Inner-city wildlife garden opens its gates

By Grenville Johnson, Avon Wildlife Trust Wildlife Champion, and St George in Bloom chair and founder

My wildlife journey began in 2004 after I retired as head teacher. Born, raised and still living in St George, Bristol, I noticed how city wildlife had declined since my childhood in the 1950s. I wanted to transform my inner-city garden into a nature-rich space.

Using my background in the creative arts, I designed it as several garden ‘rooms.’ The upper part receives full sun, so I incorporated plants such as lavender to attract bees and other pollinating insects.  I also provided nesting sites and food sources for birds including robins and blue tits.

One area is shaded, ideal for shade-loving plants, and led to the idea of reviving the Victorian fernery, an area full of ferns. A rocky outcrop rises from the woodland garden leading to the grotto with water cascading into the pond.

Once we had built the pond, wildlife quickly established itself. Frogs and toads inhabit the garden, helping keep down the number of garden pests, and dragonflies hover over it in the summer.

To my amazement, the garden reached the final six in the 2006 Daily Mail National Gardens Competition. BBC Gardeners’ World featured it to show how to attract wildlife in urban spaces. Alan Titchmarsh chose the garden as one of his 30 Best British Back Gardens and it was also featured on ITV’s Great British Garden Revival, while BBC’s Gardeners World’s Frances Tophill featured it in her book, First Time Gardener.

Alongside the wildlife pond is a woodland garden replanted last winter and this spring. We added a stumpery, another Victorian idea, creating a cluster of twisted tree stumps filled with ferns, hostas and other shade-loving plants. My partner and I were inspired by the Stumpery at Highgrove Royal Gardens (and received a kind letter from HRH The Prince of Wales for our efforts).

The garden contains elements normally found in grander gardens, which makes it playfully surreal in places. We built a doorway to look like one from ancient Rome complete with columns, cornices and a carved head. A mirror within adds the illusion of space. In 2016 we installed a replica of a gothic ruin, adding to the spectacle.

The garden has indeed brought back the missing wildlife, and we are delighted to support research undertaken by Bristol University investigating the severe decline of some bee species.

I wanted the garden to be a place to relax – I reaped the rewards of this myself after a period of illness. My garden was my salvation. It raised my spirits and helped improve my health and wellbeing. Irrespective of their size and location, gardens have the potential to do this, as well as keeping us fit, enhancing creative skills, and feeding the imagination and soul. Gardens reconnect us with nature and wildlife. We learn to respect natural elements so vital to our lives and the health of our wonderful planet.

So many inner-city gardens have been neglected or turned into parking spaces.  Let’s reverse the trend and turn inner-city gardens back into wildlife havens.

The Victorian Garden is open to the public 11 am – 4 pm on the following days: Sunday 30 June, Saturday 6 July and Sunday 7 July. Entry FREE to all Avon Wildlife Trust members (Please bring evidence of membership.). Entry fee £5 per adult and accompanied children Free. Donations to St George in Bloom. Due to steps, gravelled areas, and the restricted size of the garden, wheel chairs and push chairs cannot be accommodated. All visits must be pre-booked: www.victorianhouse.garden 0117 949 6788 or victorianhouse@blueyonder.co.uk