I've always seen wildlife as an important part of the garden, something that transports it from being a clinical product of my efforts, like a newly painted kitchen, to a living entity - a lesson in how all living things are interdependent. If clinical is what you want (and some do), try silk flowers and a plastic lawn, they'll give you the body but not the soul. High fallutin' eh? The reason I mention that is because it gives me the excuse to use my 'gardening' blog to branch out a bit.
I walked around Queen's Park in Rochdale last Saturday morning with my daughter and watched herons both in their nests and balancing precariously on the pinnacles of conifers before soaring off like some prehistoric pterodactyl, with the object of relieving someone's pond of its koi carp inhabitants. The River Roch runs immediately adjacent the artificial lake which surrounds the nesting island and a quick flash of white caught my attention on stones near the far bank. It was a dipper, a small bird with a white bib, so called because it, er, dips. Getting a photo was difficult because every time I clicked, the damn thing ducked and most of the photos are of a bum sticking out of the water. Although they are light and fluffy, they have the amazing ability of being able to walk along the bottom of a fast - flowing stream, catching small fish and insect larvae (especially those of caddis fly and mayfly). They do this by opening their wings underwater, angling them so that the flow works to press downwards. Then they close the wings and bob to the top, sometimes thirty seconds later. You'll often see them bashing something on stones at the streamside and that'll be caddis fly larvae which protect themselves by sticking a 'coat' of small stones around their body. Not liking crunchy larvae, the dipper knocks off the stone before dining.
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
Also on the bank, and bringing us back to something we can enjoy in the garden, were the bright yellow flowers of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). In the wild, the flowers tend to be single, meaning that they have a single row of petals but breeders have come up with 'Flore Pleno' - a variety with double flowers. I prefer the wild form because it brings to mind the river or pond bank and, after all, that's what a garden pond is attempting to emulate. I don't know about the double form of marsh marigold, but some of the garish bedding plants commonly seen may attract the human eye but are unable to produce pollen. These are one step away from plastic and so don't attract insects, taking the gardener's philosophy back to that of the newly painted kitchen.