When people say they would like a wildlife garden but do not want the garden to look alike scrubland, I reply that you do not need to have weeds and brambles etc running amok in your patch. You only need to make a few small changes to attract the wildlife into your plot.
Also with the chemical control methods now a thing of the past and with various government departments making it more difficult to use non-biological controls it make sense to attract insects and other wildlife into the garden to naturally take care of those pesky pests.
To get the balance right will take a bit of time but once achieved those swarms of greenfly etc will not become a problem. A few will be spotted from time to time but in such small numbers that no harm will be done to your prize plants. So how do we go about attracting the right sort of wildlife?
Choosing the right flowers:
Flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects that perform the vital task of fertilisation – seed and fruit production would drop dramatically without them.
Avoid too many highly-bred cultivars with big and blowsy or double flowers, most of which contain little or no pollen or nectar. Choose plants that provide pollen and nectar for as long a season as possible, from spring (Crocus and Mahonia for example) through to autumn (Michaelmas daisy, Sedumspectabile and ivy, which is particularly late to bloom and may provide food into early winter).
If you are unsure which plants will attract beneficial insect, most seed and plant catalogues these days indicate this by using the bee symbol. I do like the odd double flower such as the Hellebore ‘BressinghamWhite double’ but I make sure that there are plenty of single flowered plants in bloom at the same time to make up for the double not being insect friendly.
Look after mature trees:
If your garden has big trees then you are lucky and these specimens will host a large variety of insects and other wildlife. Large street trees also provide a vital habitat for a range of wildlife that may visit nearby gardens while foraging. Wildlife rarely respects garden boundaries: try to see your own plot as part of a wider web of interlinked gardens and green space.
Leave a pile of dead wood in a shady spot:
Decaying wood provides an ever-rarer habitat to a range of specialist wildlife that is growing increasingly uncommon in the countryside, such as stag and bark beetles and their grubs, and many species of fungi. It also provides cover and hibernation sites.
Any unstained or unpainted wood is suitable, although big, natural logs are best, ideally partly buried. Log piles can look quite architectural and rustic, though many people prefer to tuck them out of sight.
Compost, compost, compost:
Composting your garden waste helps all your garden plants and wildlife, as it speeds up the natural recycling of nutrients by harnessing native decomposer organisms, especially fungi and soil bacteria. My best compost activator is stinging nettle tops in the early spring. I have a small well controlled clump at the bottom of the garden behind my small greenhouse and next to the compost heap, when the nettle is showing light green shoots at the top of each stem I snip of at the top 2 leaf joints and mix in with the grass clippings. The stinging nettle plant is known as a ‘hotter rotter’ as it speeds up the initial stage of composting. Do not put older parts of the stinging nettle into the heap as these will take root and spread like wildfire through the heap.
Compost makes for healthy soil, which is good for everything living in it and growing on it. It is an excellent mulch and is free and easy to produce. Unlike organic matter imported from elsewhere, it comes without packaging or ‘fuel miles’ and hidden disease as you would not put diseased material into your own heap. Compost heaps also shelter many small creatures (and some larger ones, like slug-loving slowworms and grass snakes), which enjoy the heat released by decomposition.
Provide food and water for birds all year:
Garden birds are some of the most conspicuous of garden wildlife, and easy to attract with supplemental feeding.
Over the winter supplementary food can mean the difference between life and death for many, especially when winters are particularly cold. Ideally, offer a mix of food including peanuts, sunflower hearts, seeds, kitchen scraps and fat balls, or proprietary seed mixtures, to supplement natural food such as berries and seedheads. Don’t forgot that a supply of clean, unfrozen water is just as vital for feathered visitors – and ensure feeding tables are not accessible to cats.
Do not be too quick to tidy up those plants that have died in the winter as the seed heads or hollow stems can provide food or shelter through the colder months.
If you have some spare space that you do not know what to use it for then scatter wildflower seeds to create a meadowland. The area can be as small or as large as you like as even a small number of meadow flowers will attract insects. Meadows are simply mixtures of grasses and wildflowers. They are great for insects, they are low maintenance, and they make a good, more natural alternative to a labour-intensive lawn.
Annual meadows have a mix of annual wildflowers such as poppies, Nigella, corn marigolds and annualgrasses; they will succeed on fairly rich soils, too, but a suitable seed mix usually needs to be re-sown each year.
Perennial meadows have more permanent plants such as buttercups, ragged robin andLeucanthemum. They need relatively poor soil as this allows the wildflowers to compete with the grasses including yellow rattle, a native annual that is a partial parasite on grasses also helps level the playing field.