Here we are, a little over half way through Wild About Gardens Week, and what have I done to make my garden more wildlife friendly? … well, so far, absolutely nothing. And this is a garden that really needs some improving when it comes to wildlife – conifers and large areas of lawn don’t attract many bees or butterflies.
What’s needed is a list. A list of easy to do, seasonal chores that will start to bring life to the garden. Here’s a first draft of my wild about gardens ‘to do’ list… feel free to chip in with your ideas at any point.
1 Leave the leaves – this has to be one of my favourite wildlife-friendly activities (or inactivities…). While we’re all tempted to get out in the garden and tidy everything up ready for winter, try to resist the urge. Let the leaves that have fallen onto the borders stay where they are – they’re good for the soil and create a superb foraging habitat for thrushes and blackbirds. Frogs and invertebrates also like to overwinter among damp leaves. Unfortunately, it’s still best to rake up the leaves on the lawn. But then even the laziest gardeners appreciate some exercise, and just think of all the lovely leaf mould in a few months’ time.
Old flower stems and seed heads can be left standing through the colder months too. Leaving them until spring provides seeds for birds to feed on and overwintering sites for beneficial insects like lacewings and ladybirds. And of course, there’s that fantastic architectural and photogenic quality of the frost-laced seed heads to enjoy on a cold morning.
2 Provide some water. It doesn’t have to be a pond – although we will be digging a pond at some point… just as soon as I can decide where to put it. In the meantime, an upturned dustbin lid, birdbath, or even a plant pot saucer will provide somewhere for birds and insects to drink. It’s important to make sure that visiting insects can get to the water safely, so a shallow sided container is best. But a dish with steeper sides can be adapted by piling some stones up in the water to make a safe landing stage. And then I need to remember to keep the water clean and topped up (especially when the weather is hot and dry… or cold and icy).
3 Grow lots and lots of nectar rich flowers. Another favourite of mine. I try to choose single flowers (not double varieties) for lots of nectar to encourage bees and butterflies into the garden. These lovely insects are becoming less common, but gardens can provide food and shelter to help their survival. Now (autumn or spring, depending on which side of the equator you garden) is a good time to plant perennials like astrantia, sedum, globe thistle and knautia to fill the garden with nectar. I’m part way through planting two new borders at the front of the house with lavenders, linaria, chives and achillea – maybe this is a good job to get finished so I can tick planting bee-friendly flowers off the list.
4 No insecticides in the garden. Although they’re a good ‘quick fix’ for pest problems, insecticides can’t tell the difference between pests and beneficial insects. Studies have found that after a dose of pesticides, pest numbers build up faster than those of their natural predators, leading to a bigger aphid problem in the long run… and nobody really wants a bigger aphid problem. Let’s give nature a chance to sort things out before resorting to the chemicals.
5 Feed the birds – the garden has a bird table for kitchen scraps perched on top of an old tree stump. I want to fix some brackets to the stump to hang feeders from. Then it will just be a case of keeping them topped up with seed and peanuts through the winter.
I’m also planning to plant some shrubs or trees to provide berries and seeds for the garden birds to eat. Lavender is good – we used to have goldfinches feeding on the seeds each winter, and elderberries bring in the blackbirds.
I know from the comments you leave here, and from reading your blogs that many of you out there are as keen to attract wildlife into the garden as I am, especially the ‘nice’ wildlife that eats garden pests and makes the place more attractive. I’d love to hear your top tips for making a wildlife-friendly garden.