How to Make your Garden More Wildlife Friendly

Garden designs and the way we approach gardening have changed immeasurably over the past two decades. Gone are the scrupulously tidy, manicured borders that everyone aspired to and in their place more naturalistic planting schemes that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and bursting with attributes that magnetise wildlife.

Insecticides that not only killed pests but also beneficial insects have been replaced with naturally occurring pest control solutions and sales of peat-free compost are on the rise.

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But still, many forms of wildlife continue to struggle from lack of food, often as a direct consequence of lack of habitat. Populations of pollinating insects, various butterflies and moths and many of our native birds have suffered catastrophic declines over the past few years. Collectively, gardeners can help redress the balance by making their outdoor spaces safe havens for wildlife, which in turn will help create a healthier environment for all of us in the long-term.

On a positive note, it’s worth noting that the greater diversity of wildlife you have living in your garden, the less chance there is that pests will be a major problem. A happy equilibrium exists in the wild where nature fights its own battles, so aim to mimic this system by having a garden that’s brimming with life and allows for the natural occurrence of the food chain in action.

Plants to Attract Birds

Small garden birds, that include wrens, robins, blue tits, long-tailed tits and finches, to name a few, are timid by nature (because of larger predatory birds such as sparrowhawks, magpies and jays) and prefer to frequent gardens that have plenty of places to shelter. If your garden is rather flat and one dimensional, think about adding extra height and depth with shrubs and small trees to provide cover for birds to take refuge in, feed from and nest in.

Blue tits will eat thousands of invertebrates a day, many of which are found on perennials and the branches of shrubs and trees. The presence of these little birds provides a constant eco-friendly form of natural pest control.

Grow plants with berries and nutritious seed heads for garden birds to build up their reserves in autumn and sustain them over the coldest months. Varieties of Cotoneaster, Elderberry, Viburnum, Holly and Crab Apple are all popular, as are Pyracantha and Fatsia japonica. Tasty as they are for the birds, they will also add oodles of colour and beauty to your garden in late summer.  

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Plants to Attract Pollinating Insects

Pollinating insects come in all shapes and sizes and are equipped with varying mechanisms that allow them to feed successfully from the many different shapes of flowers. They don’t discriminate between native or non-native plant varieties but rather gravitate towards plants that carry greater amounts of food.

When choosing perennials keep it simple and choose those that have single blooms as they are easier to feed from. Plants in the (Asteraceae) daisy family are ideal.

Butterflies and moths have long tongues and make light work of feeding from funnel shaped blooms. They enjoy fragrant flowers especially ones that have a decent landing pad to balance on while feeding. The broad flower heads of Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) Achillea, Bronze Fennel and Angelica sylvestris are the perfect shape while Buddleja davidii and Lonicera (honeysuckle) are a great source of food and draw them in with their strong scents.

Hoverflies, wasps, bumblebees and solitary bees are all efficient pollinators and play an essential part in the natural food chain by pollinating ornamental plants, trees and wildflowers that then produce the seeds and berries to feed birds and small mammals. Their presence will also help to effectively pollinate any home-grown produce.

Benefits of a Water Feature

Slugs and snails are every gardener’s nightmare in spring and early summer when the fresh growth of plants can be lost overnight to the voracious appetites of these slimy invertebrates. Wage war against them by increasing the population of frogs and toads in your garden, with the addition of a small water feature.

Whatever shape or size you choose, always include either a shallow ledge or some form of construction that allows newts, frogs and toads to exit the water.

Numerous visitors, that include birds, hedgehogs, bats and foxes will all be grateful to find a welcome source of drinking water. And endless hours can be spent watching water boatmen and dragonflies skim across the surface.

It’s the small changes that we all make, be that a bug house, ladybird hotel or a simple pile of logs at the end of the garden, that’s going to help those groups of insects, birds and mammals that are struggling. So, make this the year you garden with wildlife in mind and on those precious sunny days, relax in a comfy seat and watch the wonders that wildlife bring to your garden.

Written by Louise Midgley, Gardening Editor at the Sunday Express