Q. Does a wildlife-friendly garden have to be scruffy?

WHENEVER WE FALL BEHIND with outdoor maintenance, wildlife gardening is a great excuse. “You don’t want to be too tidy – it’s not wildlife friendly!” is a handy phrase to trot out when the grass hasn’t been mown, the weeds run rampant or the compost heap lies unturned. But there’s no reason why a garden can’t be elegant, beautiful and tamed as well as being a home and haven to a huge range of creatures, it just takes a little thought.

< THE PROBLEM

  1. Skinny borders offer little wildlife appeal
  2. Straggly shrubs are overgrown so don’t flower or fruit well
  3. Shaded lawn looks a bit rectangular and boring
  4. Huge trampoline has seen better, bouncier days
  5. Flat roof is an eyesore from upstairs windows

 

 

THE SKETCH by Dawn Issac

THE SKETCH by Dawn Issac

THE SOLUTION

1. ADD A POND There’s nothing to compare to a pond as a wildlife magnet. If you’re going to create one, try to allow at least 4 square metres (xxft) in area and include shallow areas with sloping sides, shelves for marginal plants and a deeper area (at least 60cm/24in deep) for hibernating amphibians. Here it’s also bordered by plants that allow wildlife to enter and leave the pond under shelter from predators.

2. PLANT HEDGES A yew hedge has been planted to form a curve behind the pond beds. From a design perspective this detracts from the squareness of the far end of the garden, but this native hedge also provides a wonderful habitat for nesting birds. A hole has been clipped and trained to give a window onto the climber-covered fence behind, but the hedge can also be used to hide a few of the less picturesque plants and weeds that are perfect for wildlife.

3. CREATE COVER WITH CLIMBERS Fences are colonised by climbers. Many – such as honeysuckle – give cover and nesting spots for birds and are a great spot to place open-fronted bird boxes for robins and wrens. No wildlife friendly garden should be without some ivy: as well as homes for wildlife, a mature ivy plant has flowers that give nectar in late autumn as well as berries in winter. And don't forget to add holes either beneath your fence or through its base – 13cm (xxin) is sufficient to provide a wildlife corridor for hedgehogs and frogs.

4. LEAVE LONG GRASS A mown lawn is hard to resist, but this design also includes a smaller second lawn with longer grass to encourage beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars of various moths and butterflies.

5. MAKE AN INSECT HOTEL As well as piles of logs out of sight behind the hedge, this garden has a more ornamental, but no less useful insect hotel, which includes plenty of hollow plant stems and drilled logs for solitary bees to nest in.

6. GROW A SEDUM ROOF A sedum-covered roof will provide a wildlife habitat and a more attractive view from above. If you’re adding one to an existing structure, check with a structural engineer that the roof is strong enough to support a green roof system when wet.

7. PLANT A FRUIT TREE Apple trees add height and interest and a crop for you to enjoy as well as being a draw for wildlife, which enjoy both their nectar-rich blossom and fruit. The tree in the foreground provides a structure from which bird feeders can be easily hung and all the trees in the garden can be used for mounting nest boxes for birds.

8. COMPOST BINS Two generous compost bins not only allow garden waste to be recycled to feed the soil – and worms – but also provide a perfect habitat for a range of wildlife from tiny creatures to slow worms and grass snakes.

9. ADD FLOWERS Nectar rich planting is used throughout the garden. With such plants it’s best to group them together and site them in the sunniest, most sheltered part of the garden to create the ideal foraging ground for bees and butterflies.

TOP 10 PLANTS FOR A WILDLIFE GARDEN

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’
A fast growing ivy with cream markings that will brighten up shady areas. H and S2m

Sedum matrona
These plants provide nectar late in the season and are a haven for hoverflies, bees and butterflies. H75cm S30cm

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’
Perfect for nectar-loving insects in summer and berry-loving birds in the autumn and winter. H7m S1m

Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Rouge’ 
Bees love the flowers and birds love the berries, plus this can be trained on a shady wall to make an eye catching, if thorny, feature. H and S3m

Sorbus aucuparia
A useful size of tree for small gardens, this is clothed in red autumn berries which the birds adore. H12m S4m

Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’
Abuzz and aflutter with bees and butterflies all summer long, this compact English lavender variety also provides scent and structure to the garden. H60cm S75cm

Thymus ‘Silver Posie’
Adored by bees and other pollinators, thyme also provides groundcover shelter to other creatures such as beetles. H30cm S45cm

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’
The daisy-like flowers have a long-flowering season which is useful to visiting bees and butterflies. H1m S45cm

Crocus tommasinianus
A vital early source of nectar for emerging bumblebees in February and March. H10cm S5cm

Ilex aquifolium ‘JC van Tol’
This English holly is self-fertile so no need to have a male holly around to guarantee the red berries loved by birds in winter. H6m S4m

 

Q. Can you help me create an attractive dog-friendly garden?

EVER SINCE PLUTO DUG UP Mickey Mouse’s backyard to bury his bone, dogs have made gardeners nervous, but thankfully things are beginning to change. The Dog's Trust was awarded a Gold medal for its dog-friendly show garden at Hampton Court this year. The garden showed how an outdoor space can be a place for man's best friend to enjoy and yet remain a beautiful retreat for its owner too. Admittedly, dogs still aren't allowed at the show itself, but it's a move in the right direction!

