Gardening with nature in mind can be a challenge, but guiding us through the tangle with inquisitive aplomb is Nottingham’s The Wildlife Garden Podcast - we dig into the show with co-host, and brains behind Ellie’s Wellies Organic Gardening, Ellie Mitchell…
What can the uninitiated expect from The Wildlife Garden Podcast?
In a nutshell, a lot of juicy science: about plants, our native wildlife, and how we can all make a positive difference in our outside spaces, small or large. We do interviews, our own research, and listeners send in audio clips about their own gardens.
Every episode ends with a Native Plant of the Month. This is a love letter to the plants we can all take for granted, but which are so important for the survival of our UK wildlife. All of that is washed down with gallons of enthusiasm, and a healthy dose of us [Ellie and co-host Ben Middleton] taking the piss out of each other!
What first inspired you to start gardening?
We were both late starters to gardening. Being ex-geography students, we were keen environmentalists before we became gardeners. Now we see the connection between all habitats, including our back gardens.
After uni, Ben planted trees for an environmental charity. This was the closest either of us came to gardening, pretty much until we had the business. As for me, after trying my hand at, um, a few careers - including coastal engineering - I did an Introduction to Permaculture course, via the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), at Ecoworks in St Ann’s Allotments. It was there that the penny dropped about how awesome plants are. I was hooked and haven’t looked back since.
When did you decide to make gardening your job, and how did you manage it?
A professional gardener invited me to come help out as their labourer. It was fun in comparison to my previous office life. With time, I took it more seriously. I did a diploma with the Royal Horticultural Society and lived and breathed gardening at home. My gardening buddies handed me small jobs to do alone, and then, hey presto, I had a fully-fledged gardening business. Ben joined a year later, which is why his name isn’t on the van, but he does like to remind everyone that he came up with the business name - Ellie’s Wellies Organic Gardening.
We garden on a shoestring in a small rented garden, so it can be done. If you’re happy with spending time instead of money, then anything is possible
How do you find running a podcast alongside gardening full-time?
The podcast came about because we became desperate for a wider audience for our growing knowledge on wildlife gardening. Our enthusiasm for all things plants and wildlife needed spreading out (to save our poor clients’ ears!). Managing our time between gardening and the podcast is hardest in spring and autumn. We aim to be monthly, but if life (or COVID) gets in the way, it has varied. What’s nice is having such a keen audience. This is encouraging when it comes to putting in our time to research. We rely on donations to cover running costs, and our listeners have been very generous in helping us with that side of things.
How would you define wildlife gardening? What does a wildlife garden look like?
Let’s start with the second part. For us, a wildlife garden is designed to maximise its benefit to wildlife. It will provide the three key elements of shelter, food, and water, using plants to their maximum potential. We have a phrase that we like to repeat a lot on the podcast - plant more plants! It will have a pond, or at least a birdbath. It’ll have nest boxes, bee hotels, and compost piles, alongside a huge variety of beautiful plant life. We also think it should have at least a few places to be able to sit and sip a beer.
The second element is the act of wildlife gardening. We think this technique can be applied to any garden. It means gardening gently; zero chemicals and thoughtful and timely cutting back of plants, rather than being gung-ho about it. We see so many people who think that gardening means hacking plants back, often with petrol tools. This is a lot of work, as well as being damaging to the wilder things sharing your garden with you.
Why do we need to shift towards organic gardening principles?
I’d have to say why wouldn’t we? Sadly, a catastrophic impact on the planet can come through our own gardens, particularly with the use of chemicals that are lined up like sweets in bright packaging on supermarket shelves. There is zero training required before someone takes a chemical home and douses their gardens with it. Maybe they even let their pets and children play amongst it. It’s mad. We said no to any chemicals when we realised that many insecticides don’t target specific ‘pests’ as the packaging might imply. Bees, hoverflies, ladybirds, and many other beneficial creatures all are on the potential hit-list, and killing them can really send your garden ecosystem out of whack, usually making the original ‘pest’ issue you had a lot worse. Being organic should be the baseline for all gardens.
Being organic should be the baseline for all gardens
You like to geek out on the science side of things at the podcast - how do you stay across the research?
I definitely have to credit Ben on this. That man can sniff out a scientific paper at 100 paces. The research scientists are also really happy to share their findings.
How can wannabe gardeners without much space or money get started?
We garden on a shoestring in a small rented garden, so it can be done. If you’re happy with spending time instead of money, then anything is possible. Accept plants from friends, take cuttings, sow seeds, and make your own compost. You can find an answer to everything online.
If you were stuck on a remote desert island where only one plant grows, with just one insect companion, what would they be?
No fair! We don’t have favourites!
What are your hopes for the future of The Wildlife Garden?
As a minimum, we hope that we can keep the podcast going to cover the vast topic that is wildlife gardening. When you consider that we have over 2.5k macro-moths in the UK, it could take us a while!
You can find The Wildlife Garden Podcast through your favourite podcasting service
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