For the first time ever, I’ve been growing my own produce in earnest this year, up on my tiny London roof garden. It’s been an adventure, which is a whole other story, but one thing that’s been extra special are the after-hours experiences I’ve had up there. As the gloom descends, a wildlife friendly garden full of sweet smelling, night loving plants will start to buzz with nocturnal life, tempting in creatures that are incredibly useful to the kitchen gardener as well as fascinating to watch.
My garden sits on the flat roof of my downstairs neighbours’ kitchen so the kind of wildlife it’s going to attract is fairly limited. Moths have been the most magical of dusk visitors, pollinating my crops and dancing around my night blooming flowers. In comparison to their butterfly cousins, moths are unpopular, imagined as drab, dusty, ill-fated creatures attracted to artificial lights and guilty of nibbling clothes, especially the expensive kind. But in fact most species have no interest in your cashmere jumper and many are both inventive and beautiful, intricately marked and even boldly coloured. The furry elephant hawk moth is bright pink and lime green, the angle shades has wings that look like dead leaves and the buff tip looks like a broken birch twig.
Muggy moonless nights
Moths are not only important pollinators, they’re also a valuable food source for other nocturnal creatures like bats and frogs. It’s glorious to watch bats darting around your garden catching night flying insects, accompanied perhaps by a chorus of croaking frogs at the right time of year. You can attract moths to your allotment or garden by planting fragrant night bloomers like tobacco plant and night scented stocks. Moths fly all year round but you’re most likely to spot them on muggy moonless nights between April and October. Why not indulge in some moth watching this month? There’s moth spotting advice aplenty to be found at www.ukmoths.org.uk and it’s national moth night soon www.nationalmothnight.info
Water for wildlife
Water is a key element of a wildlife friendly night garden, especially if you’re keen on creating that spectacle of swooping bats and noisy frogs. Seeing bats in your garden is a rare pleasure but a pond will make it more likely as it attracts the insects they love to devour. A bat can eat up to 3000 bugs in one night. They also like mature trees and hedgerows that provide safe routes for them to fly through, where they’re less visible to birds of prey. Tree canopies also provide a supply of those insects that bats love. You could also think about installing some bat boxes in your garden or allotment.
Pest control task force
That wildlife friendly pond will also be a great place for frogs and toads, which are worth having for their slug eating habits. Practicality demands that I can’t have a pond on my roof sadly, but my mother has a lovely little one in her garden in south Wales. An organic vegetable grower, she still does regular battle with slugs and snails (some, I’m told, are almost seal like), but her pond will definitely help keep numbers down. Brushing my teeth before bed when I was there earlier in the year, I listened to the raucous sound of frogs croaking well after midnight.
Another species the slug hater should want in their garden is the hedgehog. This nocturnal mammal / pest control officer is a veritable slug hoover. They’re partial to caterpillars as well. Hedgehogs unsurprisingly like hedges, an uncommon thing in gardens these days and something anyone keen on wildlife should consider installing. There are free guides to planting a mixed a hedgerow and also a pond to be found on www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening. Hedgehogs also like shrubs, long grass, wood piles and compost heaps. They tend to hibernate between November and March, but this depends on temperatures and weather. Excitingly, hedgehogs not only snuffle, they also swim, climb and travel long distances in pursuit of food.
Fragrant moon bathing
It’s not all about the wildlife though, there’s much pleasure for the human visitor in the garden from dusk ‘til dawn, especially if it includes sitting down to an alfresco meal of home grown veg. Growing plants with silvery foliage and ones that flower after sundown makes your space a real after hours treat. The tobacco plants I’ve got on my roof have flowered all summer, their huge white trumpets quite simply glow in the moonlight and smell incredible. They are a delight and I think every gardener should have some. During the day they’ve been a favourite of bees, and at night loved by moths. But mainly they’ve been adored by me, who could stare at their bright star shaped white petals for hours on end. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer night watching and moon bathing in your garden.
Plants for a fragrant night garden
Night flowering catchfly
Night scented stocks
This article appears in the November issue of Kitchen Garden magazine