What to retain is the first decision in any garden and building design. Major changes to existing vegetation can be a shock to wildlife, so it’s best to work incrementally. Established trees, shrubs and naturalised perennials are an asset. On the other hand, the more concrete you use on the ground, the less wildlife friendly your garden is likely to be.
Go for variety in planting — and if you like a minimalist palette close to the house, leave some other spaces to go wild. As well as providing year-round visual interest, considering all seasons helps to sustain wildlife. For instance, early- and late-flowering plants provide nectar for insects just after they emerge from or before they enter hibernation. Whether beautiful bugs or blooms are your passion, the Natural History Museum’s flora and fauna postcode database could be a good starting point (go to nhm.ac.uk and search for ‘postcode plants’).
Any size or shape of garden has the potential to be wildlife friendly — as airborne and burrowing insects will gravitate towards the best sources of shelter and food.
Any crevices and cavities are fantastic for bees and other beneficial insects. You can buy or make your own bee hotels, but make sure they’re in warm, sunny, sheltered spots. Or, if you mount panels of trellis onto battens fixed into a wall, this will create a gap for birds to build their nests, and hiding space for beneficial insects.
When selecting climbers to grow up through that trellis, opt for a generous mix of nectar, pollen, and fruit. Ivy, whether climbing up a wall or scrambling ground cover, is a safe haven for all kinds of insects and birds. Where exposed to plenty of sun, it produces nectar-rich flowers late in the season for butterflies and hoverflies, followed by a great crop of berries deep into winter.
Wild and Exotic Hedging
Hedging is great for wildlife. You’ll get more berries for your buck if you buy and plant bare-rooted ‘whips’ in winter. These are quick to pop in the ground and easy for children to handle — especially if you choose thornless species.
For your wildlife hedge, use a mix of hawthorn, guelder rose, elder, hazel, oak, holly, field maple, wild privet, dog rose and honeysuckle. If you have space, plant two staggered rows, 30-60cm apart. Native plants are often popular with wildlife, but you can intersperse them with non-natives to provide more visual interest.
Don’t prune all your shrubs at once — if you cut back incrementally you will have a mix of old and new wood that benefits different fauna at different times. Waiting till spring to cut back stems will leave nutritious seedheads for the birds in winter. Insects, frogs, toads, newts and (if they’re in your area) hedgehogs love a nice hiding place under a log pile in a shady corner. Harder woods, such as oak, ash or cherry, are slower to break down – but softer ones are equally beneficial – and many beetles and mosses thrive on decaying wood. If you wish for lower maintenance, it may be a relief to know that leaving a little organic litter may do more good than harm!
About the Author
Director of The Extra Room, Jackie Herald has been a landscape designer for eight years.
Tel: 07714 234808
Main Image: Nigel Dunnett’s New Wild Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011. Photographer: Jackie Herald