Gardening for wildlife
Fancy a little company in the garden? Then now is the time to boost biodiversity – it’s easier than you think and it doesn’t have to be messy!
Your garden can be beautiful as well as offering a haven for wildlife of all kinds. Beautiful shrubs and flowers, chosen to provide food and habitat, will create an ecosystem that begins to regulate itself without very much intervention from you. But a wildlife garden isn’t a neglected garden. It should be actively managed and can look (if you want it to) as tidy as a normal garden.
One of the first steps is to reduce the amount of hard surfacing – to begin ‘softening’ the garden. Straightaway you will provide resources for wildlife where none were – whatever you replace it with. ‘Unsealing’ the ground will also allow a healthier soil to develop, which will support stronger plants that are less prone to pests and diseases.
Wildlife gardens are all about creating options for foraging, nesting, hibernating, breeding or simply hiding out of the way of predators or the weather. They are about providing life-giving resources and opportunities year-round. Select shrubs, trees and plants that best suit your soil, moisture and climate and choose a range that will flower or berry sequentially and for long periods. Make summer last – the longer there are flowering plants in the garden, the more food there is for insects. Remember that climbers such as Clematis and Lonicera (honeysuckle) are brilliant for providing wildlife opportunities in smaller spaces. Planting in this way delivers a vibrant garden full of colour and flowers for much of the year which needs fewer chemicals and direct care from you.
Wildlife gardens don’t need to be ‘wild gardens’ but neither do they need to be any higher maintenance than traditional lawns and borders. It’s all about providing resources and opportunity for wild creatures. Something as cheap and simple as putting out a bowl of water will encourage birds to come in to drink and bathe. Leaving areas of grass unmown and allowing a ‘meadow’ to grow is a simple way of creating a beautiful new space that will attract butterflies, bees and give small mammals a place to hide too. Strim it down at the end of the summer and gather up the ‘hay’ – it’s perfect as a hibernating spot for hedgehogs and will mulch down to feed the soil too
Choose shrubs and trees with dense branch structure, rough bark, flowers and edible fruits. Hawthorn and blackthorn are excellent choices. Both produce blossom and berries (the blackthorn produces sloes which are the principal ingredient of sloe gin!) as well as offering ideal nesting, roosting and refuge sites for birds. Keep in mind how valuable piles of stones or logs are as places for animals to live and you can buy or build your own insect habitats from scrap wood. Hedgehogs and many garden birds including robins and wrens find piles of branches and fallen leaves ideal foraging places. These will also provide shelter for insects and leaf mulch is a perfect way to feed the soil.
Bees need all the help they can get just now and we should all do our bit to nurture them. As pollinators, bees contribute to every third forkful that goes into our mouths. A selection of small, patio-friendly shrubs and plants that bees love include lavender, Sedum spectabile, wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), and thyme. Each of these is ideal for the balcony. The common daisy, forget-me-not or Buddleja (also known fittingly as the butterfly bush) are ideal for attracting and feeding butterflies. Ivy (Hedera) also provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen until late November and can be grown on any vertical surface.
Gardening for wildlife can let you take it a bit easier and provide new opportunities for butterflies, birds and bees. It can give you a garden full of beautiful flowers and plants and help to build a greener more balanced world for all to enjoy.