It seems that every day in my garden, this month, I meet a new little creature that has decided to come and live here. It brings me a ridiculous amount of joy to have a garden that is buzzing with life. I don’t think a green space can really be called a garden unless it’s full of life.
The kids are nuts for it, especially my youngest, Robin, who has taken to naming the bugs he finds in the garden. Sadly, I failed to take picture of Clive the woodlouse, but you can take my word for it that he is happily living in our strawberry patch with all his little friends. When we found a ladybird larvae on the pavement near our house, Robin carefully picked it up and carefully carried it back to our garden. If I’m in the garden and I shout out that I’ve seen a new bug or interesting bird, the kids come racing out to see it. Then we scramble back inside to look up whatever it is in a book, to find out what it’s called and what it eats.
This year, we’ve seen lots of different species of butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, flies, including bee flies and hoverflies, dragonflies and damsel flies, woodlice, ladybirds, centipedes and millipedes, ground beetles, a cockchafer beetle and a devil’s coach horse beetle. Isn’t that amazing!? We’ve seen frogs but not toads yet. There is definitely a hedgehog, although we’ve not seen it, we have seen it’s poo! Cue loud cries of “Look, hedgehog poo!!!” on our driveway at 8.30am, as we set off for school. And as for birds, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, wrens, dunnocks, green finches, chaffinches, blackbirds, robins, jays, and even blackcaps sometimes, alongside the more mundane wood pigeons and collared doves, visit the garden. Sunflower hearts seem to be the winning ingredient to attract the more interesting birds, and the nest box is used every spring by blue tits.
I hope I don’t sound smug, listing all of these sightings. It’s just so wonderful, and I’d love more people to have the pleasure of this in their garden.
There is a excellent reason for wanting a garden heaving with wildlife; it’s that you don’t really need to worry too much about pest control. There are ladybirds and ladybird eggs ready to hatch and tackle the blackfly infestations on our broad beans and cardoons. Frogs are hopping about in the borders eating slugs for me, with help from the ground beetles who eat the little ones. And the birds are helping out plenty too.
I don’t think there is any one thing you can do to make your garden more wildlife friendly, it’s more about your whole gardening ethos. Simply building a bug hotel will not make bugs come to your garden. Putting in a hedgehog house will not guarantee you hedgehogs. Those things are a good ideas, of course. But more fundamentally, you need to create habitats that wildlife need, and create a mini ecosystem where wildlife will thrive. And it doesn’t mean your garden has to be messy or unattractive.
These are my top tips for creating a garden that is a wildlife haven:
Fill Your Borders With Flowers
You need flowers in your garden for as much of the year as possible, so bees and other nectar-seeking insects have a source of food. Key plants that do this job in my garden are: hellebores, pulmonaria, primulas, heather, foxgloves, honesty, heucheras, geraniums, fruit trees, aquilegia, alliums, salvias, roses, buddleja, lavender, honeysuckle, penstemon, sedums and asters. These plants are just a few of the RHS’s recommended Perfect For Pollinators plants. I’d also suggest making sure your borders are really full, so that there is lots of shelter for wildlife.
Plant Trees & Hedges
Birds need safe places to roost, nest and hide from predators, especially fledglings. The hawthorn tree in my garden is a favourite place for small birds, who dart to and fro from the bird feeders to the dense, thorny branches of this tree. Hedges are also important, and actually make much better garden boundaries and screens than fences, which require far more maintenance in the long run, and are more vulnerable to wind damage. We don’t have a hedge, having inherited a fenced garden, but the ivy that covers the fences is a good alternative, as it also provides nectar and berries for birds.
Even if you don’t have a pond, make sure you have a bird bath, kept clean and regularly topped up in hot weather. It will be a welcome source of water for thirsty birds, and it’s fun to watch them splashing about in it. Ours is actually a large, glazed pot tray that sits on a old stump in the middle of the lawn, planted around with tall perennials to create a bit of shelter and camouflage. A pond is even better, and it’s on my wish list of future projects, but in the meantime a tub or trough pond is a great alternative. We saw a pair of damsel flies mating at our tub pond last week, and we often have visiting dragonflies. A mini washing-up bowl pond attracted frogs surprisingly quickly when we put one in a border last summer.
I don’t garden in a strictly organic way, but I do treat chemical pesticides or fungicides as a last resort. There is usually an organic option that you should try first. I’ve found that wood ash is an effective slug barrier, if you place a ring of it around young plants, such as delphiniums, in spring. Diluted washing up liquid is very effective sprayed on aphids such as black fly and green fly. You can also simply rub them off, or blast them off with a hose on the ‘jet’ setting. Sometimes, it’s worth just waiting to see if a predator, such as ladybirds, will handle the problem for you.
Be A Bit Messy
My garden isn’t big enough to have a truly wild area, but there is still room for a little bit of messiness. I leave herbaceous perennials to stand over winter, so invertebrates have a place to over winter. I keep a few piles of logs or sticks in the back of borders, and pile up fallen leaves in a corner somewhere. Don’t aim for a perfect lawn. Okay, dig out the dandelions and plantains, but let the clover creep and daisies multiply. The bees will thank you. I always allow a few lawn edges to get long, and am usually rewarded with crickets in late summer!
Build Wildlife Homes
If you do all of this, and also have a few purpose made wildlife homes in your garden, you’ll be sure to have more life in your garden. We have so far made a bug hotel, put up nest boxes and bee houses, and built a hogitat (hedgehog house). I’ve also put a broken terracotta pot in a border, on its side, as a shelter for frogs and toads.
So, do what you can to make your garden more wildlife friendly, and the rewards will be myriad. For more ideas, check out these ‘9 Wonderful Wildlife Garden Blogs’.