Quick and easy ways to create a wildlife garden and enjoy it
The following is a quick and easy guide to how you can create your own wildlife garden with minimum fuss and bother.
1. A wildlife garden is still all about the plants
Let’s be honest, what is the first thing that people normally think of when it comes to a garden? Not surprisingly animals of all types feel pretty much the same as you, its Plants, plants, and more plants. These are the three most important words in wildlife gardening. For some the plants are food, for others, they host their food in the shape of bugs and insects, and for some they also give them an opportunity to raise their young, safely, and securely, as well as away from prying eyes; both yours and your neighbour’s cat!
When you plan your new wildlife garden, try to green as much of your garden as you can, sterile, flagstone areas and chippings are just that, sterile. They may allow lichen and mosses to grow but if not planned properly can act as impenetrable barriers to a host of small animals and insects, not all of us like to be on an open stage.
Another good tip when planning your wild garden is to consider the vertical spaces such as house walls, fences, and hedges, they will massively expand the available surface area of your garden. great a diversity of plants as possible.
Ideally you should choose native species, not least because this increases the native floral reservoir, and as a follow on increases the local fauna that depend on them, but this is not a rule etched in stone.
A hungry bird is as happy with firethorn berries as hawthorn berries. That said, try to avoid modern, super-bred cultivars because they contain little pollen or nectar and are often dependant for their continued existence on the use of specialise chemicals and insecticides.
The one big thing I am learning as I rewild my new garden is not to fight nature. It is north-east facing, and though it is sheltered at the back by a row of small trees and a bit of scrubland, this is still the North of England!
It may be a wildlife garden but choose plants that will feed, shelter, and sustain the local bees, insects and wildlife all year round, choose plants that please you but the ultimate success of your garden will depend on you choosing plants to suite your soil, the location, and the general environment.
Different plants grow in different region for a reason, it does not matter if you live like me in the North of England or the southern United States, choose local it makes a difference.
2. Go organic and please stop using chemicals
Pesticides and insecticides are dangerous not only to the bugs and creepy crawlies, but also you, your pets, and your family. They are designed to do one thing well and that is wipe out particular species of insects and other pests.
You may not welcome these slugs and snails (not puppy dog tails), but they are part of a strictly balanced food chain and for nature, as soon as you get an imbalance, you end up with an outcome that you did not expect or plan for.
Try to live with what you can, and look to alternate, natural ways to control your pests. Learn to love bugs. Most are your friends, even if they are the aphids that feed the Ladybird.
3. Provide food and shelter for the birds and beasts
First thing I am going to say is that I am not going to put out food for the birds or any other animal or insect unless I absolutely must. The problem with feeding birds is that it makes the birds dependant on your feeding, and you just cannot stop one day because you have had enough or have sold the house and moved on.
I also think that it encourages an imbalance of the birds in the garden and even worse, encourages small mammals and rodents that you just might not want around.
What I am going to do though is create a number of bug and bee hotels to encourage the insets into the garden, firstly to pollinate the plants, secondly to act as food for other species and finally to acts as my natural pesticides and insecticide to keep down the population levels of the insects and slugs that I do not want in the garden.
I am also not going to put out a bird bath, what I am going to do is create at the bottom of the garden, a large, sheltered, and shallow pond/bog area to encourage even more insects but to also act as a suburban waterhole for any bird or animal that needs it. It will have shallow sloping beaches at one side but will also be overhung with bushes and trees to create a shaded canopy.
4. Bell the cat
I don’t have a cat now but if I did, I would put a bell on its collar. Cats kill millions of birds a year. It is natural for them to do so, and you can’t really stop them, but you can make it harder for them by ‘belling the cat’.
The collar should be of a proper fit for your cat and have a safety feature such as an elastic insert (‘stretch collar’) so the cat can free itself if it becomes trapped.
5. Do not prune bushes or cut hedges between March and August
This is the main nesting season for birds, and few will tolerate disturbance when sitting on eggs or raising young. If you do prune and disturb the nests, you are leaving them exposed to predators, and if there are young in the nest and you get too close when you are pruning, they may leap out before they can fly and end up being predated by local cats and foxes.
6. Compost your organic waste
Composting and managing a compost or leaf-mould heap in your garden is an art form/science and many books have been written over the years on how to create the perfect compost. The main things to consider though are:
- Do not put cooked food in your compost heap, it will turn to sludge rather than break down and will encourage rats and other undesirables into your garden and that is the last thing you want. Not only will they predate the wildlife you are trying to encourage, but they will also probably upset your neighbours in the process.
- Make sure you have a good mix of green and brown material in your compost heap.
- The composting will depend on insects, worms and other organisms breaking down your compost materials. This means it needs to be warm and damp but not too humid, you don’t want slime.
- For composting to happen you also need oxygen, sterile, compacted, wet, garden waste will just result in a dark lumpy slime. I should know, I am an expert on how not to produce your own compost, but I am learning.
7. Let the grass grow
Most lawns are green deserts. Even a patch of lawn that is allowed to grow and sprout wildflowers will be a wonderland for insects. Amphibians, birds, and small mammals will follow.
8. Pile up some logs
It’s not the most glamorous way of saving wildlife, but for a quick wildlife garden ‘fix’ plonking logs on top of each other is almost unrivalled. Pick a sheltered, shady space, and very soon the log pile will be a wooden wonder of fungi, mosses, insects, and other invertebrates, together with small mammals and amphibians.
What the log pile is doing is mimicking the woodland habitat. A lot of the best of wildlife gardening is exactly that: mimicking nature.
9. Don’t tidy too much.
Tidiness is the enemy of wildlife gardening. Allow leaves on the lawn. Let seed heads stay on stalks. Don’t repair every gap of mortar in the garden wall. Let the nettles grow untroubled in a small corner. Yes, really – nettles are host to butterflies and moth larvae. You can cut them and let them stew in water for a fine organic fertiliser, or indeed as a green vegetable, beer, or tea for you.
10. Relax and enjoy your wildlife garden (it is still yours)
You are entitled to enjoy the floral benefits of the garden too. Just a little forethought means you can make a better garden for you and wildlife. It can still be beautiful, it can still be quirky, it will always be ‘you’, you are just letting nature in at the edges and sharing your space and the fruits of your labor with your local wildlife.