RSPB England’s Becca Smith delves into how you can turn your outside space into a functional, wildlife friendly garden on a tight budget – and with very little effort.

Being a first-time homeowner can certainly be a daunting prospect, with bills to pay, redecorating to do, and the unpacking of what feels like hundreds of boxes. What no-one warns you about however, is the sudden realisation that with owning a house comes (more often than not) owning a greenspace.

Sure, you looked around the garden with the estate agent and saw the potential for entertaining space, but with the keys in your hands, the prospect of owning gardening equipment and donning your green fingers becomes all that bit more real.

What’s more, being a first-time homeowner can be expensive, and your design ideas, however simple they may first appear, can eat into both your budget and time too.

Image: a nature-friendly garden in all it’s glory. Credit: Rob Scott

If you find yourself staring out at your garden from behind rain-soaked windows, longing for it to become a paradise overnight and wishing you hadn’t noticed how unruly it looks now you’re it’s official owner, the first step is not to panic.

The next steps? Read on for some top tips on becoming acquainted with your newly owned garden, and turning it into the wildlife haven you’ve always dreamed of (without breaking the bank):

1: Leave the lawnmower

If the idea of trudging across your lawn with a mower fills you with dread, you’ll love this first tip. There is no shame in being a lazy gardener here – in fact, your lawn could soon become a hive of activity if you leave your lawnmower in the shed for a few months (or, better still, don’t fork out for one at all!).

Leaving your lawn to grow just a little longer can boost the number of flowers, and therefore insects, your garden supports, with pretty flowers like ox-eye daisies, white clover and selfheal providing enough nectar to support around 400 bees a day as well as hoverflies and butterflies too.

Worried about what the neighbours might think? Don’t worry – there are simple ways you can adapt your mowing routine to care for wildlife too! Even small patches of longer grass, such as the edges or spots around other plants can help, or try leaving your lawn for just a few weeks or months at a time (did someone say #NoMowMay?)

Image: Herb robert, a native flower, growing between the cracks in some paving. Credit: Becca Smith

2: Get to know your garden inhabitants

Take the time to get acquainted with both the wildlife that visits your garden and the plants that thrive in it – whether that’s sitting outside with a cuppa or looking in flower beds as you hang out the washing.

Seemingly bare flower beds may burst into life in Spring, with plants you never knew existed emerging from winter slumbers. While these plants may pop up in unusual areas (think cracks in the paving, or peeking out from beneath a shrub) they are essentially free and can often be moved around the garden to suit your style or ideas (just remember to check out what conditions the plants you find like, and be sure to avoid moving shrubs or small trees during the bird breeding season).

Allowing established plants to grow not only means you’re not missing out on free plants, but the wildlife that already makes use of your garden won’t lose out either. Look out for invertebrates amongst leaves, birds feasting on seed heads and small mammals taking cover under shrubs. Be inspired by the wildlife that visits – if goldfinches are regular visitors, look at planting teasel for them to feast on the seed heads, or if bats come swooping past at night, why not plant some bat friendly flowers using mixes like this one?

Image: a goldfinch perches on a teasel seed head. Credit: Ben Andrew

3: Be proud of your pots and planters

In the spirit of leaving your garden to flourish before unknowingly digging up the plant of your dreams, bringing new plants into your greenspace using planters and pots can really make the space feel your own without much effort or disturbance.

Brightening up a paved area by popping a few planters around the edges not only brings colour to the space (think painted pots and pretty flowers) but can bring beautiful wildlife closer such as butterflies and hoverflies too.

To avoid spending a fortune, upcycle old pots by painting them, or source cheap alternative planters from charity shops and second-hand websites as a simple project for a rainy day. As for the plants to grow inside them, growing plants from seed often works out cheaper than picking up established ones from garden centres, with seeds easier to grow in pots than straight into the soil.

Image: An urban wildlife garden in Brighton which is planted largely in pots. Credit: Andy Hay

4: Bring the outside in

Whether you’re fortunate enough to have a garden or not, houseplants bring many benefits to your inside space – they aren’t just great for aesthetics, they can improve air quality and your mood too!

From succulents to snake plants, there is a houseplant for everyone. On a budget? Look out for smaller plants, as these tend to be cheaper, or have a nosey in your local charity shop as some sell plants too.

If you’re eyeing up your friend’s houseplant when you visit, why not ask if you can take a cutting? Plants like ceropegia (or “string of hearts”) are easy enough to grow from a small cutting – just place them in water and watch their roots form before potting up.

Image: a family enjoy the wildlife garden at RSPB Bowling Green Marsh, Devon. Credit: Rosemary Despres

Still in need of inspiration? Many of our reserves up and down the country have wildlife gardens packed with ideas for you to take home. To find your nearest RSPB reserve (and source of #inspo) click here.

What’s more, our online shop is a great place to look for wildlife friendly gardening equipment, seed mixes and more – discover what’s on offer here or visit one of our on-reserve shops here.