some dead plant stems or leaves will serve a similar function.


To try and maintain a natural balance we don't use pesticides in the garden at Ragley. There may be some aphids on the roses and a few caterpillars on the cabbages, but they are kept in check by other insects and birds and don't get out of hand. By spraying the roses for aphids I would be breaking a very important link in the biological chain, probably killing predators and offering no reason for the birds to hang around. So when the next inevitable wave of aphid attack hits there will be nothing to stop or slow down a population explosion. Rather than the tolerable levels which had existed prior to spraying, the size of the aphid infestation will soon become detrimental to the plants, forcing the need for continued spraying which then becomes a vicious cycle.


Even the compost heaps at Ragley harbour wildlife. We collect our grass cuttings and fallen leaves, and mix them with straw to create a wonderful mulch and soil improver. But we have to wait until October to turn the mixture as the resident grass snakes use them to hide in and lay their eggs which will have hatched by late autumn.


BOX TEXT: Ross's tip of the month


If you only do one thing this month in the garden, get some garlic planted. Buy some decent bulbs from a garden centre or mail order. Plant individual cloves 15cm apart just below the soil surface with rows 30cm apart and they will be ready to lift in early summer.


<BOX TEXT: NB. Head & Shoulders picture of Ross to come please leave a space for it.>


Ross Barbour has been head gardener at Ragley Hall for 10 years. The gardens cover 10 hectares and include a prairie, meadow, rose garden, herbaceous borders and a winter garden. Ragley Hall, Alcester, Warwickshire B49 5NJ. Ross can be contacted on 01789 762090 ext 147 or rossbarbour@ragleyhall.com

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