The Wildlife Garden
If you want to attract birds and butterflies and creatures such as frogs and hedgehogs
you should think about creating a wildlife garden. The basic requirements for any visitor to your garden are food, water and
shelter. You may also consider organising some of your planting schemes around this concept.
Keeping your garden free of
harmful chemicals gives you a head start in attracting wildlife and with a little planning you can create a habitat that will
that will welcome a diverse range of creatures. The visitors will repay you by helping to control the level of problem-causing
pests in your garden.
Encouraging natural cycles in your garden will promote biodiversity. The more soil life
there is, the more insects will come to feed on it. Birds will come and feed on the insects, as will amphibians and mammals.
In this way, food webs will gradually recover in the absence of pesticides. Much of the wildlife that thrives in a garden
does so under the care of a gardener who is not unduly tidy. The best wildlife gardens leave room for decay. This approach
involves piling up old logs and autumn leaves in a quiet shady corner to create a home for insects and hibernating hedgehogs.
Log piles can be overplanted with ivy to enhance their appearance and attractiveness to insects such as stag beetles.
Consider planting native trees, shrubs and flowers so that native creatures will have
a familiar food source or nesting site. Plant as many suitable flowers as possible to attract bees, butterflies and other
insects that will enhance your wildlife garden. Many beneficial species are attracted to a garden that is effectively a feeding
station for them. For the larger visitors, such as small mammals and birds, you can plant flowering and berrying trees and
Ponds provide a rich habitat for a variety of wildlife. Many familar creatures, such as
frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies depend upon ponds to breed. Many urban gardens have become havens for these creatures.
Even a small pool will provide somewhere that birds and other visitors can come to drink. If you have no space for a pond,
try introducing a suitable container that can be utilized as a drinking and bathing area for birds, mammals and insects. An
area of longer grass benefits butterflies, moths and many other insects by providing food and shelter. Many of these insects
will fall prey to songbirds and hedgehogs and thereby diversifying and enhancing the food web in the garden.
The barriers and structures in your garden also provide very useful habitats. Hedges are
a wonderful habitat for all kinds of wildlife, where they can breed, feed and take shelter. The hedges are easy to maintain
and should only be cut once a year, in winter, to avoid interfering with spring and summer nesting birds. Dry stone walls
are another garden feature that can provide homes for hibernating amphibians, lizards, insects and bees.
A wildlife garden is often described as an oasis in an urban desert. Town gardens play
a vital role in protecting the health of the wider urban habitat, while rural gardens play a similar role in areas that have
been affected by intensive farming. Try putting up a few bird and bat nest boxes and providing nesting areas for insects and
mammals. The greater the year-round diversity, the more useful your garden will be.
Plants to attract Wildlife
Plants are the single most important factor when it comes to attracting wildlife into
your garden. The provide a food source and shelter for visiting bees, butterflies, moths and many other beneficial insects.
Even in the small garden, you can still introduce a selection of useful plants by planting tubs of brightly coloured and nectar-rich
summer flowers and pots of sweet smelling herbs such as lavender
Choose plants that will provide the visitors with nectar from early spring to late autumn.
This will mean that your flower beds will be brimming with colour for most of the year. Combine selected species of herbs,
wild flowers and cottage garden plants in a herbaceous border to create a butterfly or bee border. To encourage breeding insects,
allow a few nettles and grasses to grow in a secluded corner of the garden or let ivy trail up your fence. These will provide
sites for female butterflies to lay eggs and a food source for caterpillars.
Wild or single-flowering varieties of plants are often best for wildlife. You should not
be too eager to dead-head plants in autumn. Many birds feed on spent flower heads such as those of forget-me-nots and pansies.
Leave perennial flower stems in autumn, as birds will be attracted to them, searching for seeds and hidden insects. Nesting
birds need insects to raise their young, so try early flowering plants such as aubrietia that attracts aphids, and provide
a source of food.
A hedge that is left relatively undisturbed by the gardener can prove a rich habitat for
a diverse range of wildlife. Dense hedges give birds protection from predators and provide windbreaks. The thick undergrowth
encourages many species of small bird to take shelter and unclipped hedges of all types have more chance of bearing flowers
and fruit. If your garden is large enough to have at least one large tree then this will provide perches and nesting sites
for many birds. Native trees are valuable to insects, birds and other animals as they provide good shelter and food. The best
trees are those that produce seeds or fruit, as these are often a valuable source of food for many birds in autumn or winter.
Shrubs provide shelter for birds, enabling them to nest safely. Choose shrubs such as
Pyracantha, Cotoneaster and Viburnum that produce a good crop of berries for the birds to feed on. Climbers are attractive
to birds, especially if they are late flowering or bear fruit and seeds for winter food. Annual species, planted on vacant
patches where quick reliable displays of colour are required, will produce an outstanding array of colour and their nectar
and seeds provide valuable food for many types of insect.
Meadow plant species will provide colour while the foliage of naturalized bulbs withers
down. A fine early display can be created under deciduous trees before the soil becomes too dry and shaded, and grassy banks
provide a marvellous opportunity for creating a mini meadow. If you don't cut your lawn every week there are many species
of flowers to be enjoyed by the birds and bees.
While shaded areas in the garden can often be problematic for gardeners, there are many
varieties of woodland plants, often including some of the most beautiful wild flowers such as anemones and foxgloves (Digitalis)
- that will thrive in these conditions. A woodland area planted with native trees and shrubs is an ideal backdrop for bulbs
and wild flowers. This would provide a continual source of interest throughout the year and it would attract insects, birds
Hedgerows, ponds and dry-stone walls are superb habitats for wildlife. New hedgerows should
be allowed to establish free of competition for two or three years, before introducing other plants. Hedges provide corridors
for wildlife and sources of interest throughout the year - attractive foliage in spring, flowers in summer, berries, hips
and leaf colour in autumn and winter. Plants that grow in or around ponds act as a magnet to surrounding wildlife. Damp soil
borders and marshy areas are the ideal habitat for many species of wild flower.
Dry-stone walls can be used by planting up nooks and crannies with wild flowers that will
thrive in dry conditions. You can also plant wild flowers in patio tubs, pots and hanging baskets as many will tolerate drought
and have a spreading habit, making them ideal for low maintenance containers.