The Wild Garden: History, Nature, Community
Until 1987, the Wild Garden was just another patch of inner city grassland, largely unchanged since the park’s last major refurbishment in 1892 (it was first laid out in 1825).
Then mother nature intervened. The Great Storm of October 1987 reeked havoc, uprooting dozens of mature Elms and Beeches and significantly changing the man-made landscape. Rather than simply restoring the park to its previous condition, our greater understanding of natural habitats led to a new innovation: the Wild Garden.
Chris Lowe, an FQP committee member since 2008, explains: “The Wild Garden was initiated around 1988 by the newly formed Friends of Queens Park. The area we now call the Wild Garden was then entitled the Butterfly Bank. It was managed by the council’s Countryside Service aided by volunteers from the Friends of Queens Park who planted butterfly friendly flowers and shrubs
“In 1990, FQP member Julia Behrens, in consultation with the council ecologist, developed a management plan for a combination of Wild Garden and Medicinal Herb Garden. She was successful in raising several thousand pounds both for building raised beds and also a family picnic bench made by sculptor Johnny Woodford.”
The raised beds are still evident, but today the garden is a little less ‘medicinal’ and a bit more ‘wild’. Every year, Park Ranger Lindsay Cattenach runs a programme to cut back the brambles, employing community volunteers and local school children. She aims to create a flourishing habitat for plants and local wildlife, and her efforts were given the ultimate seal of approval in 2005 when a family of badgers moved in.
In order to flourish, the Wild Garden cannot simply be left to its own devices. “Blackberries are good for the birds and other wildlife,” says Lindsay, “but brambles are a very invasive native species and can easily take over the whole area, reducing diversity. We leave a clump of mature scrub and bramble over the badger sett, giving protection for foraging. Our young hazel and sweet chestnut saplings need light and freedom from bindweed to flourish, so we clear round these each year to help them along. Grasses need to be cut occasionally to get light to the new growth and we leave the cuttings for the badgers to use as soft, warm, winter bedding”
“As well as the badgers, we have a nice variety of plants and wild life including, Cow Parsley, wild violets, Cowslips, Native Bluebells, Hemp Agrimony, Teasel, toads, frogs, newts and a multitude of minibeasts, beetles, bugs and butterflies.”
Chris Lowe, who has been been photographing the local birdlife for several years, explains us the value of the Wild Garden to the local bird population: “Goldfinches love the teasel seeds they can find in the Wild Garden [see below], and we also have occasional visits from insect eaters like the Firecrest and the Goldcrest.”
“Both Chaffinch and Greenfinch are busy in the high shrubs and trees. Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock and Wren are well established residents (and the most likely birds to be seen). Longtailed Tit nest and Magpie, Jay and Crow are regular visitors. Redwing and Song Thrush over-winter with Blackcap, Chiff Chaff and Whitethroat arriving in the Spring.”
The maintenance and preservation of the Wild Garden, says Lindsay, is important for our local human population as well: “It’s about the Queen’s Park community having the opportunity to be involved in their park and learn about wild life conservation. We want them to appreciate the importance of this little patch of wildness in the middle of the city.”
– Conrad Brunner
The annual Autumn clear up of the Wild Garden in Queen’s Park takes place Sunday 24th November, 10am to midday (with a break at 11 for cake and hot chocolate). Please join us!