The RSPB's Toby Wilson demonstrates that you don't have to be an expert gardener to make a wildlife friendly garden and to enjoy the nature on your doorstep.
It’s probably best to start with an admission that I am not a good or even competent gardener. I am hugely admiring of those swarthy-handed folk who can reel off Latin names and soil preferences or a swathe of garden species but alas, that is not me. I tend to garden by looking broadly at what is already there and trying to expand or tweak it. Or by trial and error.
When we moved to a house with a garden, I wanted to try to make it as wildlife-friendly as possible and had a wish list of things to put in.
The first was creating a wildlife pond, as this is probably the best thing you can do to benefit a range of species from birds to dragonflies to amphibians. I spent a happy weekend digging mine out, then lining and finally planting it up. It looked ok, and a frog graciously attended it shortly after, but a lot of the lining was showing and soil seemed to be washing in from the side. So, I waited until the water levels were low, lifted the liner, re-dug the hole and added better edging. I also got some old stones from Gumtree and created a hibernaculum/ rockery next to it for frogs and other creepy-crawlies to hide in. To be honest, I am not sure if the hibernaculum is particularly useful but it seems to fit and sounds impressive. The pond quickly attracted lots of frogs, and after a time water beetles and back-swimmers. I still hope for a greater diversity but perhaps because there aren’t many ‘source’ wetlands in the neighbourhood, it hasn’t brought them in.
The pond and hibernaculum
The next thing on the list came easily and certainly appealed to the lazy side of me. I noticed that in amongst the grass in our front lawn, there were a few leaves of birds-foot trefoil. As I was very keen to create a wildflower lawn, I stopped mowing the patch of lawn in the summer and gradually the trefoil expanded, much to the delight of the local bumblebees, with which it tunefully hummed. With a classic human need to interfere, I then introduced some yellow rattle, which in most cases can help with establishing meadows but I actually regret sowing, as it parasitises (as I found out after it had become very established) the trefoil, and reduced, though fortunately not eliminated, the original full carpet. Despite this, the lawn looks great and has become more diverse over time.
Wildflower lawn with birds-foot trefoil and hawkbit.
Finally, we are lucky enough to have a small woodland behind our garden and I thought it would be good to try to create a woodland-edge effect on our back border. I planted a honeysuckle, which demonstrated that I had hit the right spot by gallivanting across and over the fence and unleashing masses of exploratory tendrils. I mixed a couple foxglove plants with some seeds and these also grew healthily. Adding in a viburnum, a new holly bush, primroses, crocuses and bugle and it is gradually creating the mix of foliage (for cover and nesting) and flowers that I was after.
But, but, but all is far from perfect. We have two small children, so in compromise to the crash of little feet, we have more bog-standard lawn in the back garden that a purist wildlife garden should. Lavender is a top bee plant and should be fairly easy to grow but we haven’t managed the rain and poor drainage and thus reduced at least three healthy plants to spindly disappointments. And despite my best siting, our house sparrow box has only been used once in the years it has been up.
So, if, in my inexpert way, I can impart a few lessons they are:
1) look at what is growing around you and choose wildlife-friendly plants from this to mimic in your own patch
2) for the most part, wildlife likes lots of structure and lots of flowers and if you get this mix, you probably are doing well
3) don’t be afraid of a bit of trial and error – wildlife, including plants, will show you if you are on the right track.
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