Wether you are visiting the gardens today or reading us from afar, we hope you enjoy ecologist Kiran Lee insights to connect with the natural world of OmVed Gardens and some tips for supporting biodiversity:
Willow Tree Stump
At the top of the stairs leading to the glasshouse and wildflower meadow is a dead willow tree. Death is part of any life cycle, and the garden is a great place to understand death is not the end but it is part of a continuous circle of regeneration. Dead wood is extremely valuable to biodiversity, yet is an often overlooked feature in gardens. What is left from the willow tree will decay over time and become an important habitat for a range of bacteria, fungi and invertebrates.
A winding path enables you to surround yourself in our wildflower meadow. Wildflowers support pollinators during the warmer months and their hollow stems, empty seed pods and organic matter provide refuge for invertebrates during the colder months. Careful management of wildflower meadows requires balancing dead wildflowers that are habitat with removal to avoid returning nutrients to the soil that would otherwise favour grasses.
Native Tree Planting
Look at the trees around you. We have 21 species of native trees on site. Native trees found at OmVed include alder, apple, ash, beech, birch, bird cherry, blackthorn, cherry, guelder rose, dogwood, elder, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, maple, oak, pussy willow, Scots pine, crack willow and yew. Native planting helps encourage local wildlife better because of thousands of years of coexistence and coevolution. Free smartphone apps like iNaturalist and PlantNet are great to help identify trees.
Along the winding path and surrounding the garden, hedges of hornbeam, beech, hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, dogwood form added habitat complexity. The hedge at the bottom of the garden that connects small woodland on the east and west sees a high density of birds which use it as a crossing, including long-tailed tit, great tit, blue tit, robin and redwing and also wood mouse. As standalone structures, hedges provide wind, rain and sun shelter and food but also provide safe crossing between habitats for birds, invertebrates and mammals.
32 bird species have been identified under a one year span. This is an indicator of good biodiversity. OmVed’s surroundings may explain some of this diversity. It is directly neighboured by woodland and home gardens and not far from strongholds of biodiversity such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Woods potentially explaining many woodland specialists seen such as wren, long-tailed tit, nuthatch, great-spotted woodpecker, tawny owl and sparrowhawk can be seen.
Its high altitude in relation to London also makes it an accessible point of crossing for migratory woodland species and so a particularly good place to spot swift. The choice to plant fruit-bearing trees such as blackthorn, holly, hazel, dogwood, apple and hawthorn berries also attracts good numbers of redwing that winter in the UK.
For International Dawn Chorus Day, we invited sound artists Chris Watson and Pascal Wyse to create a piece from the dawn chorus in Highgate Bowl. Recorded between 4am and 7am on Saturday, 2nd May, the chorus is condensed into just 12 minutes, with introductions to the different sections of the avian orchestra. Listen here.
Our garden follows permaculture principles. This includes companion planting, optimising space and light and using perennial crops to help improve biodiversity. It creates year-round textures and habitats, as opposed to just lawn. Vegetables attract aphids, which in turn attract ladybirds, predators of aphids. Flowers of vegetables also serve pollinators and this can be reflected in the similar diversity of flying invertebrates between lawn and vegetable patch areas.
Permaculture as opposed to monoculture also helps prevent the spread of pest species.
Behind the hedges that surround the willow area you’ll see our compost system. Composting is an excellent way to return nutrients from the garden back to the soil, without using harmful fertilisers. The process of composting itself supports a huge variety of saprotrophs and detritivores and in turn, those higher up the food chain.
In collaboration with Heath Hands, we have created a hole in our fence to promote connectivity between gardens for hedgehogs. UK’s hedgehogs are considered vulnerable to extinction. However, they are showing signs of recovery in urban and suburban areas. Connectivity between green spaces is key for hedgehogs as they can roam up to 2km at night. Other good practises to encourage hedgehogs include leaving leaf and log piles, not using pesticides.
The Wildlife Pond
Our ecology tour finishes at the wildlife pond, which is well-positioned in the bottom corner of the garden to receive lots of rainwater and sunlight and generally away from tree cover to reduce dead organic matter. Permanent bodies of water are valuable habitats to encourage biodiversity. We have recorded amphibians, such as common frog and smooth newt, invertebrates such as a resident emperor dragonfly, and birds such as grey heron and mallard.