When people think about creating a wildlife garden, their minds may jump to features like nesting boxes, bird feeders, and bug hotels. These can sometimes be good additions to attract more wildlife to a space. But the wildlife garden additions that really work are always those that build natural capital and increase the natural biodiversity of a site.
It all comes down to plants, soil, and the creation of different habitats to welcome a range of creatures. Building the foundations for a wildlife-friendly garden is important. Plant it, and the wildlife will come. If you do not have the varied planting required for local wildlife to thrive, then you cannot expect to share your garden with a range of other creatures long-term.
The other day, I was saddened to see a garden which was, in essence, just a large, neat grass lawn with wooden fencing all round. There was a bird feeder in the middle of the space, and a bee hotel on one of the fences, but no natural resources to support the wildlife drawn in by these features. The owners of the property clearly wanted to attract wildlife, but had not thought about creating a more natural and biodiverse environment.
Here are some of the features that they should have considered to really benefit the wildlife in their area:
Wildlife Ponds and Water Management Features
Wildlife needs water as much as we do. So in many areas, creating some kind of pond or water feature to provide a water source for wildlife is one of the best things to do. Make sure that the pond has different depths, with a shallow beach area to one side, and that it is planted up with plenty of native marginal and aquatic plants.
Trees, Woodland, or Forest Gardens
Just five fruit trees in blossom can provide as much nectar for pollinators as a whole acre of meadow. So adding even a single fruit tree can be a great idea. Many other native trees will also support a huge range of life. In small gardens, one or two trees with guilds of beneficial plants surrounding them can make a big difference. In larger spaces, productive food forests provide for wildlife, as well as for many of your own needs, and natural woodlands return species richness to an area.
Shrubs and Hedgerows
Rather than surrounding a garden with non-living fences or walls, shrubs and hedgerow planting can improve biodiversity and draw in a range of creatures. What is more, living boundary planting can allow wildlife to travel between gardens, and create corridors for creatures to get through a neighborhood safely.
Climbers and Wall Shrubs
Where there is existing walling or fencing, cladding them with living plants such as perennial climbers and wall shrubs can be wonderful for wildlife throughout the year. These plantings can provide natural nesting places or shelter, food, and other resources for a range of wildlife.
Replacing an area of open lawn with a wildflower meadow with species appropriate to your area can dramatically increase the invertebrate count in your garden. And this will, of course, have a knock-on effect on the numbers of other creatures higher up the food chain.
Annual Food-Producing Polycultures
Another way to reduce lawn and increase biodiversity and productivity is to build some no-dig garden beds in the space, where you can grow some of your own food. Using no-dig methods allows the complex web of life below the soil to thrive. And choosing and using companion plants such as flowers and aromatic herbs to create thriving polycultures will draw in the wildlife you need to help with your gardening efforts.
Herbaceous Borders Filled With Flowering Plants
Not all food production needs to include annual crops. Plenty of perennial edibles can also be included, such as plants in the herbaceous layer. Creating integrated herbaceous borders with perennial vegetables and herbs, as well as a range of ornamental flowering perennials, is another great way to improve your garden for wildlife and for you and your family. Try to choose flowering plants which bloom for as much of the year as possible. It is also a good idea to leave some dying or dead vegetation standing over winter to provide shelter for wildlife.
Rockeries and Stumperies
Many other elements can be added between plants in a garden to increase the range of habitats you provide. Rock gardens, stump gardens, and other similar schemes can allow you to alter the environment to accommodate plants and creatures with a range of different needs and tastes.
Wild Corners and Weedy Patches
Finally, it is important to remember that what you do not do in a wildlife garden can be just as important as what you do. Simply leaving some wild corners or weedy patches can often be a boon for local wildlife. So, do not be too “tidy” as a gardener—and wildlife will thrive.