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Creepy Crawlies: things that chomp in the night (and day).

Creepy things that chomp. Six reasons to let them.

Creepy crawlies in the garden. What do you do when you see caterpillars chomping away on your beloved plants? Squash them/throw them over into the neighbour's garden? Photograph them? Applaud and show the children? Clearly, nobody wants the cabbage white larvae eating their brassica.

Cabbage white butterfly caterpillars are not welcome in most gardens! Why? Because some creepy crawlies will leave almost nothing in their wake, save a skeleton. And that's why we cover vegetables with fine netting. Have you seen those hoops or cages, all covered securely with mesh? That keeps the nibbling mouthparts of larvae off the juicy crops!

Protect your crops from caterpillars. It's not too difficult to cover them with hoops and mesh. But what about beautiful butterfly and moth larvae? Most of us love to see the adult insects when they flutter around in the sunshine (or moonlight), alighting gracefully on flowers. They add magic to the garden and are to be encouraged. But they can't reach their adult state without passing through the creepy, crawlies  nibbling caterpillar stage.

Does a moth fill you with mirth? So how do you manage to find a balance between keeping creepy crawlies at bay and promoting biodiversity? The best way, if you can organise it, is to have a dedicated insect garden, or a part of a garden in which you grow insect fodder. Plant species that insects love to feed from. There will ideally be some stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) for the peacock, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies; some holly (Ilex aquifolium) for the larvae of the holly blue butterfly; ivy (Hedera helix) for a whole host of insects and the holly blue butterfly larvae; even some sacrificial fuchsias and rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) for the impressive caterpillar of the elephant hawkmoth.

Peacock butterflies are beautiful and generally welcome in the garden Then there's bell heather (Erica cinerea), which provides a larder for the silver studded blue butterfly larva; Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) and the barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) for the grizzled skipper. Bents (Agrostis) are great grasses to grow for biodiversity as they feed the gatekeeper, meadow brown, small heath and wall butterfly larvae.

Butterflies in the garden are a joy to behold! So called 'weeds' such as bird's foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) are exceptionally palatable for a whole host of larvae belonging to species including the common blue; cryptic wood white; dingy skipper; green hairstreak; short-tailed blue; silver-studded blue; wood white and clouded yellow butterflies. Other goodies to nurture are bramble, broad-leaved dock; broom; various clovers; fescues ; vetch and snowberries.  

Chomp chomp. Are you prepared to sacrifice some plants for the beauty of a butterfly? The list of tasty plants for insects is extensive and, unless you are blessed with a large garden, you can't hope to include them all. But grow a few plants for purposes that are not purely ornamental and your insect life will benefit.

A patch of nettles makes a great larder for garden insects. Improving biodiversity has oodles of paybacks, not least the fact that you are likely to attract more birds to your garden. After all, you wouldn't want to browse in an empty shop, so why would birds find a barren landscape interesting? Don't be too quick to spray the plague of aphids on your roses, for example. Aphids just love juicy young growth and the more fertiliser you apply to your plants, the greater number of so called pests you will attract.

Aphids make a great feast for birds   Instead, it's far better to, firstly, grow plants hard i.e. without too much unnatural intervention. Secondly, to bring in the wildlife that feed off the plant pests. Hang your bird feeders near the aphid infestation and you'll find that birds awaiting their turn on the feeders will clean your plants.

A great tit is attracted to the garden feeder and will also snack on aphids whilst it is there. Create ground cover for frogs and toads and they will feast off the slug population. Attract hedgehogs by making sure they have access through your patch and by providing plenty of groundcover and perhaps a hidey-hole and compost heap. They will reward you by snacking on many of the creatures that you would rather not see.

hedgehogs will do a great job of clearing away the slugs and snails in the garden.  

Neat can still be a treat, welcome creepy crawlies!

If your garden is a designed delight, with a restricted palate of plants and carefully controlled colours, there's no doubt that aesthetics are important to you. Accommodating wildlife might not be your main priority. But there is always room for something. Think of it as a design challenge. Groundcover, for example, can make a really bold visual statement.

Interesting ground cover can look stunning.   There's generally a vertical element that can be utilised. Ivy can be trained in patterns against a wall if you want to emphasise the carefully controlled theme. Can you include insect habitats within your garden walls? Perhaps you have a pergola, against which there are carefully-trained climbers? This would be a great opportunity to include some bird nesting boxes that could be almost invisible.

A bird nesting box can be hidden within a climbing plant   Can you plant a mini meadow? Long grasses are in vogue at present and if your garden is large enough you can cut paths through the longer grass to make interesting shapes and places for exploration. Sowing wildflower mixes into lawns isn't always successful but you might have a stony bank that would be perfect for this purpose.

Shake 'n' rake wildflower seeds are a great way to improve biodiversity to the garden Perhaps you could accommodate a tiny tree? There are even some patio fruit trees that can live in a pot. There are so many opportunities in a garden. Minimalist can be a bit dull. Let's brighten up those outside spaces in the hope that nature can be nurtured. Creepy crawlies (most of them) should be all part of the fun.

By Perfect Plants


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