There has also been a trend in recent years to develop therapeutic gardens for dogs, with Mayhew Animal Home and Bath Cats and Dogs Home both creating spaces specifically to combat dog stress.  Of course, even the happiest dogs need somewhere to relax, breathe fresh air and enjoy a little one-on-one exercise... Here's our design solution.

BEFORE PIC

BEFORE PIC

< THE PROBLEMS

• Very few areas of interest for a dog

• Conifers dominate

• Overlooked by neighbouring properties

• Long thin shape drags eye to the end

 

THE SOLUTION: Divide the garden into sections

Create interest by dividing the long garden into three equal parts. It makes sense for the area closest the house to remain as a suntrap patio for entertaining, using gravel instead of the dated pavers to create a Mediterranean feel. The middle area is given over to a square of neat lawn, kennel and storage bench, with the area at the far end dedicated to doggy fun – with rough grass, sandpit and bamboo hoop activity tunnel.

1. Add some shade Even in our insipid summers, dogs can all too easily overheat so make sure they have lots of shady spots to stretch out in. Here three deciduous trees cast dappled shade in summer, while a covered kennel in the shadier side of the garden offers scope to escape the heat.

THE SKETCH by Dawn Isaac

THE SKETCH by Dawn Isaac

2. Bring in water A simple bubble fountain set among the gravel garden plants provides a natural sound that’s as calming for dogs as it is for us.  It’s also a source of water for thirsty dogs as well as a fun play feature to entertain bored hounds.

3. Create calming sounds Soothing natural sounds are created by wooden wind chimes located in the tree - a cheap and easy way to create a calming environment for dogs.

4.  Use paw-friendly materials Grass and pale coloured gravel are less likely to overheat on hot days and have paw-friendly textures. If yellow urine patches are a problem on your lawn, try adding an anti-scorch product such as Dog Rocks to a large jug of water and use it to fill your dog's water bowl.

6. Make space for digging If your dog likes to excavate, why not provide a dedicated digging space and praise your dog when they use it? Sandpits work well and offer a soft texture for dogs to explore. They’re perfect places to hide occasional treats for your dog to find, too.

7 Add tunnels to explore A curving low tunnel created from bamboo hoops (or willow stems) creates an exciting path and hiding place for dogs; the natural material blends well with the garden.

THE SOLUTION - illustration by Gill Lockhart

THE SOLUTION - illustration by Gill Lockhart

8. Plant tough shrubs and perennials  Invest in some robust flowering shrubs and tough groundcover plants that will withstand a rampaging beast! See our plant list overleaf for plants they can safely sniff and nibble. Tough perennials include Agastache Blackadder, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and eryngium as well as one or two grasses (miscanthus and pennisetum) and some scented but tough shrubs – lavender, rosemary and thyme

9. Keep toys to hand An outdoor storage bench give dogs a place to perch whilst at the same time providing space to keep a range of toys so playthings can be swapped in and out to stop canine boredom.

10. Let them bask on a double deck kennel A sun deck on top of the kennel with an access ramp will give your dog exercise as well as a higher spot to survey their space.

 

DAWN'S TOP 10 PLANTS FOR DOGS

1. Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker's Low’ Catnip can stimulate playfulness in dogs as well as cats and makes a great front of border plant. H60cm S50cm

2. Chamaemelum nobile  The scent of chamomile is good for dogs suffering from anxiety or skin and stomach upsets. It is best planted in pots to prevent trampling. H30cm   S45cm  

3. Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’  Golden hops is a vigorous climber to grow over large garden structures and is said to have a calming plant on hyperactive and stressed dogs H and S6m  

 4. Lavandula angustifolia  As well as being tough enough to withstand canine attention, lavender is supposed to encourage scar tissue regeneration and reduce anxiety in dogs. H60cm S75cm  

5. Mimulus guttatus This marginal pond plant is used as a remedy for animals that are nervous, timid and shy. H30cm S1.2m

6.  Petroselinum crispum Parsley acts as a good breath freshener for dogs as well as a useful kitchen herb. H80cm S60cm

7. Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’ Thyme is a healing plant enjoyed by dogs but also a tough groundcover plant for sun. H25cm S35cm

8. Calendula officinalis Marigold is often selected by animals in distress and is a useful self-sower for filling in gaps. H50cm S30cm

9. Salix sp. Dogs in pain often chew willow bark that contains a natural painkiller. Instead of a tree, try natural willow structures that can also double as a sheltered shady spot for a dog.

10. Viola odorata Nervous dogs may enjoy sniffing the scented flowers of sweet violets that also make a great addition to a woodland garden. H20cm S30cm