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A Space for Wildlife

I'm always pleased when clients specify that they want a garden that welcomes wildlife. It makes me happy to know that there are so many people out there who care about our urban environment and who are keen to do their bit to preserve and look after the green spaces around us. Our natural surroundings are so important (we would not survive on this earth without them) and a good number of us realise that and want to do our bit to help.

The good news about wildlife gardening is that it isn't difficult. No matter what style of garden you want or what size garden you have, there is always something that can be done to increase the appeal to wildlife. It is a common misconception that a wildlife friendly garden should be unkempt and messy. Yes – the more unkempt and untouched by humans your garden is, the wilder it will be, but a more organised and looked after space doesn't exclude wildlife either. A recent article in the Plant Issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine highlighted how the gardens at Great Dixter, despite being well looked after and regularly maintained, were a haven for a huge number of wildlife and incredibly rich in biodiversity. You can read the full report here.

In the Gardens Illustrated article, Fergus Garrett says that the Great Dixter gardens: 'provided a diversity of food coupled with a diversity of habitats. And on top of this by using neither herbicides nor pesticides...there was a balance between host and predator'.

So the key is to garden sensitively, to avoid the use of harmful chemicals and to provide habitat and food for as much garden wildlife as you can.

Sounds simple, but how do we do this?

In a larger space this may mean creating shrub borders filled in with swathes of perennials, planting a tree with spring blossom and winter berries (for example, a rowan, crab apple, cherry or plum) and creating a log pile tucked away in a back corner.

For smaller spaces you may be able to include a small water feature and a selection of shrubs and perennials. Perhaps a bird feeder or two and a bird box.

In a small courtyard or balcony think about vertical planting. Set up a bird feeder or a bug hotel and put out pots filled with herbs and flowers for a passing bee or hoverfly to alight upon.

My own garden is a space that I share with wildlife and I love nothing more than sitting quietly and watching the sparrows get into mischief and hearing the gentle hum of bees, hoverflies and other garden insects. I even take some pleasure in watching a snail slowly meander it's way across the grass.

I've created levels and layers within my garden. I've factored in areas for wildlife to hide away and shelter in and have made provisions for food and water. I've been able to do a lot through planting, but if plants aren't your thing and you want a more restrained and easy to look after garden scheme, you could put out a bird feeder or two and simply make sure that the plants you do choose are beneficial to wildlife (as well as fitting in to your planting style). Even a solid structure such as a fence or built in seat can provide hiding holes for wildlife. I lifted a pot a few days ago to find a slow worm curled up underneath. And solitary bees such as the Red Mason Bee, will search out bore holes in dead wood (e.g. fences and sheds) to nest in.

As diversity is key, try to mix up your planting as much as you can and include perennials that will return every year (or self-seeding annuals) rather than bedding that won't survive the winter and needs to be replaced annually (at quite an expense).

In addition to this be sensitive and mindful to the habits of the wildlife in your garden, the same as you would be to a housemate or a neighbour. For example, before pruning check for nests and make sure you are pruning at the correct time. If you aren't sure a quick check on the Royal Horticultural Society Website will tell you what you need to prune and when.

Even if you can only include a couple of shrubs and perhaps one small tree, choose thoughtfully and you will be surprised at how much wildlife you can attract. All a bird wants is a tree or fence to perch high up on, nesting material to forage for, a source of water for drinking and bathing and a filled bird feeder. Even if you have room for only three pots – you can still plant them up with nectar rich herbs or flowers (which also look beautiful) so that any passing bee or hoverfly can stop for a little rest and a feed. A bird box or bug hotel takes up a relatively small amount of space and can be sited on almost any external wall, and a bird feeder can be hung from almost anywhere and takes up very little space. Make use of vertical space too – walls and trellises can very easily be planted up with wildlife friendly climbers.

So what I'm including with my ramblings today is a mixed planting scheme to include a small selection of wildlife friendly plants. If you want something a little more specific get in touch and I can design something that fits to your requirements. Perhaps you only want white and green plants or maybe a full cacophony of colour. There are no set rules.

This planting scheme is for a border that is 6 metres long by 2 metres wide and can be adjusted according to the area that you are working with.

Planting plan for a wildlife friendly border
Mixed border for wildlife

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