How to design a wildlife garden

How to design a wildlife garden

Designing for wildlife

Alice Whitehead shows you how small changes to your garden plans can help you grow a beautiful garden – but also grow the wildlife…

Whether they are large or small, urban or rural, filled with veg or packed with perennials, domestic gardens are one of the UK’s most important nature reserves. Making up approximately 430,000ha, this protected landscape has been compared with National Parks such as Exmoor for its biodiversity.

As well supporting up to 3,000 different species of wildlife, including declining species pushed out by high-intensity farming, RHS figures suggest domestic gardens contain approximately 25 per cent of the total non-forest and woodland trees, and 86 per cent of the total urban tree stock. What’s more, they help control urban temperatures, protect us from the cold, prevent flooding and improve human health. There is a scientifically proven increase in people’s health and happiness when they are regularly connected to nature.

But with decked patios, gravel paths and towering fences becoming the building blocks of many modern garden designs – rather than grow an oasis, many of use are creating barren eco-voids where nature fails to thrive.

Contrary to popular belief, a wild garden doesn’t have to be just that: scruffy and overgrown. A garden that works in tandem with nature can still look appealing and be functional. Here are five elements to build into your next garden design to benefit all creatures – great and small…

1. Grow up

Window box

Window box shared by MaryPoppins3000

Forget conventional beds and borders – walls, fences, climbing frames and shed roofs can all be transformed into growing spaces. Greening up areas traditionally left bare can create pockets of nature and wonderful habitats for all sorts of animals and insects, even in a small urban backyard. Hanging baskets and window boxes are an obvious place to start, but cane wigwams and obelisks also offer space for climbers. Fences can be a support for espalier fruit or climbing veg, and flat-roofed sheds can become high-flying horticultural havens. Use timber to create a raised bed on top, with membrane and pond liner at the base, and fill with a mix of soil and grit. Plant small herbs and sedums or, if your shed roof is a suntrap, experiment with peppers, cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

2. Hedge your bets

Better still, grub up fences and walls and plant a hedge. According to the RSPB, hedges support up to 80 per cent of our woodland birds, 50 per cent of our mammals and 30 per cent of our butterflies. Thick hedges with a wide base are best as they provide the most cover. Choose native species for flowers and berries such as field maple, yew, holly and beech. Or consider a new hedge as an extension of your kitchen garden by planting nuts, fruits and berries such as hazel, crab apples, hawthorn or rosa rugosa (for the hips). You will provide a fabulous feast for birds and insects, even if you don’t get around to eating them all!

3. Design with a bird’s eye view
With garden birds under threat and the quality of food in the countryside deteriorating, our gardens attract more than 8 million birds annually. While nest boxes and feeding stations should be an important part of your design, think about longer-term options too such as bird-friendly trees: crab apples, silver birch, buckthorn and euonymus, which are home to berries, seeds and insects. Birds are built to banquet in your garden and won’t come in for finger nibbles, so ensure you offer lots of different foods in one place. Incorporate flowers such as rudbeckia, sunflower or teasel into planting plans – which not only house tasty insects in spring and summer but offer nutritious seed heads in autumn.

3. Design with a bird’s eye view

With garden birds under threat and the quality of food in the countryside deteriorating, our gardens attract more than 8 million birds annually. While nest boxes and feeding stations should be an important part of your design, think about longer-term options too such as bird-friendly trees: crab apples, silver birch, buckthorn and euonymus, which are home to berries, seeds and insects. Birds are built to banquet in your garden and won’t come in for finger nibbles, so ensure you offer lots of different foods in one place. Incorporate flowers such as rudbeckia, sunflower or teasel into planting plans – which not only house tasty insects in spring and summer but offer nutritious seed heads in autumn.

4. Bee kind

Whether it’s the humble bumble, the honey or the solitary, bees are essential for the pollination of many of our most colourful vegetable and fruit crops. No other single animal species plays a more important role in food production, and as crucial habitats become scare in the countryside, our gardens have become a refuge. Variety is the key when it comes to gardening for bees so design your garden with plants that flower in every season. Early spring flowers such as aconites, hellebores, evergreen clematis, lungwort and primrose are particularly crucial as early pollen sources.

You can also create areas for bees to hibernate and nest. Mimic a queen bumblebee’s hibernation hole by digging a cavity in the ground, the volume of a football and lining it with straw or mouse bedding. Cover with a paving slab, leaving a little gap for them to fly in and out. Male and female solitary bees will hibernate in tunnels over winter, either as adults or larvae that mature the following year. Incorporate a south-facing embankment free of dense vegetation into your design to provide opportunities for nesting. Or, if you’re building a new wall or extension, add bee bricks into the build to attract red mason and leaf cutter bees.

 

5. Go the whole hog

Wildlife Garden Hedgehog

Shared by @slr13 on GardenTags

According to a State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report and ongoing surveys by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), there has been a steep decline in the populations of hedgehogs in the last decade with half of rural hedgehogs and a third of urban ones disappearing. The problem: fences and walls, which stop them in their tracks and inhibit their ability to roam. When you’re designing your garden, create ‘hedgehog highways’ i.e. small 13cm by 13cm holes or gaps in garden boundaries, so the animals can travel into and between gardens. If you’re having a wall built, add a ‘smoot’ – a hole that’s just large enough for a hedgehog.
In June and July, hedgehogs will also be breeding so it’s the perfect time to create a log pile hibernacula (a hog house) in a quiet undisturbed corner, or add a compost heap or leaf pile to encourage more insect prey. Ponds are an often-overlooked hedgehog friendly feature but they benefit greatly from a year-round water supply and are great swimmers. Ensure the sides are gently sloping so they, and other creatures, can get in and out easily.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Alice! We’re looking forward to seeing more ‘How to Garden‘ blogs and videos from your very productive allotment.GrowRevURBAN - The Urban Gardening Revolution with The RHS Greening Grey Britain - Guest Blog - Alice Whitehead - A Worm's Eye View

Alice Whitehead is a third generation allotmenteer that likes to grow, eat and get muddy – then write about it! With two urban allotment plots, an award-winning school garden club and an enthusiastic nine year old son to help. 

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