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….


Ross’s Incredible Story

Incredible Edible and Me
It’s been almost a year since I met Sara Venn and the amazing folks at Incredible Edible Bristol and it’s one of the best things to have happened to me over the past few years.

At the time of meeting I’d had a pretty rough couple of months. I’d lost my job, my relationship and ended up with nowhere to live. During this time something inside of me had changed, something fairly fundamental, it felt like something was missing – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Turned out what was missing was gardening, and volunteering.

I’d found somewhere to live but I was still feeling a little blue. I decided I needed a hobby. A hobby that would keep me active, teach me new skills and allow me to meet new people. So, on a whim, I took over an allotment plot. I’m still not a hundred percent why. I’d never grown anything up to this point. The plot was overgrown and overrun with weeds. I had no money. I was woefully out of my depth. So I applied to go on Monty Don’s Big Dreams, Small Spaces telly show, as you do. My reasoning being, you may as well go hard or go home. But the above problems would become even more apparent on TV, and I knew that Monty’s visits would be fleeting. I needed a proper mentor. So I contacted Sara at incredible Edible. I asked, she said yes. The job got done – and done well.

Since then I have tried to attend an Incredible Edible work party weekly at least – work and weather permitting. I am always amazed at the general awesomeness of all the other volunteers. At how easy everyone is to get on with. The knowledge that is shared. The creativity. And ultimately, the passion everyone has and just gets on with the job required and to a very high standard. The spaces that have been transformed, especially at Bristol’s Bear Pit, has been nothing short of, well, incredible. I’m especially looking forward to spending a bit of time at the Incredible Edible garden at RHS Malvern.

Then there is the act of growing itself. Why didn’t someone tell me how rewarding it was? Sometimes it involves a workout worthy of any trip to the gym. Sometimes it’s an exercise in gentle reflection, or mindfulness. The results of my own attempts at growing have been mixed at best, but when it goes right, you get a real sense of achievement. Then there’s the research and planning element. It ticks a lot of boxes.

When I took over the allotment I had no idea if I’d enjoy it or keep it going, but thanks to the gang at Incredible Edible I think I’ve found something to fill that missing part of me. I’ve learnt so much and had such an enjoyable time volunteering over the past year that I don’t think I’ll ever stop.




A Volunteers View

Last week our lovely Volunteer Kirsten joined us in Millennium Square and then wrote us a blog……


Today I joined Incredible Edible Bristol for a volunteer session in Millennium Square. I met community horticulturist Sara Venn & volunteer Fred for a morning of planting, weeding and chatting.

There is 5 raised beds in the square which have been transformed into edible vegetable gardens. I was impressed by the amount & variety of colourful plants growing. Including lots of luscious salad leaves, spinach, radishes, potatoes, herbs & more! It is there for everyone to enjoy & most importantly-eat! There is also some lovely flower beds to aid biodiversity & to look after the bees.

As we were weeding the beds, people were interested in what we were doing & it was great to chat with passers by. We explained the project and got lots of positive feedback.

We also met a local who had recently used some of the vegetables from the garden to make a Spinach, Onion, Coconut & Chickpea soup mmmmmm.

Next job was to plant a root vegetable called Oca. I hadn’t heard of it before but it apparently tastes like a lemony potato! We planted a few different varieties to see which one grows best in an urban environment. Can’t wait to try it.

I found out from Sara that is over 400 volunteers around the city that help out with the project, in over 50?(we have 29 gardens-Sara) different areas of land. Bristol really is amazing.

The morning went so quickly. It was very relaxed with lots of interesting chats & time for the a very important tea & biscuit break. I left with a smile on my face, greener fingers and with some potatoes, salad & radishes & that I will eat tonight. Can’t get any more fresh or local than that!

Thankyou Incredible Edible Bristol, I look forward to the next session.