Wildlife garden ideas are having something of a moment. With many of us spending more time on our gardens, allotments and window-boxes at the moment, it’s the perfect opportunity to make a few changes to help our local wildlife as well.
The sound of a robin singing at dusk can be breathtaking, and few things compare to the sense of satisfaction you get when you spot young birds emerging from your bird box and taking their first unsteady flights.
It's hardly surprising that wildlife gardening is becoming increasingly popular, and no matter how small or large your plot, it's possible to reap the rewards of growing in a green way. We have around duty to care for our planet – so if we all do a little more to make them wildlife-friendly – we can make a massive difference.
Wildlife garden ideas
From building miniature ponds to providing hedgehogs with homes and growing plants for pollinators, there’s a whole range of things you can try – whether you’ve got a large garden or you’re looking for small garden ideas for a compact space.
1. Grow plants that provide a good source of nectar
'Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hoverflies and moths rely on flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen for food,' says Simon Toomer, National Trust’s Plant Specialist. 'As they move from flower to flower they help to spread pollen and fertilise your plants, so it’s well worth looking after them – even in a small garden.'
To give them best chance, you can grow different types of pollinator-friendly plants so that there’s something in bloom for them all year round. You can even get a head start with no effort by simply leaving the mower in the shed until the end of June, or at least reducing the frequency of mowing to once every four weeks. This will allow all sorts of flowers such as red and white clovers, daisy, self-heal and dandelion to spring up in your lawn, which the bees and butterflies will love.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that bees can see the color purple more clearly than any other color, so they are often attracted to the purple or blue flowers often seen in a sensory garden.
The shape of the flower matters too – many pollinators struggle with extravagant multi-petalled flowers, so go for simple ‘single’ flowers. Tube-shaped flowers such as foxgloves are ideal for long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee.
2. Provide space for creatures to nest and hide
One of the best ways to attract wildlife to your garden is to provide safe spaces where they can hide, nest and overwinter. This can range from simply leaving a pile of logs in a quiet corner or the garden to building your own bespoke bug, bee or bird house. Why not try some of the tips below?
There are many kinds of bugs that can help you keep pests at bay in the garden – such as ladybirds which eat aphids, and centipedes that prey on soil-dwelling pests such as mites, baby snails, and slugs.
Building a bug hotel will provide them with plenty of hidey-holes, and it’s a great way to use up materials you might have lying around. An old wooden pallet makes a great base, and you can then fill it with various materials such as cardboard tubes, old flowerpots, straw, pinecones, bits of bark and bundles of twigs. Top it off with old roof tiles, turf, logs or a pile of leaves.
You might think of bees as living in hives in large colonies, serving a queen and producing honey – but actually only about 10% of the bee species do this. The other 90% are solitary bees and don’t produce honey, although they are still very important as pollinators.
You can give solitary bees a hand by installing a bee house in your garden – which is where the females will lay their eggs and then ‘plug’ the ends of the tubes with mud, plant hairs or leaves (depending on the species of bee).
Garden birds are great at slug and snail control, plus there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting outside on a sunny day and listening to a chorus of birdsong.
Bird feeders are a great way to encourage birds into your garden, and they also provide them with vital support over winter when food is scarcer. If you’re feeling crafty, why not make an up-cycled bird feeder from materials you probably have lying around at home?
If you have the room, you could also install a bird box to give your local feathered friends somewhere to raise their young. Bird boxes are best installed in late February before the nesting season gets going, but you could always put one up now for next year.
Attracting butterflies can be as simple as planting the right flowers. They love easy-to-access single bud flowers, with purple, blue and red blooms.
3. Provide a good source of water – or pond
It’s easy to forget, but access to water and garden pond ideas are vital for all sorts of wildlife from bees to birds to mammals.
Leaving out a tray of water that you refresh regularly will be of great help to local wildlife – especially if you put some pebbles in it to give insects like bees a dry place to perch while they drink.
You could even go the extra mile and create a pond in your garden which can be both a drinking source, and a place for invertebrates and amphibians to live. It doesn’t have to be huge either – you could use an old sink, a bucket or washing-up bowl buried into the ground or even an old paddling pool. Don’t forget to create some ramps made of logs or stones so that wildlife can get in and out easily, and add some native pond plants to oxygenate the water.
4. Avoid using chemical pesticides
Although pesticides are very effective at protecting your plants from unwanted pests, they can also have an unintended negative effect on the other wildlife in your garden.
The number one threat to pollinators are neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide which is highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insects. When applied they spread throughout the entire plant – including to the pollen and nectar, and they can also persist in soil for years. Using pesticides to get rid of insects can also have a knock-on effect on birds and other wildlife, which rely on these for food.
