Designing a Wildlife Garden
Updated: Apr 16
How to create a perfect home for wildlife
“Research indicates that private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the countries nature reserves combined…” -Devon Wildlife Trust
At Natural Design Studio we believe that every garden has the potential to become a nature reserve for wildlife, this doesn’t mean giving up your whole garden and letting it go wild. But it does mean making some small changes which make a BIG difference to the environment.
Let's look at the basics:
· Go organic – chemicals are bad for plants and wildlife, pesticides and herbicides might solve one problem, they get rid of pests, BUT they create a dozen more problems in the process because the chemicals pollute, upset the balance in the garden and kill other valuable species.
· Let the soil settle – soil takes thousands of years to form, it’s a perfect mix of organic particles and living organisms. When you dig and toil the soil it can damage this fragile structure, consider less digging and placing more rich organic matter on top of the earth.
· Choose materials wisely – Think of the impact of every material you use in your garden, concrete for instance has a large carbon footprint, and is not permeable. Try to recycle as much as possible and think of sustainable solutions to your hard landscaping.
· Open your garden to nature – Opening gaps in the fence and planting taller shrubs and trees can invite wildlife to come in and enjoy your garden. We will look at more ideas throughout this post.
Once these basic principles are in place you are well on your way to creating a hospitable environment for wildlife, bugs and birds. But not only will you have created a better environment for nature, you will have created a better environment for yourself too!
What’s good for nature is good for us, and vice versa. The opposite is also true, what bad for nature is…
yep, bad for us. Some chemicals are directly harmful to humans, and species decline affects us in so many ways, as we rely on our ecosystems and species such as bees who pollinate our plants and food sources.
We have compliled a list below that will have positive benefits for every inhabitant of the garden (big, small and human!)
Open up your boundaries, just a little bit, to create corridors for small animals and highways for hedgehogs. These animals need to roam and wonder around so having access from one garden to the next is crucial. It connects gardens up and creates networks of accessible habitat for them. Plant up open areas and bare ground to connect parts of your garden. This will encourage invertebrates such as young frogs and newts, to move around.
Feed the birds
Regularly provide a different varieties of food to attract a range of birds, such as greenfinches. The number of visitors will build up over the years. If you have a problem with squirrels Install plastic domes to prevent them from raiding your feeders.
Create a meadow or glade
If you have a big enough garden then sow and area with wildflower seeds or woodland flowers, this will provide shelter for invertebrates, frogs and slow worms. And provide pollen for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. In late summer mow and let the new seeds germinate.
Stack up sticks
Don’t be too tidy! Put logs and stick piles under bushes and around garden edges to provide refuges for wildlife. You can also place a layer of turf on top to create a mound or grow ivy across the top. You could re-create a mini woodland setting by making a ‘stumpery’ where you half bury logs or sticks vertically in shady areas which makes a little paradise for bugs such as woodlice.
Love your lawn
Try not to mow through the winter months and leave the centre of your lawn short so badgers, foxes and birds can forage for grubs. Let the edges of your lawn grow long to create cover for invertebrates.
If space permits, create a wildlife pond for diversity. You can also create a smaller ornamental pond in a bucket or old plant pot although this will be too shallow for newts and dragonflies but you may still attract some frogs!
Try to keep to natural shapes and curves around the garden. This will create a range of temperatures and varying areas of sunshine throughout the day. It will also help to enhance the diversity of your garden and be great for butterflies who like different territories throughout the day.
Help the Hedges
Wait until winter to cut your hedges so you don’t disturb nesting and always check before you start any work on hedges or trees. The best type of hedges for wildlife have a mix of native shrub species, such as hawthorn, to provide shelter and food. Consider planting hedges instead of installing fences where possible as they are better for wildlife.
Ivy is a very useful plant for wildlife. Both the flowers and seeds are good sources of food and pollen. Plus, it provides year round cover for birds and insects. Clematis and roses are also excellent climbers for wildlife.
You can encourage animals into your garden by providing plenty of places to nest and rest. The species you attract will depend on the location, the type of box, and the size of the entrance hole, the RSPB and Wildlife trusts website have loads of great 'how to' guides. Build your own or buy one ready made.
Leave piles of rocks, twigs and rotting wood in your garden. This will create shelter for all sorts of important insects, such as beetles and spiders.
A compost heap is a win-win. Making and using your own compost will naturally enrich your soil. It will also provide a habitat for worms, woodlice and many other insects, including frogs and slow worms. To avoid attracting rats, only use raw food.
Flowers look beautiful and bring colour and scent into your garden, they also provide food for many insects and pollinators. To attract pollinators use flowers that have single rows of petals (such as Echinacea or Helenium), those that fit this bill have large open centres that allow the bees and butterflies to easily access the centre. Think of it as a landing pad, the more open the flower, the easier to go about their business of collecting nectar and pollen. Grow as many varieties as possible to ensure colour from spring through into autumn. Go for native species, if possible.
Learn to relax about weeds. After all a weed, according to its technical definition, is just a flower that’s growing in the wrong place! Some varieties of ‘weed’ like Cow Parsley are coming back into fashion and have been seen planted in RHS Chelsea show gardens! Plants such as Borage, Nasturtiums, Daisies and Buttercups are important sources of food for many insects, including butterflies and moths. They flower for a long time and so provide food when other sources might be absent.
Many native insects, birds and other animals would find it hard to survive without the food and shelter they provide, so a tree is a sure-fire way to invite life into your garden. Trees are crucial for wildlife, and removing carbon from our atmosphere, they are givers of life really, and thus a tree is always a good investment. There are varieties to suit every sized garden, even the smallest courtyard can have a dwarfed or espaliered variety.
"Build it and they will come"
really applies to re-wilding your garden. Whether you follow the basic principles or follow some of the items on the list you will be surprised just how quickly you see results. The natural world is an open network that will pick up on the habitats in your garden changing. The pollinators will see the pollen in ultra violet, the birds will see the trees from a great distance, the sights and scents will disseminate with the loud and clear message that your garden is a ready and accomodating home for all sorts of species. So have a little patience and watch as your garden starts to teem with wildlife! And then watch it really come to life, the symbiotic relationships of nature will start to flourish and the ecosystems will start to restore and thrive.
Natural Design Studio
Every single one of our landscape designs is geared up towards creating ecosystems that thrive. As a consequence the most amazing thing happens, the benefits of planning for wildlife increase tenfold and we see all sorts of positive features develop. A restored ecosytem is balanced and the interconnected garden begins to take care of itself, the garden needs less maintenance because the bugs and worms are doing thier job, thriving in a healthy environment. For example ladybirds catch and eat aphids and worms airate and condition the soil, the trees produce fantastic rich leaf mulch. In the order of nature everything has a place and by working alongside nature, rather than against it we all benefit.
So please do use this guide to restore wildlife in your garden, and if you have any comments or questions please do get in touch. We are always happy to advise and consult to create a better environment. And if you should need us to design the entire garden for you or create a wildlfie reserve on your land then get in touch and we'll be pleased to assist.