Renovating a front garden for pollinators: because there has to be more to a scientist’s life than just…!

Over at the Standingoutinmyfield blog, the author has posted some “Photos from a hardwood floor“, and contrasted the satisfaction to be derived from a project such as (in this case) laying a new floor in her home (and great it looks too!) with the dissatisfaction that life as a scientist can bring.  Don’t get me wrong, I think I have the best job in the world, but I agree with her that there has to be more than science in the life of a scientist.

It’s probably not widely realised amongst non-academics, but failure and rejection are MUCH more common than success and acceptance in our professional lives.

Rejection rates for most journals are greater than 50%, and frequently as high as 80% to 90%; success rates for large grants are typically lower than 20%.  In the past seven months I’ve had one grant application and five papers rejected.  It can be very disheartening,  which is why I have to have more in my life than just science.

Of course there’s the teaching and admin that is a vital part of my job, but, like Standingoutinmyfield, other projects are important.  So Karin and I have spent part of the summer refurbishing an old summer house at the back of the garden (on-going) and renovating and planting our front garden (almost done).  As the latter project involves plants that are good nectar and pollen sources for pollinators, I thought I’d post some photographs:


The original front wall – built in the late 1980s/early 1990s I think, and not at all in character with the late Victorian house.

The garden itself was paved and concreted over:


Demolition in progress!  While I supervise…..:



We salvaged what bricks we could, for other projects, and the rubble was taken to the local recycling centre to be used as hardcore.

It’s amazing where plants will grow:


The site is almost cleared, ready for a local semi-retired bricklayer (with 56 years of experience!) to build us a new wall using similar bricks to those of the house:


And here it is:


The soil in the front garden was very poor, varying from solid clay to builder’s rubble, so needed a lot of peat-free compost and sharp sand to improve it.  But finally we were ready to plant it up:


The garden is south facing so we had to choose plants that would do well in a hot, dry summer (not that we have many of those at the moment….).  It will take a year or two for them to get established and knit into a full display.  The plants are a mixture of pollen- and nectar-sources for pollinators plus things we just like – here’s the full list:

A small scrambling rose Rosa “Warm Welcome” – a beautiful, unusual colour, a very nice scent, and appropriate name for the front garden!

Lavender “Hidcote” – planted as a low hedge along the full length – even as we were putting in the plants, worker Buff-Tailed Bumblebees were visiting the flowers.

Plectranthus argentatus –  not hardy here but a lovely foliage plant, fast growing, and with flowers that bees like.  I’ll take cuttings in the autumn to keep it going.

Wisteria – this is quite a large plant that was a birthday present for Karin.  But I’ve lost the variety name so will have to try to track it down.

A fig – Ficus “Panache” – because we like figs.  The roots have been constrained in a sunken container to encourage the plant to produce more fruit and less growth.

A self-sown privet (probably Ligustrum vulgare) that was already in the front garden; we allow it to flower (rather than treating it as a hedge) as the bees love it and the black fruit can be eaten by birds.

Potentilla “Gibson’s Scarlet and “Jean Jabber” – deep red and vivid orange, respectively.

Achillea “Fanal” – also deep red and favoured by hoverflies.

Salvia nemorosa “Caradonna” – beautiful, intense purple.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) because we love the smell and hoverflies love the flowers.

Japanese Anemone x hybrida “Honorine Jobert” – pure white and late flowering.

A perennial sunflower Helianthus “Lemon Queen” – likewise a late flowering hit with the pollinators.

Lamb’s Ear – Stachys byzantina – particularly favoured by the Wool-carder bee Anthidium manicatum.

There will be more to come in the near future.  Meanwhile, here’s a before-and-after shot:


29 thoughts on “Renovating a front garden for pollinators: because there has to be more to a scientist’s life than just…!

  1. Helen

    Amazing improvement! It must be a much more inviting homecoming now as well as being attractive to insects.

    I agree it is important, too, to have an interest outside the day job, otherwise when there is a disappointment, it is harder to put it aside. Gardening is a great way to refocus the mind.

  2. afrenchgarden

    What a brave step! With a south facing aspect I am sure the lavender will love its new home and will require little maintenance. Coming home to the Wisteria in May will be very special too. Just keep your eye on the Japanese anemones in case they attempt to ride rough shod over the other plants. Amelia

  3. Neva Knott

    Jeff, this is such a great post and project. You make important points here about success and failure culture of work (any, really), and the nature you capture here at the edge of human development IS a type of science, I think. Where I’m going with that comment is that I am coming to realize that what you’ve got here is how/where/when most people interact with science… or at least with the elements of life that you conduct science around–biodiversity, ecology, urban forestry, etc. So connecting these types of human activities to science in a way that lay persons can understand is super-important work…and is a lot of what we write about at The Ecotone Exchange. One of our authors in particular, Richard Telford, writes as a naturalist about rehab-ing an old farmhouse, and how he uses that to teach his children ecology. Thanks for a great post and good luck with the project!

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks for the kind comments, Neva. For me, there isn’t a specific point at which my work stops and my non-work life begins, the two segue together. We’re used to artists saying things like “my life is my art” but I think that this is also true for many scientists, though they’d admit to it less often. It’s certainly much more than a career for me, it’s a way of life.

      If you ever want to reuse my posts on The Ecotone Exchange, feel free.

  4. lynne Barnett

    Love the new front garden. What a difference! Well done. Lx

    On Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 3:12 PM, Jeff Ollertons Biodiversity Blog wrote:

    > jeffollerton posted: “Over at the Standingoutinmyfield blog, the author > has posted some “Photos from a hardwood floor”, and contrasted the > satisfaction to be derived from a project such as (in this case) laying a > new floor in her home (and great it looks too!) with the dissati” >

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      1. quercuscommunity

        It will be interesting to see. In 2015 we had Hummingbird Hawk Moths (or the same one twice) feeding on the Red Valerian that grows from the gaps in the slabs. You never know what can happen.

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