Grow wild in your garden

Michelle Chapman

It's a joy to watch the local wildlife in my garden. Gardening for wildlife doesn't have to be hard work, says Michelle Chapman. Here are top 10 tips to help us in our own garden.

The best bits

One of the best things about sitting down in my garden is the chance to catch up with my wildlife visitors. I’m usually surrounded by birdsong, and the hum of bees, and it’s a joy to watch them go about their business.

It adds an extra dimension to my garden and wildlife; watching can provide more drama than any TV soap, often with a touch of comedy thrown in for good measure. It also ensures my garden looks good—I found a very fat frog last year, who must have been gorging on slugs. The years have also taught me not to worry too much when aphids arrive in their thousands—the good guys soon move in to clear them up.

 

A national network

My garden is just one of millions which together form a national network that’s suited to many insects, birds, reptiles and other animals. We like variety in our spaces, which in turn provides more habitats for our wilder friends to thrive. A garden can support thousands of insect species alone.

In my small patch I have a damp area, sunny and shady spots, a hedge and several trees, walls, flower filled borders, a lawn, gravel and a compost heap. I don’t have a pond as we’re on a steep slope, but luckily there’s a stream nearby so there’s access to plenty of water.

 

My love

Bee

What I love in my garden is liked by wildlife too. I grow plants offering flowers—preferably scented—which in turn bare berries, seeds or fruit. I also layer my garden so there are plenty of trees and shrubs that provide shelter and plenty of places for birds to safely whizz in and out of when needed. I have a similar approach on my allotment and I spent some happy time there yesterday watching the bees feasting in my new comfrey patch.

 

My top tips for wildlife gardening

Gardening for wildlife doesn’t have to be hard work; it can make it a lot simpler.

  1. Grow plants with single flowers as doubles often have little or no pollen or nectar.
  2. Concentrate on plants that attract insects and these in turn will attract birds and small mammals.
  3. Don’t be too tidy in the autumn. Those stems and seed heads provide shelter and food for insects and birds.
  4. Plant a tree—hawthorn, crab apple, and rowan are good small trees for the garden with attractive flowers and fruit.
  5. Grow some ivy and let it mature. It’s an important food source for bees and birds in winter/early spring.
  6. Add bird feeders or a table away from potential predators and provide food all year-round.
  7. Leave a log pile in a damp, shady place in a quiet corner to provide shelter for frogs and insects.
  8. Add a compost bin. It feeds your garden for free when spread, it feeds a worm ‘factory’ that will help spread that compost for you, and it provides a home for a wide variety of wildlife.
  9. Make a pond. The smallest one will soon attract wildlife. If you really don’t have room, a well topped-up saucer of water in a quiet spot ensures the bees and birds can have a drink.
  10. Don’t reach for the chemicals. Beneficial insects will soon follow any pest invader and do the job for you.

 

Some plant suggestions

Choose roses that bear hips, or berrying shrubs like pyracantha and elderflowers. Flowers such as alliums, foxgloves, echinacea, hollyhocks, achillea, eryngium and perennial wallflowers provide a nectar and pollen bar for many insects. Grasses with seedheads are a good source of food in winter.

Growing herbs attracts beneficial insects like bees, hoverflies and lacewings to their flowers as well as transforming your cooking. Try thyme, hyssop, borage, savory, oregano, chives or sage.

Even the smallest of spaces can encourage wildlife if you use containers filled with nectar-rich plants like lavender, sedums or honeysuckle all grouped together to provide some shelter.

 

Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger from Wiltshire. She writes the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where her small town garden is a regular feature alongside any topic which springs to mind whilst at her allotment. 

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