The green spaces we create in our gardens are a lifeline for some of the UK’s native wildlife, as their natural habitats are gradually cut down, developed or covered over and they look elsewhere for shelter and food.
Designing a garden for nature doesn’t mean it has to look like an unkempt wilderness, as the wildlife doesn’t care about aesthetics. Whether you want a contemporary garden or a balcony with container plants, the birds and beasts will find you – and if you have what they need, they’ll set up home. Whatever your budget or garden style, there are plenty of ways to encourage more wildlife, as long as you provide food, shelter and water.
Depending on the wildlife you want to attract, its food may come from plants or other wildlife, so aim to create a garden with as much biodiversity as possible. The easiest way to encourage wildlife into your garden is to provide an area of water that’s quite shallow, with at least one sloping edge to let wildlife come and go easily. Always use rainwater rather than tap water and don’t be tempted to add fish – they’ll eat the things you’re trying to attract! You could put in some specific water plants, but it’s better to let nature colonise at its own pace. Just make sure that any area of water is safe, so always supervise the kids or fence it off.
When it comes to plants, the general rule is that the larger the plant the more wildlife it will attract and sustain. If you have one or more trees you already have a head start. Trees offer food in the way of blossom, fruits or seeds. They also provide cover from predators and sheltered nesting sites for birds. The best trees for pollinators are apple, pear, peach, wild cherry, crab apple, flowering cherry, hawthorn and holly.
Shrubs are the next best thing and will also sustain a diverse range of wildlife. If you have enough room plant some large shrubs like pieris formosa or japonica, buddleja, escallonia, pyracantha, dogwood (cornus), hebe, hydrangea paniculata species, spiraea japonica, weigela, fuschia, fatsia japonica, acer platanoides and philadelphus. If space is limited, use smaller shrubs like skimmia, perovskia or the long-flowering wallflower. If you want to create a herb garden, choose shrubby herbs like bay, lavender, rosemary and thyme.
To sustain the wildlife population your garden also needs to include plenty of nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants. Choose those with a long flowering season, like wallflowers. Go for single blooms - rather than doubles – as they’re easier for insects to get to. Some of the best choices are agastache blue fortune, geranium phaeum, achillea, leucanthemum, marguerite, nemesia, liatris, nepeta, leucojum, muscari, ligustrum, lychnis, phlox, polemonium and campanula.