Wild Wanstead part VIII

©Geoff Wilkinson©Geoff Wilkinson

In the eighth of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project – which aims to transform Wanstead into a multi-garden nature reserve – Nicola Steele suggests two things to do this month to prepare for a colourful spring next year.

With less than two months to go until the shortest day of the year, the nights are really drawing in over Wanstead. Bumblebees have hibernated in north-facing areas of soil, most species of butterfly are hiding away in their caterpillar form and many other invertebrates are preparing to spend the winter tucked up among fallen leaves (it's great to let some pile up in the garden).

The warm sunny days of summer seem a long way away, but there are two things you could do this November to prepare for a colourful spring with plenty of food for pollinators.

Planting bulbs
Autumn is the time of year for planting spring-flowering bulbs. Bulbs are a great way of adding greenery to your garden as they're cheap to buy and easy to plant. They do well in the earth or in pots, and if you jumble a few varieties up together, they'll reward you with a succession of flowers to brighten up your spring and provide vital food to insects emerging from winter.

Aim to plant at least six bulbs together, but for bigger impact, you'll need drifts of as many as 25 to 50 plants. They'll come with instructions, but the general principle is to plant them with their nose or shoot upwards at a depth of about three times the size of the bulb. In the ground, keep a similar distance between each one (you can pack them more densely in a pot). Great spring bulbs for wildlife (with flowering months) include:

  • Snowdrops (January to February): good for shady spots.
  • Crocuses (February to March): fabulous for all types of bees; lots of colours.
  • Grape hyacinths (April to May): two-toned blue and white flowers, popular with the solitary hairy-footed flower bee.
  • Snakes-head fritillary (April to May): good for damp shade; loved by bumblebees.
  • Alliums (June to July): taller, striking flowers with lovely seedheads.

Daffodils may be colourful, but they aren't really liked by bees!

Adopt your nearest street tree
We're lucky in Wanstead to have lots of tree-lined streets – especially as so many front gardens now have little vegetation. But did you know that planting flowers under street trees actually creates a valuable habitat for wildlife? New research has found that these little mini meadows act as stepping-stone habitats between more important green spaces like parks and gardens.

So, if you live on a street with trees, why not adopt a tree base or two near you and create a little oasis in the tarmac for our struggling pollinators? They can be really successful, even if there isn't much soil. All you need to do is email the council by 1 December to tell them the exact location of the tree or trees you're adopting, then from 2019, any spraying of weedkiller on the base should cease.

Next spring, you'll be able to add some dry-tolerant, insect-friendly vegetation (nothing too big that will impede the footpath or road). There are loads of options: wildflowers, spring bulbs and primroses, small evergreen shrubs like hebes, lavender and thyme and perennials such as Russian sage, verbena and geraniums. We'll be publishing more planting ideas in the Wanstead Village Directory early next year.

There are some fabulous tree pits around Wanstead, and even some entire roads of planting where residents have taken on looking after all the bases in the street. Why not join the movement and help reclaim our barren roads for wildlife?

To notify Redbridge Council of your intention to adopt a tree base, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For more information on the Wild Wanstead project, including 10 'wild ways' to make your garden more welcoming to wildlife, visit wildwanstead.org

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