RSPB garden where they're really wild at heart

BY RUTH PAVEY..................... Behind the tennis courts, you ll find a wall with a door. With such directions to the Community Wildlife Garden in Regent s Park, I set off, imagining ancient ivy-clad wall, mildewed door and rusty latch. Instead, a turn of the path revealed a newly-bui

'Behind the tennis courts, you'll find a wall with a door." With such directions to the Community Wildlife Garden in Regent's Park, I set off, imagining ancient ivy-clad wall, mildewed door and rusty latch.

Instead, a turn of the path revealed a newly-built fragment of wall, enough to hold a front door, with a rectangle of gravel before it - all freestanding in the grass.

A moment's hesitation before this improbable structure ended when two people came over.

They introduced themselves as Tim Webb and Rachel Fancy from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and confirmed that this was indeed the way into the garden.

This is a new venture for the RSPB, started in Spring 2007 and still in development.

The idea is to spread the word about the importance of gardens as habitats for wildlife by showing what to plant for the benefit of birds and invertebrates and to encourage the use of permeable materials such as gravel for hard landscaping.

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Although the amount of ground that Regent's Park has allowed to the project is far more generous than an average developer would leave for a garden - it includes some old cherry trees and a stretch of water complete with heron - Rachel and her volunteers have made many features that could be included in smaller spaces.

The rectangle of gravel by the front door has two lines of bricks in the middle, designed to show that you can have the hard standing needed for a car without the blanket use of a lifeless, impermeable surface like concrete. Thyme, pulmonaria and bergenia are growing in the gravel.

There is a trellis carrying ivy and honeysuckle - both bird and insect-friendly - and the beginnings of a privet hedge.

While hedges are good in general, hawthorn or holly would be even better than privet, says Rachel. They chose privet as it is so easy to grow.

Near the imaginary house is a real shed containing the tools used by the volunteer gardeners, with water butt and living green roof, mainly of sedum.

The roof is strengthened with extra timbers to bear the weight of the water-retentive matting and the planting.

Walking into the garden, the visitor comes across several beds cut into what had been grass - each demonstrating differently useful plants.

The first one is planted with insects in mind and includes night-scented plants like phlox and an evening primrose, oenothera odorata.

The seed and berry garden - planted for birds - has cardoons, teasels, echinops, clematis tangutica, cotoneaster, honesty and many others.

A circular raised bed, designed by schoolchildren, is designed to attract bees, with plants such as achillea, scabious, origanum and rosemary.

In a big open area so rich in wildlife as Regent's Park it would not be easy to prove that any of these measures had made a positive difference to particular creatures.

But the RSPB's point is that they would make a difference if carried out in the many small gardens, balconies and window boxes of the city.

About wildlife less desirable to a gardener, particularly slugs and snails, Tim promised to research the RSPB view of the supposedly harmless sorts of pellets.

Asked what the two most important things a gardener should or shouldn't do, he thought we should have as many bushy shrubs as possible - and no bare concrete.

Ruth Pavey

With every leaf and berry of bramble brought quiveringly before our eyes, John Pearce's contribution to an exhibition of urban gardens and interiors could be a model for the hands-off school of gardening the RSPB recommends.

The picture draws the eye past bramble and grass into what seems to be a shadowy wood.

But, in actual fact, it is the further reaches of a garden near Alexandra Palace, which the Ham&High's gardening page featured two years ago.

When John told me that the painting would be at the Geffrye Museum, it seemed sufficient excuse to stray beyond the Ham&High's normal ground to celebrate a museum which has increasingly included gardens within its remit.

Not only is there an intriguing variety of pictures - but some early snowdrops in the front and a touching photographic display documenting elderly Hackney residents in their gardens.

The paintings show gardens as places of convivial entertainment, of tranquillity, melancholy, even supernatural events - although not of actual gardening.

As well as Pearce's work, there is Carel Weight's Departing Angel, set on his own crazy-paved back terrace in Battersea but with a diaphanous figure leaving a troubled looking young woman.

Eric Rimmington's Tall Tree was drawn in Stoke Newington with graphite, charcoal and conté crayon on what the artist described as a "wistfully wet" winter's day.

They are all worth the trip to Kingsland Road, Hackney, to see the show, entitled Home And Garden: Domestic Spaces In Paintings From 1960 To The Present. It runs until February 3.

For details of two events in January connected with the exhibition see the Things To Do column (right).