There is no denying that biodiversity and wildlife is in massive decline. Habitat loss, intensive agriculture, pesticides use are major factors, but recent trend of landscapers to pave over gardens or worse cover the garden with fake plastic turf is not helping either. On a positive side, thanks to better public awareness, many are changing their diets, habits and gardens to help biodiversity. Conservation, re-wilding, re-foresting and other biodiversity supporting projects are more common, but we still have a long long way.
As gardeners we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to help wildlife thrive in our gardens no matter the garden size. The cumulative effect of hundred of thousands of gardens should not be underestimated. There are over 2 million residential dwellings in Ireland out of which the majority of are houses with gardens large or small. Imagine if most of these gardens would be landscaped in wildlife friendly way.
(photo: garden created by Gardens for Wildlife owner in his rented property)
But where do you start? Whether your garden is just patch of lawn or matured with established plants there are many things you can do to improve your garden to make it more wildlife friendly.
1. Pollinator friendly planting
Garden centres are full of plants, thousand upon thousands of different species. Many are beautiful but unfortunately completely useless for pollinators and wildlife. There is no need to completely avoid these plants but try for at least 70-80% of plants in your garden to be of some benefit to wildlife ( cover does not count as benefit i.e. laurel hedge, as the same can be achieved by native plants or plants offering multiple other benefits).
Choose plants with single open flowers where pollinators can access the nectar and pollen. Native plants offer food source for caterpillars too. Try for succession flowering and as many different types and shapes of flowers to accommodate wide range of pollinators. Foxgloves have large flowers loved by bumble bees, buddlejia create cones full of tiny flowers attracting butterflies and achilea have flat flower pads adored by howerflies. Biodiversity thrives on variety and if you have a landscaper talk to them about planting for biodiversity.
2. Wildlife pond
Water is the basis of life, therefore adding water to your garden immediately attracts and support all kinds of creatures from birds, frogs and insect to hedgehogs, foxes the list goes on. There is no creature that does not benefit from water.
Make wildlife pond as large as you can afford and fit in your garden, but in small gardens it can be as simple as container that can hold water. Just make sure there is a way in and out so any animal that falls in can get out. Planting aquatic plants and oxygenators not only helps to keep the pond water clean and looks more natural, but add extra benefit as food source and cover for wildlife.
3. Native wildflower meadow
There is prevailing myth that to create wildflower meadow you need acres of land. While converting large areas would be great you can grow wildflowers literally in pots! Be sure to source native wildflower seeds as they are not only more suitable for our climate, but provide food source for caterpillars and larvae too. Native wildflowers are magnet for pollinators, easy to maintain but also much nicer than lawn. But do some preparation before the sowing and make sure you have the right type of seed mix for your growing conditions. You can read our previous post on this topic: Irish Native Wildflowers: Area preparation, sowing and maintenance
4. Wildlife accommodation and cover
When you attract wildlife to your garden it is good idea to provide them with habitat and places to stay. Bird boxes and bee hotels comes first to most peoples mind but there are many other accommodations you can provide for wildlife. Bat boxes, hedgehogs houses, log piles, even compost bin are all great way to provide wildlife for places to stay. Ground covering plants are great refuge and habitat for amphibians and insect like beetles.
Providing natural food is best but there is nothing wrong with supplementing wildlife with additional food. Due to habitat loss, constant hard trimming of many native hedgerows and still wide use of rodenticides, the natural food is always scares. There are many ways to supplement food from seeds, suet balls and peanuts for wild birds, meat scraps for foxes and raptors to fruit, cat food and worms for hedgehogs. Make sure to clean any containers and bird feeders regularly to avoid spreading diseases.
6. Native hedge/micro woodland
No garden is small enough for a tree or a shrub (or few). Many have boundaries that can be planted with mixed native or wildlife friendly hedge as oppose to widely used leylandii or laurel, both useless for wildlife. If you need evergreen hedge, the native privet and holly are great options, mixed with hawthorn, hazel and elder will provide great habitat and natural food for birds. Osmanthus burkwoodii is also great evergreen choice and although it is not native its flowers provide nectar for pollinators.
If you have small spare area in corner of your garden, you can create mini woodland similar to photo from garden we created recently. The size is only 3.5 x 4m over 2 terraces and features 5 trees, several shrubs and is under planted with hostas, ferns and other woodland plants. You can add climbers like honeysuckle, climbing rose, clematis or jasmine to hedge or plant one at the bottom of a tree, it will climb over adding more interest and food for pollinators.
7. Don`t be super tidy
Leaving long grass, little mess in the corner of your garden, pile of logs or branches will be very beneficial for wildlife. Weeds are also plants that evolved with insect and greatly benefit biodiversity, manage the super vigorous weeds like creeping buttercup, nettles or ground elder from your flower borders, but you can always leave some in the corner of your garden to do their thing. And lets not forget that insect often overwinter in hollow stems of dead plants. So wait with cutting back dead vegetation until weather warms up after winter, march is generally good for this as most of the insect will be out by that time.
The best way to landscape garden for biodiversity and wildlife is to have wide range of different habitats including pollinator friendly planting, long grass or meadow, pond, native hedge, micro forest or solitary native trees and shrubs, ground cover and provide wide range of cover and food source. Start with one or two projects and slowly work from there.
If you still feel overwhelmed or don`t have time/skills to landscape your garden for wildlife, contact us via email or social media. At Gardens for Wildlife we offer many garden and landscaping services focused on biodiversity from garden design to complete garden makeovers, wildlife ponds, native meadows, pollinator friendly planting, tree planting and more.
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