A garden designed to attract wildlife can be any size — and it doesn’t need to look unkempt. There are many features that can be used to entice creatures within a small, contemporary space or rustic and traditional design — and they’re people-friendly, too. Keep reading for ideas to help make your outdoor space more attractive to all kinds of visitors.
A wildlife-friendly garden doesn’t have to mean a riot of color. If you prefer a limited palette, you can create a design that’s neat and stylish, yet still attracts insects and other visiting fauna.
Try introducing plants that add structure but are also insect-friendly. Bees in particular are attracted to blue and violet colors, due to the fact that they see in ultraviolet, so it’s good to include purple flowers.
Hedging is generally a better alternative for wildlife than solid fencing and, by using straight lines and dividing spaces, you can create a stylish, modern feel to a space.
Plants such as clover, buttercups and daisies are so valuable to insects, and the soil is essential for worms, birds and other small creatures.
If you can’t have any form of lawn, try creating small areas along hard paving using ground-cover plants. Small strips of grass alongside and between paving stones also create a great look, along with an essential habitat for wildlife.
Wildflower meadows are simply beautiful and, regardless of the size of the area you have available, you can still sow seeds. Doing some research on what type of wildflowers will suit your soil will help you to work out which are most likely to thrive.
A truly native wildflower meadow will do best in a sunny spot where grass grows thinly. Ideally, this would be where there’s impoverished turf, which means a lawn that’s been mown for years with the clippings removed and no fertilizer added. Just check that your lawn doesn’t contain ryegrass, which is not ideal because it’s very vigorous and will compete with wildflowers.
If you want to go all out for flowers, a pictorial meadow does not contain grass seeds. This type of meadow comprises an annual mix, which must be sown on bare and well-prepared, weed-free soil in the spring. The fertile, rich soil will produce flowers that bloom from June to October. It will leave bare soil in winter, so you need to be prepared for this.
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Planning the location of your shed or storage in a wildlife garden can be tricky, particularly if you’re trying to keep things neat and tidy. If a shed is unsightly, consider hiding it away or updating it with some paint. Or, why not add a frame to its sides for climbing plants?
Creating a path to the door, with clay pavers, for example, will be more inviting and help to make the shed an integral part of the design. Planting bee-friendly flowers full of nectar surrounding and along the path to your shed will not only encourage insects and other wildlife but should help to make the approach more attractive.
Add small trees, where bird boxes could be located, and place insect hotels nearby to add to the feeling of the shed not being a forgotten element.
It’s easy to be mesmerized by the choice of plants available at nurseries. Labels such as bee- or insect-friendly may help in deciding on specific plants that are nectar-rich, but it doesn’t always mean they’ll combine well with other plants. It can feel overwhelming trying to make the right choices for year-round interest.
It’s well worth doing some research on plant combinations rather than buying on impulse. It will also save you a lot of money in the long term. Make sure you have enough plants for winter interest and structure. For example, you could underplant ‘Little Lady’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, zones 5 to 8 ‘Little Lady’) with creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum, zones 4 to 8) for a cool combination.
It’s also worth being aware that different bees like different-shaped flowers. For example, long-tongued bees love foxgloves (Digitalis spp.), whereas short-tongued bees like plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis spp.).
Herbs are particularly loved by bees, and planting thyme, chives, marjoram and borage (make sure you plant the latter in a pot unless you want it all over your garden) will attract these much-needed pollinators to your garden.
Some compost bins can look very unattractive, and they’re often made from plastic. As an alternative, make your own wooden version with straight sides, or even try a circular one crafted from hazel. There are numerous ready-made ones on the market. For the smaller garden, look out for designs that replicate beehives.
Compost bins work best sited in an area where there’s light shade, and preferably a fairly constant temperature. Make sure you place them on bare earth to allow for drainage and access to natural soil organisms.
If space is limited for a freestanding insect hotel, you can make use of fences and walls to hang “living artworks” that make good homes for insects.
Get creative by using different sizes of sliced logs with holes drilled in them. Also slot in sections of bamboo cane or reed in varying widths, so insects can shelter and make their homes in them. Drilled holes in the materials will also encourage insects to leave larvae to gestate safely.
A pond naturally encourages wildlife and, within a few hours, you’ll have an array of insects, birds and invertebrates turning up to check it out.
The siting of any pond is critical: You don’t want to position it in dark shade or under any trees with a thick canopy that will inevitably shed their leaves into the water, rendering it murky and full of sludge.
Make the pond look as if it’s always been there by softening the edges with planting. Consider the stone you’ll use around the pond and try to visit your local quarry, so the material blends in with the landscape.
Many stone bird baths and small water bowls can be attractive in their own right, but placing them among plants and borders will produce a stunning feature or focal point in any garden, no matter what size.
There are so many nesting boxes, insect hotels and hedgehog houses on the market, and some are more attractive than others. Do shop around or look at a good tutorial for making your own, which is great fun and will mean more when it gets used.
If you have the opportunity, a hedge boundary instead of a fence can look beautiful as well as offer a natural shelter to wildlife. Here, hedging has been used to screen and separate a coastal road.
The best type of hedge for wildlife is one that’s been planted with mixed species that come into leaf, flower and fruit at different times. Since hedges become fairly permanent structures, decide in advance on the type of plant you want so you can tailor your choice to the eventual height of hedge you’d like.
You can also create neat low hedges for a more formal look with rosemary or lavender, for example. Always check before trimming your hedges for any nesting birds.