Gardening and Garden Design with Wild Life in Mind

One of the most enjoyable moments of Summer for me was lying on the lawn, eyes closed soaking up the sun. However it was the bird song and buzzing insects that made me really feel immersed in the experience.

The garden was a simple square of mown grass forming part of the original Scottish highland croft, adjacent to moorland and rough pasture. Trees were short and wind pruned. So not exactly a designed garden.

The most recent garden I have worked on had Honey Bees at its heart. Plants were chosen to support bees in the two hives managed by the customer, though of course there is no guarantee that they would forage locally.

The RHS working with the horticultural trade organisations has developed a logo that shows gardeners which plants are particularly attractive to pollinating insects.

RHS plants for pollinators logo
RHS plants for pollinators logo

The RHS has been made aware that some plants with this label could still have pesticide residue on them if the supplier uses these chemicals in the production or care of the plant before purchase. To be certain that there is no pesticide residue, choose organic nurseries.

Plants support insects and other forms of wildlife, by providing pollen and nectar as food. Some plants though support the larval stage of an insect by providing nutrition. This is why you may see cabbage white caterpillars on your brassicas or caterpillars of the peacock butterfly on nettles.

Bee on Japanese anemone
Bee on Japanese anemone

Plants do not have to be native to the British Isles. Plants from around the world are fascinating to gardeners and also extend the season of insect food production. Year round supply of nectar and pollen is the aim in any wildlife supporting garden.

Of course plants also offer habitat to insects and other living organisms. Berrying shrubs, trees or climbers are useful for providing food for birds and small mammals as well as shelter and habitat. The greater the diversity of plants in your garden or back yard, the more habitats you make available. By supporting insects and other mini beasts, your garden will inevitably encourage organisms higher up the food chain.

Berrying shrubs
Berrying shrubs support wildlife with food and habitat

David Attenborough has again recently been on our screens highlighting the dire situation for many animals, birds, insects and plants with warnings of extinction as a result of our interference in nature and the environment. The rate of species extinctions is truly alarming. 

Those of us with a garden or any outdoor space can begin to make some amends.

Because you are attracting wildlife does not mean the garden has to look like a wilderness. Any size of garden of any style can make room for wildlife. A contemporary styled garden can still support wildlife with some careful plant choice or techniques for management that do not forget to account for the natural world. 

Cut hedges at the right time of year (after the nesting season). Trim the lawn but leave it longer between cuts or manage the edges to give it a ‘looked after’ appearance. Wood piles can easily be created, left as brash or piled up for hedgehogs to use. 

Ornamental grasses are often used in a naturalistic style of planting and leaving stems uncut through winter, supports many insects and beetles through the cold months. If stems do collapse they can be removed to the compost bin which is another area of the garden supporting a wide range of macro and micro organisms.

There are many commercially made homes and ‘hotels’ on the market these days for animals and insects but they are easy to create yourself. Wildlife trusts, bird, bee and butterfly charities etc. all provide information and ‘how to…’ videos.

'Insect Hotel' - RHS Harlow Carr
‘Insect Hotel’ – RHS Harlow Carr
Hedgehog house
Hedgehog house

The incorporation of a pond is one of the most useful features for attracting wildlife but even a shallow bowl of water (regularly cleaned) will be visited by birds or insects.

Cutting a hole in the boundary fence is another simple procedure that allows hedgehogs and amphibians to move from garden to garden, particularly important as our gardens are generally getting smaller.

At this time of year (early Autumn) one of the best plants to grow is Sedum, now renamed Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’. This plant is literally humming!

Garden designers can help customers make plant and design choices that benefit more than our own species in the creation of a garden.

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