The Wild Gardener Episode 3

The Wild Gardener Episode 3

Colin Stafford-Johnson introduces us to The Wild Gardener Episode 3 with 'I've always loved wild places, places where nature's in charge'.

Colin grew up in a different world of immaculate lawns and gardens filled with Roses and Gardening was his family's life.

His Father was Television Gardener Barney Johnson but Colin as a child he was always playing in the woods and the wild.

Colin introduces himself as a Wildlife Cameraman who has spent most of his life filming amazing places and creatures but now he is coming home.

Going back to the East Coast of Ireland he wants to turn his childhood garden into a wildlife haven.

Colin is not a Gardener but over the course of 2 years he wants to transform the abandoned acre of ground only using native plants to the area, then let nature take over.

He will dig a pond, plant hedgerows, sow wildlife meadows and plant woodlands to attract as many creatures as he can to live with him in his very own Wild Garden.

Colin Stafford-Johnson

Colin feels he at the start of his second year and the garden has taken shape and he is busy cutting down the Meadow, even though some of it is still in flower as it is important to cut it all down.

He will then remove it all as he has to keep the nutrients down in the soil.

Year 1 it was important to provide the Pollen as well as colour to the Meadow to encourage and feed the insect population.


Last year was all about laying the foundations of the garden, digging the pond, planting the start of the woodlands and sowing the Meadow and this year is all about building on that start, to watch it grow.

He is trying to create an Ecosystem rather than just a garden, the plants bringing the Insects then the Birds and Mammals and with luck then some Predators.

It will be a whole new world created in the 1 acre patch of land which Colin finds very exciting and cannot wait until next Spring.

October 1st

Colin says its not just about new arrivals to the garden there is also some old friends here already which will help create his Wild Garden.

People do not like Ivy but at every season it offers something different, flowers in September/October when the pollen is scarce and it is alive with the humming.

Insect can hide in it and over winter in it, places for birds to nest in the Spring/Summer and to shelter from the bad weather in.


Colin saw someone cutting theirs back and they were cutting off all the flowers and once pollinated they become Berries and then that is Winter food.

This bush was covered in Berries right up to the Spring and fed the hungry Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.

Colin says the Ivy is the most important plant he has.

Colin is walking through the garden following a sound he has not heard in the garden for a long time a very distinguished kind of chirping.

Red Squirrel

He spots it and it is a Red Squirrel high up in the tree branches and they were once an integral part of the garden and he did not know if they would return.

The colour of them is amazing and they are eating some Beech Mast (Nuts) as well as the ripening Hazel Nuts.

Now he seen they have squirrels he needs to plant more trees they like.

The Reds are the Native Squirrel and have always been here but approximately 100 years ago some 'eejit' brought in Grey Squirrels into the country.

Red Squirrel

They compete for the Reds for food and possibly bought disease with them that affected the numbers of the Reds.

A few years ago Colin spoke to the Neighbours and they had never seen any or had any idea they were in these parts in the past.

How quickly Species can just disappear and not even become a memory.

The return of the Red Squirrel is good news when so many Native Mammals are under pressure to survive.

One Mammal Colin really wants in the Garden is the Hedgehog and they may possible come in the garden he wants to give them a helping hand.

Dan Donoher

Plan B is to have Dan Donoher from Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland come to the Garden with 3 Hedgehogs to release and they are siblings he had since Early Spring and their Mother had to be put to sleep after being injured by a strimmer.

They are getting a lot of Wildlife in with gardening incidents at the moment and they were just 2 weeks old so they were looked after at the Hospital and are fit and healthy to be released.


They let them out of the pet carrier and they come out sniffing the ground and they all look in good condition as they make their way through the long grass.

They will be safe there as there are no roads nearby.

Hedgehogs are Native to Britain but were brought over to Ireland over 1,000 years ago and they are now considered Native to Ireland.

Hedgehogs are not doing well and in the United Kingdom numbers are down by 95% since he was born.


