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