Who hasn’t dropped in at a local garden centre and come away with a handful of plants with only the vaguest idea of how they will fit into your garden. That lavender bush that was a little piece or Provence or those pansies that said ‘take me take me’.
I’m all for bit of freestyle, but random planting seldom pays off. If you want your garden to do certain things then it helps to have a plan and this is particularly true of wildlife gardening. Here are some dos and don’ts that is my wildlife gardening plan.
Water is good. The ideal setup is to divert rainwater from a gutter or downpipe into a pond. If you can’t make a pond, then at least collect the rainwater in butts for use in your garden. The kits to divert rainwater from a downpipe are cheap and easily installed. If you can manage a pond a few semi-aquatic plants will help clean the water and provide drinking stations for bugs and birds.
Not all plants are good. Bedding plants may provide instant colour, but many of them are as useless as plastic flowers for wildlife. They have been developed to look nice after a tiring road journey from Holland rather than to be rich in nectar or pollen. There are plenty of lists available of wildlife friendly plants, but two rules of thumb that I find helpful are 1) favour flowers that are single not double (more nectar, seeds and easier to navigate) and 2) favour plants that offer food in the spring, autumn or winter and not just the summer. There is usually a surplus of food in the summer.
Mess is good. Long grass, rotting logs, weeds (nettles, dandelions, clover etc), dead leaves, and rocks all provide safe havens or sustenance for little creatures. Which means resisting the urge to tidy. Sanitised swept paths and bowling green lawns make for wildlife deserts. Write in on your shed door now….mess is good.
Chemicals are bad. I’m not someone who is hung up on the whole organic thing, but in your own back yard you really don’t want to be using chemicals. Besides which there are plenty of wildlife friendly ways to achieve the same goal. If you have problems with greenfly, make more space for ladybirds. If you have problems with carrot fly, plant onions. And if you have problems with pigeons net you plants or try a scarecrow. Always try netting, companion planting or biological controls first. But at least as important is your mindset. Broad beans with blackfly taste just as good as broad beans without!
Compost bins are very, very good. It is one of life’s no brainers. Your waste is converted into something that is useful for you, your soil and for the many invertebrates that feast on it. And its so easy. Pile your uncooked veg waste into a compost bin, mix in the odd piece of card board and grass cuttings and after 6 months you should be good to go.
If you want to go one stage further, then you can build or buy products that encourage wildlife. Insect hotels, pollinating bee logs, hedgehog houses and bird boxes are all designed to help the wildlife in your garden. There is no guarantee they will have tenants, but at least they are part of a plan. A plan to make your garden more wildlife friendly.