Louise Curley

10 May 2021 12:36

Make a Wildlife-friendly Garden

My enjoyment of my garden wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t share it with wildlife. For me, the sight of butterflies feeding on nectar-rich plants, bees gathering pollen and birds washing in the bird bath make the garden feel alive, and in turn they make me feel alive. The garden would somehow feel empty without them. My garden is also my small patch of this planet where I can do something, however small, to try to offset the negative impact humans have on the environment.

Planting the right sort of plants is the first step to making your garden wildlife-friendly, and growing a diverse mix of plants is key. Even the smallest of gardens can accommodate a compact tree or large shrub that will give birds somewhere to perch. Shrubs might not be fashionable but if they have flowers and produce berries they’ll be attractive to pollinators and birds, and they’ll also provide roosting and nesting spots for birds.

Flowers should be single, open blooms, as the multiple layers of petals that make up double flowers can make it tricky for insects to access the pollen and nectar. A good mix of different types of flower will also attract different insects. A butterfly, for instance, uses its long proboscis to drink nectar from the long, tubular flowers of buddleia and Verbena bonariensis. Research has shown that bees see blue more clearly than other colours and are therefore most attracted to plants with purple or blue flowers, something I’ve definitely noticed in my own garden where nepetas, lavender and Salvia ‘Caradonna’ are the plants that are most popular with bees.

Bird boxes can be attached to trees or buildings to provide nesting sites. Make sure they face north or east so that they don’t face directly into the sun or the prevailing wind, and place them at the right height the RSPB website is full of useful information.  

While beetles might not grab our attention in the same way as bees and butterflies they’re just as important – not only are they part of the food chain they also play a vital role in eating decaying plant material and in turn enriching the soil. Creating log piles and ‘dead hedges’ by gathering twiggy prunings together will provide the perfect places for these creatures to hole up.

Ditch chemicals for controlling pests and diseases, and instead focus on growing healthy plants and let nature do its thing. Last year in my garden lots of fresh spring growth was covered in aphids. Ordinarily I’d squash them or hose them off with a jet of water, but this time I left them and was rewarded with the sight of blue tits hoovering them up to feed to their chicks.

And if you can, find space for some water. I have a simple stone bird bath which I can see from my desk. I get a huge amount of pleasure from watching the birds drink and bathe there. And I’ve also built a small pond in which I’ve planted native water forget-me nots, Geum rivale, globeflower and ragged robin. It’s early days, and the cold spring means these plants aren’t growing very much at the moment, but once they’re established they’ll hopefully provide the perfect habit for all manner of pond life to take up residence.