Attracting Wildlife into the Garden

By Jayne Alcock, Grounds and Gardens Supervisor at The Walled Gardens of Cannington

There has been a movement in horticulture over the last few decades, which recognises the detrimental effects that some horticultural methods can have on wildlife, such as the use of pesticides and having an overly coiffured garden! For those with more traditional ideas of what constitutes beauty this may be challenging. However, I would like to encourage you to leave an out of the way spot to grow a little wilder, and perhaps to resist removing spent flowers and stems straight away. This will provide invaluable food and shelter for a variety of birds, insects and mammals.

For those of you who are aghast at this idea, perhaps you will be comforted by the thought that not only are you doing your bit to support wildlife, but you will also be nurturing an ecosystem which will benefit your plants. For example, lacewings and ladybirds will munch on aphids, and hedgehogs will chomp on slugs. Do not use slug pellets which contain metaldehyde, as they are playing a significant role in the alarming decline in hedgehog numbers; look out for ones labelled as organic. 

An area of lawn left to grow long can be a thing of beauty, as seed heads develop which provide an abundant home for beetles, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, grass snakes and many rare and endangered species. The patch you leave could be an interesting shape or for larger grassed areas, meandering pathways could be cut through.

To encourage a wildflower patch or meadow, you will first need to work out your soil type. There are many companies which will sell you a specific mix of seeds which will thrive in the conditions that you have. Follow the maxim of the inspirational plants-woman Beth Chatto, “right plant, right place”. This will result in plants growing deeper roots, having fewer pest problems and needing less water and work to look beautiful all year, so you have more time to enjoy the variety of flora and fauna that you have nurtured and enticed into your abundant haven.

A great way of encouraging another form of wildness into the garden is tasking children with building bug hotels, which provide a home and safe overwintering space for various creepy crawlies! There are a variety available to buy, however they can be easily made with bits and bobs that you have lying around in your garden and shed, including old garden canes, dead leaves, old branches, bark and straw. Alternatively a pile of dead wood in a shady spot will achieve the same.

Adding water into your garden is another wonderful way of encouraging variation of flora and fauna into your little piece of the world. This doesn't have to be an elaborate water feature, a pot or plastic container will do the trick if space is limited. Frogs and newts will still make use of shallow water. Ensure one of the sides has a slope so there is a way of creatures getting out. 

There has been a marked decline in bee numbers in recent years and everyone should be encouraged to grow plants which will attract various pollinators. Aim to pick plants which will ensure blooms throughout the year. Plants with double flowers are to be avoided, as bees may not be able to reach the delicious nectar inside. Bees are particularly attracted to plants with a blue and purple flower, as this corresponds to the spectrum of light that they can see. Our Blue Garden looks particularly special in the evening sun and is buzzing with bees throughout the summer. They flock to classic plants such as lavender, sea holly and buddleja.

So, gardeners can play a key role in helping our wildlife to survive and thrive in their little piece of the world. As ever, ensure you save time to put your feet up and enjoy the show!