Designing a Wildlife Garden
The news can be depressing about the destruction of nature the world over and the UK has seen a massive decline in most species since the 50s with loss of habitat as the greatest single cause. Every couple of years a plant species becomes extinct in the UK alone.
However private gardens account for nearly 20% of our urban landscape and they are the one place that is in our control to nurture and encourage wildlife.
They can be our small but important way to contribute to what we love and there is nothing more satisfying than planting a shrub and seeing it feed a dozen or so different insects with its pollen and sap or see birds eat the berries of a tree we planted a year ago.
Think hard about hard landscaping. Many gardens change ownership every decade and often one garden is pulled out and another put in its place. You can try bark paths rather than paved ones, decking from sustainable pine trees rather than sandstone all the way from India or shingle rather than cement. Also rather than buy oak materials (it is highly unlikely that oak is being re planted as quickly as it is being used and most of it is coming from what is left of oak forests in Eastern Europe)
Julia Young, the manager of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network programme at WWF-UK recently said: “We purchased goods (oak) from 17 companies, and not one could provide evidence that they had carried out sufficient due diligence.
Ponds are powerhouses of nature, not just providing water to drink and wash but are also the home to countless insects and amphibians.
A lot of people think ponds are a lot of work but if you are not interested in keeping fish and thus need the water filtered or pumped for a water feature there is not that much to do. When you put plants in them carefully research whether they won’t spread too much and every so often scoop the pond weed off the surface of the water. Once every 5 -7 years you can empty a good amount of water and take out any silt that has collected at the bottom.
You can buy barrels that are above ground a=on a stand that allows you to turn them which moves the compost around and aerates the material. This is the most effective way to compost plus there is no rodent problems. And what a joy to know the potato peelings and egg shells will become rich dark earth.
Trees, shrubs and Perennials
When you chose your next plant, you can think of its food and shelter giving properties.
Medium trees for the garden- the top supermarket of trees are Rowan, Malus, Yew and Buddlea.
Shrubs can include Skimmia, Catoneaster and Pyracantha.
Perennials with fragrant flowers are good- like Knautia, Scabios, Helenium, Rudbekia, Chives, Roses and Lavender.
The RHS online also has a comprehensive list of plants that are good for pollinators.
Bee boxes, hedgehog boxes, bird boxes and bat boxes- make your garden into a veritable city of homes for wildlife.
Other environmentally friendly tasks include not buying peat based composts of which there are surprising amount that still do in your local garden centre.
The more we can use rainwater from our roves the less dams have to be built and maintained and the more money you will save if your water is metered. Also if you are topping up your pond it is best to use rainwater to avoid the chlorine and lime in the tap water.
You can leave a bit of your lawn uncut. You would be amazed at how many little bugs love the privacy and edible seed heads of long grass. Plus it looks good and a swath of long grass is an antidote to having to be in complete control of everything in our lives!
Use mulch to control the weeds on your beds.
This helps keep a great percentage of the weeds down, keeps the moisture in the soil so less need to water plus it improves the soil so after a few years even the most clay solid new bed starts to develop a good structure.
Leave the leaves in the beds this year
Hard to do but leaving the leaves about allows all sorts of hibernating insects to burrow away and hide till the Spring. Leaving old piles of logs in the corner can also provide homes for the bigger creatures including hedgehogs.
You can see your self as only partially owning your garden, and that the thousands of fungi, millions of ants and wood lice, bees, birds, bats and voles also need a home. Like a benevolent King or Queen you can provide a rich and pleasant land where there is enough for everyone!