It doesn’t seem that long ago that gardens were seen as a space that should reflect the tidy interiors of houses – perfect lawns bordered by orderly flowerbeds where even the insects that lived there were considered a nuisance to be defended against.
Thankfully, today’s outdoor areas are more likely to be an extension of our more relaxed ways of life – and are increasingly valued as the oases of nature they are. Indeed, for many of us, it’s actually the visitors we share the plants with that make it all worthwhile.
The good news is that there are tried and tested ways of being a good host to creatures (great and small), so if you want to encourage wildlife in your garden, read on!
Feed the birds
We’ll start with the obvious, because it’s actually become important to (feathered) visitors. Scientists tracking birds in urban and suburban areas report that whole populations have risen thanks to gardeners’ generosity.
Back in the Seventies, sparrows and starlings made up the vast bulk of birds you’d see at a feeder, but these days, goldfinches, robins, pigeons, jays, blackbirds, magpies and crows are common. And in winter, there’s increasing evidence that many birds actually rely on bird feeders to survive difficult conditions.
Flowers for them
When selecting blooms for our garden, we’re usually making a decision based on our taste. But, if you’re serious about attracting butterflies, bees and friends, a little research can teach you which flowers will provide the best food for them (and when in the year).
Sadly, some more modern cultivars are bred more for our eye than any natural usage – so try and balance these out.
A water feature
Adding a pond – if you have room – will transform the wildlife you see on a daily basis. There’s no need for fish – simply allow aquatic plants to take root and you’ll soon have an attractive habitat for a whole new raft of creatures.
Remember to leave one corner of the pond as a slope to allow easy entries and exits – and watch as it comes to life. Also note – if you choose not to have fish – even a little pool of water (like an inverted bin lid) will serve smaller species.
Make it a home
Another off-the-shelf way to increase your garden’s appeal is to literally install homes for your preferred species. The classic nesting box is a great way to get your own bird family started, but there are many other ready-made options on the market these days.
Indeed, you can choose from specialized insect boxes for bees, butterflies, ladybirds, lacewings, earwigs, spiders and many more.
There’s nothing like a tree
That said, there’s no better home for a range of animals than a tree, so planting one or two (or just looking after any you already have) will pay dividends. Likewise, shrubs and hedges will support their own ecosystem – and the ideal (for maximum diversity) is to provide a range of habitats – trees, shrubs, creepers and so on all live together in nature for a reason.
Let your lawn grow
Now this one’s optional – depending on your tastes – but studies show longer grass is preferred by both insects and smaller mammals. You can even transition from a traditional, uniform lawn to a wildflower meadow – by seeding traditional flowers and letting them grow together (shockingly, the UK has lost 96% of its natural wildflower meadowland since the 1950s).
But if you’re not keen on an untidy lawn – consider keeping just one obscure corner (perhaps by a tree or overhanging plant) as the ‘wild section’. It’ll still help.
Don’t get rid of the deadwood
Another tip very much in the category of ‘more for them than you’ – a pile of deadwood somewhere in the garden also offers a (more hidden) benefit.
Imitating the underbrush of a forest, this rotting material will potentially provide a hibernation site but also attract beetles, grubs and fungi – though it should be in a shady spot to accomplish this.
Also consider a rock garden, another small area that can happily harbour insects which will, in turn, earn their keep by keeping aphids and the like in check.
Fertilizers can be really useful, but they’re also not always very natural. Ideally, it’s recommended gardeners invest in their own (sealed and compact) composter – meaning they can recycle food waste that would otherwise go to a landfill.
This will provide organic compost all year round, providing excellent nutrition for your plants without the addition of industrial chemicals. Plus, it’ll help the environment in general, since delivery vans produce at least 0.88kg of CO2 for every 2 miles driven. So, it’s not just your garden you’re helping.