The countryside has been altered so much due to Agriculture, Building and Forestry.

It is important to keep and protect the green veins that run through the country, the hedgerows as these natural resources are vital.

Colin is off walking in the countryside to look at the Hedgerows that are becoming more important as vital corridors for wildlife and plants.

We need to develop more Wild Gardens and other sanctuaries and the Hedgerows help link them all together.

Raphoe Co. Donegal
Stuart Dunlop, Hedgerow Ambassador is Ireland's King of the Hedgerows and has spent decades studying them.

Stuart Dunlop and Colin

Colin asks Stuart why he come to this particular Hedgerow and he says its not been cut for a very long time so it is full of Native plants and its the diversity of species thats important.

The more of a diversity of plants you have will bring in a wide number of different Insects.

Colin met him years ago when he was walking around his Hedgerow and spotted up to 1,500 species and his number of spotted ones in the end was 2,500.

This included plants, fungi, insects, birds and mice he did not think that was bad for a few metres of Hedgerow!


Colin says so many Hedgerows are machine cut into disappearing completely and Stuart says people say you need to protect the birds nests in them but you are also killing all sorts of species.

It needs for people to realise that without having Insects to pollinate we are going to starve if they take them away from the food chain.

Stuart understands we need to produce more food and make it more economical but not at the expense of wildlife.
'We depend on Wildlife, we are Wildlife'
An ancient Hedgerow is a Wildlife Haven and are essential, 'a National Treasure' says Colin as Stuart agrees.


Stuart says its up to Gardeners to provide habitats in their gardens to give our species what they need.
'We are now the Custodians of Biodiversity, we have to be'

Colin is picking apples and he has always loved Autumn, the crisp air and light.

The leaves are falling all over the grass and if left they will disappear into the ground as natures fertiliser and they break down releasing nutrients really slowly.


There is no pesticides, herbicides and no fertilisers used in the garden and they have not been missed.

The garden has been wonderful without using them.

The garden backs onto an old woodland in a river valley called the Devil's Glen and as a child this was his Amazon, where he spent a lot of his time.

He would explore, wandering about discovering Nature and he thinks that children like him who spent their childhood in Nature more likely want to protect it as adults.

Devil's Glen

He feels like to have such a childhood and to engage children in the Natural World, it will stay with them forever.

Now it is even more important for the generations to appreciate it and in your Wild Garden you can connect to the past of exploring, climbing and discovering.

What Colin has been enjoying most has been his seed collecting journeys and he is sowing the Yellow Rattle seeds he collected in the Garden.


His Idea is to look around and plant little patches and to do this you scarify the soil and then sow the seeds.

If the seeds are windblown it will eventually spread to the whole meadow and Yellow Rattle is the Meadow Maker as it is semi parasitic on the grass make it grow less.

The more you stop the grass growing the better chance that Native Wild Flowers will have if not competing.


Colin is walking round the garden looking for Evergreen plants and he finds a Laurel which was brought into the country and escaped from people's gardens into the wild.

It has already taken over in the local woodlands and if he leaves it in the garden it will outcompete and dominate all the Native plants.


It also casts a lot of shade so nothing can grow under it and invasive species are one of the greatest problems to the Native plants.

The theme song to 'The Garden' plays with Barney Johnson, Colin's Father and today he saying his Roses have been slow to flower and he already had to remove some flowers.

Colin says it is ironic doing this Garden because of his Dad being Ireland's first TV Gardener and the family business was a Garden Centre and Nursery.

Barney Johnson

They were all brought up on the sale of exotic plants and his Father had a love for the Natural World but this was before the habitats started being destroyed.

The way he gardened would have changed if he had seen what Colin has and this project is because of that, because of the change and loss of habitat.

December 1st

Colin is in the garden and Winter is a good time for working outside as the garden is really bare.

He is sawing up an old Elder Tree that's falling down so he is going to cut it down completely and cut it into little bits and make a log pile he can plant into.


Dead wood in the garden is just as important as living trees as it can become a hiding place for small mammals like mice plus a source of food and shelter for insects etc.

Winter can be a bit depressing but it can be a lovely time of year and a friend of his once said to him 'if you can't stand the Winter, you don't deserve the Spring'.

Year 2 January

It is snowing which makes it a challenging time for many creatures and their lives are designed to get through the Winter.

When the temperatures fall really low and everywhere is ice the ground becomes impenetrable to their beaks then it becomes a real problem for the wildlife.


Hopefully there will still be things they can forage and they will not suffer.

Every week from now on there will be little changes of life returning and a promise of things to come for the next season.

In just a few months the garden will look completely different.

Year 2 February

It's dark, the Frogs are calling, Colin is on the porch of his cabin and the weather is milder this evening so the male Frogs have responded by doing their mating calling.

As he settles to sleep the female Frogs could be coming laden with eggs responding to the males call.


You just think of them always being in the pond but at night they are off wandering looking for food and only really need the pond to breed.

It is morning, the birds are singing and you are not guaranteed that you will get Frog spawn in the first year of a pond but they have.

The Frogs came to Colin's pond to lay their eggs last night he finds 'incredibly exciting'.

Frogs spawn

Frog spawn is magical and in a few weeks the Tadpoles are going to wriggle out of the spawn and Frogs are so important.

Colin pleased he has done something to help the Frogs he remembers so well from his childhood gives him a wonderful feeling.


Colin has a trug full of Coltsfoot, an early flowering plant which he has saved from a spoil heap that was going to get bulldozed.

He not sure how well they like being transplanted but he going to give them a good watering and hope they survive.


All the little Spring flowers make their energy the previous year and store it like Bluebells and Wild Garlic do.

Colin is putting up a bird box on the cabin and is watering his tree saplings and then some unexpected frost arrived in the Garden.


The temperature dropped 10 degrees overnight and there is ice everywhere and he is worried that the cold snap will continue and the frog spawn may have been affected by the ice.

Colin is planting a Scots Pine Tree and it was one of the first trees to recolonise Ireland and Britain after the Ice Age.

They can live to up to 500 years and once grown will provide shelter and food for the birds and squirrels long after Colin has gone.

Scots Pines

He loves Scots Pines and they are one of his favourites.

Blue Tits are nesting in the new bird box on the cabin and Colin asked a friend after he groomed his dog for the fluff and hair thats he put in the garden for them to use as nesting material.

You need to ensure it is clean hair and the dog has not been sprayed with anything or any chemicals and the birds will soon pick it all up to take it to their nests.

The past few days it has been sunny and the temperature are mostly back to normal and to his relief the pond looks to have survive the cold spell with out any problems.

The shallow end of the pond is alive with the wriggling of the Tadpoles all struggling for space.


The pond is full of predators for the Tadpole and 1,000s of them are not going to make it and are going to be food for other creatures but that is how the food chain works.

There are so many eggs laid but only a few need to survive to adults so the strategy to lay 1000's of eggs works.

There are 3 kinds of Amphibians native to Ireland, 1 Toad, 1 Newt and 1 Frog there are 7 in Britain, so having a healthy frog population is very important for the Garden, a huge milestone in its development of it's own Ecosystem.

Colin loves ponds they are such an asset, birds drink and bathe in them.

'Nothing more satisfying than digging a hole' and the most successful area in the garden was the big pond but it is quite deep so he is digging a shallow pond which will be better for some Wildlife.


Some creatures, as well as plants, like the shallower water, some prefer the deeper water so by having a second pond he will attract even more creatures and plants.

Colin has dug it right next to his cabin so he can sit on the porch and relax watching the Dragonfly and Damselfly highway between the 2 ponds.

A few more days of the warmer weather and everything is going to explode into life and the Garden will again be transformed.

This format of 4 episodes is as shown on BBC NI and may differ slightly than shown on BBC 2

All photographs are copyright of

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