Ecology at the Secret Garden

My name is Ross and I’m an Incredible Edible Bristol volunteer and an Ecologist and I’ve been giving ecological support in the “Secret Garden” at Avonmouth. The aim being to make the space as wildlife friendly and as “buzzing” as possible with the ethos being that by looking out for our flying, crawling, buzzing friends then they will look out for us. Bees, butterflies, beetles, and flies all help pollinate our plants providing us with an abundance of food. And toads, frogs, newts, reptiles and hedgehogs all provide an effective means of pest control. And birds, well they’re just there to cheer us up mostly.

So far, we’ve created a range of habitat types to encourage a range of species to the garden and we have plans to create many more. All have been created using found/salvaged materials.

Bug hotel/hedgehog house

Every garden should have a bug hotel! And the bug hotel at Avonmouth is shaping up to be something special/ We are creating a series of hexagonal rooms filled with organic matter to provide homes for a variety of invertebrates. When finished the bug hotel will look like a gigantic honeycomb.

The lower levels of the hotel will resemble a forest floor with lots of dead or decaying organic matter such as deadwood, leaves, straw, moss, lichen, bark, soil and sand as well as rocks, stones and old roofing tiles (for frogs and toads). Different species like different environments and we are trying to cater for as many as possible. We have also integrated a hedgehog house.

Community gardeners making bug hotels.

The upper levels will mostly be aimed at providing houses for our solitary bees. There are over 260 species of bee in the UK and most of them are solitary such as mining and mason bees. They like to lay their eggs in thin narrow chambers and bamboo is ideal for this. Be weary when buying off-the-shelf bee hotels as more often than not the size of the holes are too large for our native species. We have also drilled different sized holes into logs which provides the same purpose.

Our bug hotel is an ongoing project with the honeycomb shape making it easier to add more and more rooms whenever we get chance to make them. My dream is for us to create the first bug hotel to be visible from space!


To try and encourage more birds we have sited a number of feeders around the site and have built a number of nesting boxes. Ideally, we will have a number of feeders at different levels to cater for different species. The feeders have been put up close to vegetation making it easier for the birds to hide if they get nervous.

Hoverfly lagoon

Hoverfly Lagoon

Everybody knows that bees and butterflies help to pollinate plants but did you that flies, especially hoverflies, are all also play an important role as well? A lot of hoverflies are bee mimics so take a closer look – what you think is a bee could quite possibly be a fly. To try and encourage more hoverflies into the garden we have created a hoverfly lagoon. This involves filling a bucket or other receptacle  – we’ve used a large fancy looking planter – with organic matter such as fallen leaves or grass cuttings and topping up with water to make a potentially pungent soup (I quite like the smell but maybe I’m weird) and having sticks or branches protruding out of the top. The aim is to encourage some species of hoverfly to lay their eggs into the mixture where they will hatch into the charmingly named rat-tailed maggots (named for their snorkel like appending sticking out of their rear-end). Once ready they will climb the protruding sticks and metamorphosise in to their final form.

Wild area

We have also left a section of the garden to just do it’s own thing. As it turns out this means brambles! But brambles shouldn’t be feared, not only to they provide us with delicious fruit but also provide protection for small birds and mammals. And as parts of the plant dies off the dead branches can provide habitat for some bee species.

The future

The next major project is to create a pond to provide drinking water for wildlife and a habitat for many other species that are beneficial to gardens such as amphibians (slug eaters), dragonflies (midge and mosquito eaters) amongst others. 

Once this is in place we will then create a bee and butterfly bank, effectively a large pile of sand and aggregate with limestone shelves and some strategic planting. Some species of bee like to dig their own holes and the reflective limestone is ideal for butterflies and dragonflies to perch upon and warm up.

The garden is in a heavily industrialised part of the city and it is our aim to create an oasis for both people and nature (people are nature too btw) to coexist.

So watch this space….


Going for Gold!!

In 2015 Bristol gained silver status as a Sustainable Food City, and decided recently to become one of the first 2 cities to try to achieve gold standard status. The work is focused on local procurement and food waste, but circling around those subjects are of course many others, and upscaling urban agriculture, supporting more community gardening and getting people growing in their own spaces, whether that’s a back garden, an allotment or an kitchen windowsill, they are a vital part of the city’s Going For Gold work. To get involved in this work take a look at the new Going For Gold website where you can log your actions and see how else you can get involved!

As we are keen to support this amazing work, being coordinated by Bristol Food Network, we were thrilled a couple of weeks ago to get to spend a day with Going For Gold ambassador Miranda Kestovnikoff, TV presenter on many nature programmes and president of the RSPB. Not only is Miranda passionate about nature, but is also a keen food grower in her own garden, and is very interested in the work going on across the city from allotments to small scale producers and city farms, all of whom are work agro-ecologically to support both food growing and our precious natural environment.

We started the day at the Farm Cafe in St Werburghs where owner and chef Leona talked to us about the importance of uber local food to her and her clientele. She buys from Purple Patch, which is less than half a mile from the farm, as well as does interesting swapping with local allotment holders. We then went on to Propagation Place at St Werburghs Farm where plug plants of veg are grown for selling online and onsite, to people who are growing their own, but who struggle growing from seed, or choose not to. This a brilliant example of social enterprise supporting the local economy and supporting more people to grow their own, where ever they can.

After that we visited Purple Patch. Less than half a mile from the farm in St Werburghs, Purple Patch is a CSA that feeds 25 families across the city, and grows fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs on a tiny but super productive site. There is also a space for children and an amazing polytunnel that 10kg+ of salad per week is cropped from. Not only were the crops amazing but the way the land is managed supports a huge variety of wildlife and we stood at the pond watching dragon flies, listening to the gentle buzz of late flying bees and the incredible birdsong that surrounds the farm. It’s only when an intercity train flies across the viaduct that you remember you are in the centre of a large city! Miranda spotted various creatures as we were shown around by owner Mary, and we talked endlessly about how important this type of growing is for the city and all its populations.

The Bearpit Garden

After that we wandered along to the Bearpit. By now it as beginning to rain but still there are crops available, and plants flowering to ensure there is city centre forage for pollinators that are still flying. We talked about the space becoming a city centre space for food growing, for nature and for people, with Miranda being really interested in not just what we grow, but how we grow it and that it is a harvest available to everyone in the city. We talked about the change edible landscaping could bring to the city, and how it would support a nature rich city, and then it began to pour so we all went in our different directions, excited by the conversations and people we had met during the day.

Firstly we’d like to thank Miranda for being so interested in everything we do, and also for getting involved as an ambassador for real change. Thanks also to Bristol Food Network for organising the day and inviting us along. We would encourage everyone to get behind this incredible project, that is setting the bar for other cities across the UK, and is really pushing the boundaries on food procurement and food waste. Please take some time to get involved if you can!

See you in a garden soon…..

Purple Patch