Diary of an Eco-Builder

'You don't have to be a "wildlife gardener" to make a site attractive to bug-eyed visitors'
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Spring is in the air and our sap is rising: not only is Tree House finally reaching up to the light, but the buds of our great multi-stemmed sycamore are looking distinctly brighter despite six months of abuse.

Spring is in the air and our sap is rising: not only is Tree House finally reaching up to the light, but the buds of our great multi-stemmed sycamore are looking distinctly brighter despite six months of abuse.

We have done what we can to protect the tree, but drain-digging, muck-shifting and scaffold-erecting have all had an impact. No major roots have been cut, but many of the critical fine roots in the top 600mm of ground have been lost. Fortunately, sycamores are tough, with unusually deep tap roots, so I am hopeful that tree and house will continue to flourish together this year.

The tree is a central part of our biodiversity strategy, providing high-rise habitation for some very diverse fauna (including, I fear, rather too many aphids) and shelter for the bird and ladybird sanctuary in our front garden (we're hoping that attention to the ladies will keep the aphids in check). At the other end of the site, our small back garden has been designed to attract some serious pond life and plenty of bees and butterflies. This space is currently occupied by the site office (aka Steve's shed), but this has not deterred me from my annual Easter ritual of over-enthusiastic shopping trips to rural nurseries.

Don't assume that you have to be a "wildlife gardener" to make your garden attractive to bug-eyed visitors. You can bring in beneficial guests by avoiding pesticides, using organic methods to improve the soil and including appropriate plants. Although many modern flower cultivars and introductions from abroad are only of interest to humans, it isn't difficult to incorporate choices that bees, birds and butterflies will also enjoy. The Royal Horticultural Society has details about which plants are attractive to whom ( www.rhs.org.uk/learning/research/biodiversity).

We're hoping to be in Tree House by September, so I am planning a late summer fire for our garden-hearth. The main attraction for bees will be a mass of scorched heleniums - bees prefer clumps to scattered flowers - including my favourite, 'Waldtraut', and the towering 'Indianersommer'. Further forward, I'm offering them coal-black scabious and the glowing embers of Geum coccineum. Butterflies will also enjoy the scabious, but their attention is likely to focus on the smoky plumes of Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight'. If you think buddleja, the butterfly bush, is a little too ordinary for your garden, seek out an unusual cultivar from among the B. davidii, globosa and alternifolia varieties, all of which are attractive to butterflies.

There will be other flowers packed into our garden purely for our own pleasure, including the leaping sparks of crocosmia and flaming dahlia 'Cheyenne'. But this entire vision depends on sticking to schedule. Although Ford and I have been assured by our good friend Karen that a house-warming in December will be no less of a draw, it won't be a ball for the bees.

If my plans seem a bit ambitious for a small urban plot, check out the results of the Bugs study (Biodiversity in Urban Gardens in Sheffield, www.shef.ac.uk/uni/projects/bugs). The combined effect of modern industrial farming and Ground Force has been a shift in the heartland of biodiversity towards our gardens, not least those in the centre of our cities. The more we can improve our garden habitats and reduce the toxins we pour over our urban environment, the more our urban flora and fauna will flourish - including, of course, the two-legged kind.

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