5. Use more 'friendly' methods of pest control
Here are a few alternative methods of pest control:
Although somewhat tedious, removing infestations by hand is a simple and effective method of pest control. Although not always practical where you have hundreds of tiny pests (like aphids), it works well for larger insects, slugs and snails. Unfortunately you’ll need to dispatch the pests after removing them, otherwise they’ll soon be back eating your plants.
Companion planting involves growing plants close together where one or both have beneficial effects on the other. For example, French marigolds emit a strong odor that deters whitefly and blackfly, so can be used to keep these bugs away from your tomato plants. Garlic, chives and alliums have a similar effect on aphids, so pop a few in among your roses to keep them safe.
Create habitats for garden wildlife and they’ll often repay the favor by preying on pests. Birds, frogs, toads, slow worms, and hedgehogs will all make a meal out of your local slug population, while insects like ladybirds and hoverflies will take care of the likes of aphids, mites and mealybugs.
6. Lend a helping hand
If you're planning a bonfire, leave building it until the very last minute, as piles of wood and leaves are extremely appealing shelters to small creatures. You can help birds out by not trimming seed heads back until spring.
Hedgehogs are the gardener's friend, consuming huge amounts of pests, so why not build a hedgehog sanctuary in a far corner of your plot? Stack some old logs leaving a gap in the middle and cover them with leafy branches in a place where they won't be disturbed. Next spring, you may be lucky enough to have a whole family living in your garden, complete with a litter of hoglets.
7. Feed the birds
As well as topping up feeders, you can encourage our feathered friends by getting your bird boxes in order.
Early fall is a vital time for feeding birds as they need help to them get through the coming winter. High energy foods such as fat balls are ideal but always remove the mesh bags, as these can trap tiny feet.
Don't forget that a ready supply of fresh water is even more important than food – especially in winter. Top up bird baths daily and you could be saving lots of lives. November is also the perfect time to clear out existing bird boxes and position new ones.
8. Plant the right flowers
The great news is that often what is attractive to wildlife – bright berries, a lovely fragrance or abundant blooms – is also extremely attractive to gardeners.
Plant plenty of seeds where you want the cheerful yellow or orange flowers to grow, and thin out any unwanted seedlings. Look out for the branching options that make great temporary hedges. Plant at the back of borders where the seedheads can be allowed to ripen, attracting masses of wild birds including tits and finches.
Also known as echium, this attractive native plant has 60cm tall spikes of bright blue flowers. Easily grown from seed, it blooms from June to September and is ideal planted at the back of a herb garden. The multiple flower heads are thick with nectar and attract a huge range of different butterflies.
Ideal for wildlife gardens this shrub has glossy dark green leaves, pretty flowers in spring and is covered in stunning red, orange or yellow berries in fall. Hedgehogs love this evergreen shrub as it has thorny branches that arch to the ground, providing a year-round source of shelter.
9. Introduce fragrance and color with lavender
This classic cottage garden favorite has pretty blue-green foliage covered in masses of fragrant lilac blooms from June to August. Plant in full sun and prune after flowering to keep in shape. It attracts a huge variety of honey bees and bumble bees. Plant a few different varieties to extend the flowering period.
10. Make a difference in the smallest of spaces
If you have a balcony then you can enjoy watching all manner of colorful wild birds simply by investing in a bird feeder. Fill it with peanuts or hulled sunflower seeds for a high-energy, low-mess treat that will attract a wide range of different species including blue tits and robins. Clean feeders regularly with hot soapy water and dry thoroughly before refilling.
How do you plan a wildlife garden?
Diversity is one of the key things to consider in a successful wildlife garden. Plant a range of flowers, trees, climbers and shrubs that bloom at different times, and ensure you include plenty of evergreen plants for cover.
Hedge your bets and plant a mixture of shrubs along the edges of all your boundaries where possible. Hedgerows provide food and nesting sites for birds, shelter for small mammals, green corridors to allow wildlife to move safely from garden to garden and a host of other benefits.
Avoid pesticides as these can kill many of the beneficial insects, birds and hedgehogs that will help you to create a natural balance on your plot. Instead, rely on permaculture gardening, which will help you easily create a garden that operates like nature does, relying little on extra resources you need to buy, bring in or add – such as fertilizers and watering systems.
Finally, recycle kitchen and garden waste on your compost heap. As well as creating useful food for your plants, compost heaps can shelter a variety of interesting animals – including slow worms that get rid of slugs.
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space.
Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.
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