Q. How can I turn my front garden into a wildlife haven?

Create a garden that’s buzzing with wildlife, says Louisa Gilhooly

Design for a wildlife-friendly front lawn

by Liz Potter |
Before - an open-plan suburban front garden
Before - an open-plan suburban front garden

Laying turf might seem like the easiest option for a front garden, but lawns need a lot of maintenance to keep them in tip-top condition. Turves are better than Tarmac or paving, but they offer little by way of nectar for garden pollinators.

This design transforms a traditional swathe of grass into a stylish and wildlife-friendly wildflower meadow. A mower’s-width strip of short grass around the edge of the garden and along the sides of the fence gives the meadow a neat appearance: the key is to make the long grass look like a deliberate design choice.

I’ve arranged the planting around a sculptural hazel fence, which snakes across the garden, undulating in height. It’s inspired by serpentine ‘crinkle crankle’ walls of the East Anglian fenland landscape.

I’ve added three different crab apple trees to create height, privacy and year-round interest; they also have a wild feel in keeping with the meadow. Leave a border of grass around the base of each tree and plant with spring-flowering bulbs such as native daffodils, species tulips and crocuses, which are an important source of nectar for bumblebees emerging from hibernation.

To create the meadow, strip back the turf using a spade and remove the topsoil; wildflowers prefer to grow in nutrient-poor soil. You can then either sow with a wildflower lawn seed mix or lay wildflower turf.

To weaken the grass (and help the flowers thrive), it’s a good idea to include yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) in the meadow mix. It has a pretty yellow flower and is a favourite of bees and other insects.

Mow areas where there are bulbs growing no later than early winter; elsewhere mow until early April, then leave any further mowing until late in the flowering season – wait until September if you can, or at least mid-July. This mowing regime gives the wildflowers the chance to set seed. Cut to a few cm in height and leave the clippings for a few days to let any seeds fall, then remove the clippings so they don’t break down and enrich the soil.

DESIGN POINTERS

  1. Add height with small trees: Plant crab apple trees to create an ‘orchard’ feel. They’ll also provide year-round interest with blossom, fruit and autumnal leaf colour.
  1. Use the mower: Mow around the meadow edges to keep the garden looking well-cared-for and neat.
  1. Include a woven fence: A bespoke woven hazel fence creates a year-round design statement. Here it weaves through the garden for a dramatic sculptural effect.
  1. Boost flowers with plug plants: Boost numbers of seed-sown wildflowers with plug plants bought from specialist wildflower nurseries.
  1. Choose seasonal bulbs: Underplant the trees with dainty spring bulbs to extend the season of interest and to provide an early source of nectar for pollinators.

PLANTING PLAN

Planting plan for meadow garden
Planting plan for meadow garden - see numbers below ©Louisa Gilhooly/Gill Lockhart

PLANTS TO USE

1 Malus ‘Evereste’ Crab apple that’s smothered in pink-budded white blossom in spring, followed by red-orange fruit, loved by blackbirds. Trees have a conical canopy. H and S4m (13ft)

2 Malus ‘Golden Gem’ Crab apple with masses of blush-pink white blossom and an abundance of miniature yellow fruit in autumn. Excellent pollinator for other apple trees. H4m (13ft) S3m (10ft)

3 Malus moerlandsii ‘Profusion Improved’ Deep pink spring blossom and bronze-purple fresh foliage in May and reddish-purple crab apples in autumn on a spreading tree. H5m (16ft) S4m (13ft)

4 Narcissus lobularis Known as the Lent lily, this delicate wild daffodil is perfect for naturalising in grass under trees. Its pale yellow flowers appear in March. H20cm (8in) S5cm (2in)

5 Narcissus poeticus recurvus Fabulously fragrant pheasant’s eye daffodil with windswept pure white petals around a red-rimmed, yellow centre, flowering into May. H35cm (15in) S10cm (4in)

6 Agrostemma githago Once common in farmers’ fields, corncockle has striking magenta blooms with white centres May-Aug and is a favourite of bees. H and S60cm (2ft)

7 Anthemis arvensis Corn chamomile is a clump-forming annual with pretty white daisy-like flowers held on slender stems June-Sept and aromatic ferny foliage. H30cm (12in) S20cm (8in)

8 Camassia leichtlinii Caerulea Group Naturalise these shade-tolerant bulbs with their spires of azure blue star-shaped May blooms under trees. H90cm (3ft) S20cm (8in)

9 Centaurea cyanus Striking blue annual cornflowers July-Sept top willowy, branching stems that add punchy pops of colour to a meadow planting scheme. H60cm (2ft) S20cm (8in)

10 Hyacinthoides non-scripta Our native English bluebell sparkles in the spring sunshine and perfumes the air with its light fragrance, April-May. H40cm (16in) S7cm (3in)

11 Leucanthemum vulgare Perennial ox-eye daisies with their large yellow centres and snowy white petals attract a multitude of insects, May-July. H90cm (3ft) S60cm (2ft)

12 Myosotis arvensis Pretty field forget-me-nots create an airy haze of pale blue flowers May-July and sow themselves around. H40cm (16in) S30cm (12in)

13 Papaver rhoeas A classic annual cornfield wildflower, field poppy has silk-like scarlet flowers May-July and gently self sows. H70cm (28in) S15cm (6in)

14 Primula elatior and P. veris Plant yellow oxlips (H and S45cm/18in) and scented cowslips (H and S25cm/10in) in drifts in short grass for cheerful spring colour Apr-May.

15 Rhinanthus minor Semi-parasitic yellow rattle controls the spread of grass, so wildflowers thrive. Its flowers June-Aug attract pollinators. H40cm (16in) S20cm (8in)

16 Silene latifolia A long-flowering, short-lived perennial, white campion dwells in hedgerows and meadows, flowering May-Sept. H60cm (2ft) S40cm (16in)

17 Chrysanthemum segetum Annual corn marigold has golden-yellow blooms June-Sept that are a magnet for pollinators. H80cm (32in) S30cm (12in)

18 Tulipa orphanidea Whittallii Group Reliable clump-forming perennial species tulip with upright stems of glowing coppery-orange flowers in April. H30cm (12in) S10cm (4in)

19 Tulipa sylvestris Species tulip for naturalising in short grass in dappled shade with buttercup-yellow, scented blooms Mar-Apr. H45cm (18in) S10cm (4in)

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