Pretty flowers are not only enjoyed by us, but by all manner of wildlife too. If you want to encourage the birds and the bees to make the most of your garden, follow our guide to planting for nature and you’ll soon be sharing your garden with a whole host of friends.
Why A Wildlife Garden?
With the world’s population ever-increasing and new houses being built all the time, as well as every spare bit of countryside being farmed to provide food and fuel to keep us all fed and warm, there’s precious little natural habitat left for our native wildlife to thrive in. Small gardens with decking and lawns don’t exactly offer a good habitat for birds or small mammals either, and the number of pet cats also has a hand in keeping bird and rodent numbers down. All of these reasons combined mean it’s more important than ever that we do what we can to provide a bit of shelter to some of the country’s dwindling species.
You don’t have to devote the whole of your garden to a wilderness in order to do your bit. You might allow one corner to go wild, or you might introduce a pond or start growing plants that encourage bees and butterflies. You can put boxes up for not just birds but also bees, bats and ladybirds to live in. There are loads of little things you can do to welcome wildlife into your garden, so take a look at our guide and see what you’d like to do.In general it’s important to garden organically wherever possible – no wildlife appreciates chemicals or pesticides!
Everyone loves to see butterflies fluttering around the garden, and one of the easiest ways to encourage them is to plant a Buddleia. Large areas of colourful flowers in the sun are more likely to attract butterflies. Flowers that are high in nectar such as sweet peas, ornamental thistles, lilac, zinnia and verbena are all attractive to butterflies.
Flowers that continue to bloom later in the year will ensure your butterfly population have a continued food supply, so they will carry on visiting your garden. Echinacea, sunflowers, late Chrysanthemums and heliotrope are all good late summer-autumn flowers.
Lots of butterflies like nettles and other wild flowers because they provide good food for caterpillars. You need to provide shelter as well if you want to encourage butterflies to stay in your garden. If you keep your garden too tidy you’re destroying lots of sheltering places, so try to leave at least one area to go wild and offer a safe haven to butterflies and other insects.
You may have heard stories in the news about a drop in the bee population. This means it’s more important than ever that we do everything we can to encourage bees to feel welcome in our gardens.
Double-flowered and long, thin trumpet-shaped flowered plants may look pretty to you, but to bees they’re not very attractive as the petals get in the way and prevent them from getting at the precious nectar and pollen. Single-flowered dahlias are popular with bees, and they love hawthorn and crabapple trees. Lavender flowers smell good to both humans and bees, and lots of other herbs will draw bees in – thyme, rosemary, mint, sage and marjoram all have flowers that are bee-magnets.
Potentilla is a lovely flowering shrub that will attract your little buzzing friends, and a selection of heathers will help to prolong the season. Foxgloves, penstemons and snapdragons are all bee-friendly flowers that are good for a bit of sculptural height in your borders.
Putting out food for birds is one of the easiest ways to attract them to your garden. Different birds like different types of food, and different types of feeder, so be sure to give them a selection, and make sure they are out of reach of cats. Make sure you clean your feeders and tables regularly, as bacterial diseases are a big problem for birds.
Trees and hedges are a big draw for birds too, especially fruiting ones that provide food for them, such as wild cherry, hawthorn and crabapple. Even if the tree doesn’t fruit it will still attract insects which the birds will feed on.
Put up nesting boxes to encourage bluetits, robins and great tits to nest in your garden. See our project on Building a Bird Box DIY Project to make your own nesting box and for information on the best position for it.
It’s important to have a water supply for the birds to use in your garden too. A bird bath is the most ornamental way to do this, but a large plant pot saucer, weighted down with a stone, will work just as well.
Not so many years ago hedgehogs used to be quite common visitors to town gardens, but unfortunately they are on the decline, so we should do everything we can to make them welcome. One reason why we’re seeing less of these adorable creatures is that people are becoming more privacy- and security-conscious, separating gardens with fences and walls which hedgehogs can’t penetrate. A hedgehog has a fairly large territory so if you’re serious about wanting to encourage them in your area, you’ll need to get together with your neighbours and make sure you all agree to make small holes in your walls or fences to allow them access between gardens.
It’s certainly worthwhile doing – hedgehogs are great at getting rid of all sorts of garden pests. They’ll eat all your slugs and snails up for you! Another thing to consider is to make sure you don’t use slug pellets as you risk poisoning the hedgehogs.
Offering your local hedgehog a place to drink is another way to encourage it – a pond with a gently sloping side is ideal, but a shallow bowl of water is also fine. Don’t be tempted to leave out a bowl of milk as it will give the hedgehog an upset tummy.
You can build or buy a hedgehog house to offer your hedgehog a luxury place to sleep, or you could just pile a few logs up at the bottom of the garden which I’m sure they’ll be just as happy with.
Watching bats flit around your garden at dusk is a truly magical sight, and there are a few things you can do to encourage these shy creatures to visit you.
Night-scented flowers encourage insects and moths, which in turn encourage the bats to come and feed. Evening primrose and honeysuckle are both popular with moths. Night-scented stocks and jasmine are other good flowers to try. Pale flowers are easier for insects to see at night, and ones that are single-flowered are more likely to be higher in nectar. Cornflower, poppies, primrose, borage, lavender, feverfew and rosemary are just a few of the many plants you can grow in borders to encourage insects.
Trees are important, in that they provide food for the insects and shelter and roosting opportunities for bats. Something like willow, that grows quickly and can be coppiced, and has flowers high in pollen, is perfect.
A compost heap is a great breeding ground for flies, which will encourage bats.
Frogs, Toads & Snakes
A pond will go a long way to attracting frogs and toads to your garden. Try to make it as natural as possible, with a gently sloping side so that they are able to climb in an out easily. Make sure the pond is in sunlight for at least four hours each day, but that it has plenty of plant life in and around it to offer shelter from the sun. Piles of rocks around the edges or nearby are favourite places for frogs and newts to make their homes when they’re not in the water.
Snakes like compost heaps, so if you’ve got one of those you may well find it being used as a nesting place by grass snakes or even slow worms. A pond will encourage snakes too, though you may have to keep restocking your fish for them!
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards