The principles of having a wildlife garden are pretty clear; you need to maximise as far as possible opportunities for native wildlife in the context of a conventional garden design. But that doesn’t necessarily involve throwing open the doors of abandon and allowing any invasive species or ugly obtrusive shrub to take over. There is room in any wild design for order, symmetry and beauty. The trick is to maximise (and dare I say, occasionally embellish) natural beauty by working with Mother Nature, instead of fruitlessly against her.
So in a wildlife garden, it is not incongruous to see an area of clipped lawn, an arbour, a water feature, or a clump of gladioli. It is just that these intensively maintained human- derived features are balanced with opportunities for local plants and animals to find a home. Unlike in other areas of life, you can have your cake and eat it!
Image Credit: Somerset Wildlife Photography
In order to enjoy a wildlife garden, therefore, I include a few basic rules you may wish to follow in order to tick the boxes of “Conservation” and “Aesthetics” simultaneously:
Give nature something to go on.
Use natural architectural features of your garden as a template onto which you etch the details. For example, uneven landscape hills and hollows, trees, shrubs, boulders, or natural watercourses are far better (and less effort) than taking it all back to nothing and imposing a landscape design. Will bats or swallows nest in those eaves? Might frogs or toads spawn in the boggy corner always in shade? Could it be planted up with damp meadow species such as Gipsywort, Buttercups or Ragged Robin? If barriers need to be put in place, consider using wooden fences instead of post and wire, or even better planting up a hedge of native species, which will act as a refuge for generating other wildlife. Making such features confluent with local wildlife corridors will increase the chances of ushering nature into your garden. There are many design features you may install in a wildlife garden to accelerate propagation; bat boxes, nest boxes, birdbaths, bird table, and stone piles all encourage wild visitors.
Image Credit: Wildlifetrusts.org
Make use of natural colours.
Nature is full of colour, the changing palette of which can be enjoyed throughout the year with a bit of support. The explosion of colour in summer can be extended by seeking colourful spring flowers and promoting the mellow hues of autumn. During the spring, natives such as Lesser Celandine, Primroses, Wild Daffodils (yellow), Bluebells, Coralroot (blue), and Wood Anemone, Ramsons, and Snowdrops (white) all provide welcome relief from the beige of winter. Many fine wild meadow flower seed mixes are available from suppliers. In the autumn, fruits of crab apple, Bramble, Cottoneaster, Hawthorn, and Honeysuckle are a pleasure to watch ripen as they encourage a range of bird species into the garden. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with lush greens such as ferns, many of which undergo spectacular transformations as the year proceeds. Planting up Royal and Male ferns would be helping a good conservation cause too.
Remember the little fellas.
Making as many microniches for insects in your wildlife garden will reward you with countless extra species of butterfly, moth, and birds. Allowing stands of plants such as Stinging Nettle to over- winter by laying eggs will permit species of butterfly and moths to reproduce (and encourage their avian predators). Planting Buddelia (Butterfly Bush) attracts butterfly species such as Peacock, Brimstone, Skippers, Blues, Tortoishells, etc. Even more natural alternatives to Buddelia include Viburnums, Dogwood, Lavenders, Currant Bushes and Heather. But encouraging bug- friendly plants is just the beginning of what you could do to be hospitable. Think of how compost heaps, bug hotels, and log piles would benefit the ecology of your wildlife garden, and encourage larger animals as predators.
Image Credit: Wildflowerturfblog