How to create a wildlife friendly garden

How you can help wildlife in your garden to flourish

Overgrown small pond (Photo: Meadow Project)

Overgrown log pile alongside small pond (Photo: Meadow Project)

For the last 5 years I have tried to create a wildlife friendly garden that encourages as many insects, butterflies, bees, dragonflies and birds as possible.

This means that I practice organic gardening, with the vegetables, fruit and plants that are grown and I have incorporated a shallow pond to encourage frogs to eat garden slugs and snails. Lots of other creatures also get to use the pond and benefit from it and I’ve noticed an increase in dragonflys in particular around this part of the garden.

In addition a large log pile houses over-wintering frogs, toads and newts and whatever else wishes to use it. The log pile has become completely overgrown and can hardly be seen any more, but it is a valuable habitat and lies alongside the pond within close proximity to hedgerow and woodland. Offering protected access and movement for small creatures to come and go.

The hedgerow includes Ribes Sanguineum, Japanese Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles), Forsythia, Buddleia Davidii and Berberis. Which are all lovely for colour but are also visited by bees, hoverflies, moths, butterflies and finches.

Damselfly on Lupin Leaf (Photo: Meadow Project)

One of the main ingredients for a healthy wildlife garden is allowing overgrown areas as it is very difficult for wildlife to thrive in a garden that is manicured and sterile. So try to leave some areas of your garden overgrown and never use pesticides or weed killers.

Green veined white butterfly on flowering clover (Photo: Meadow Project)

These wild areas can often be the loveliest parts of a garden and will certainly be teeming with insects and creatures that you can watch, enjoy and even photograph. In addition they provide an excellent learning arena for children. You can use your garden to get involved in butterfly and bug surveys which take place across the UK via organisations such as Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Natural History Museum and Plantlife.

To protect nesting birds the hedges are cut once a year in Autumn to allow minimum disruption which means by mid summer the garden is pretty overgrown and bursting with life, colour and sounds.

Wildlife friendly garden (Photo: Meadow Project)

In the last couple of years I’ve learned to leave tidying and cutting perennials back until Spring rather than at at the end of Summer.  This allows cover for invertebrates over winter and seed heads for hungry birds. I also have feeders with a variety of seeds to attract different birds and I provide fresh water for birds to drink and bathe in.

Pollinator on Monarda (Photo: Meadow Project)

Maintaining a garden can be very time consuming and so by choosing nectar rich perennials and flowering herbs and shrubs it’s possible to create a garden that is manageable but also a wildlife friendly habitat and food source. Like most gardeners I’ve inherited some plants and been given many others by local neighbours, family and friends. Some of which are better for wildlife than others.

Crane fly on sage (Photo: Meadow Project)

So on a sunny day I like to take a walk around the garden and make a note of which plants have the most insects, butterflies, bees etc. visiting them. This is a good indicator of the plants worth keeping and gives me a heads up on the plants that are not so popular, which means at a later date I can replace them with a plant that provides a better use to wildlife. Increasing plant variety is essential for a wildlife friendly garden.

Bee on Geranium (Photo: Meadow Project)

I also use this method in garden centres. So if you visit on a warm, sunny day and keep an eye out for any plants that the local insects are visiting, you’ll know which plants are good for your garden without having to be a plant expert.

Alongside planting perennials, it can also be a good idea to sow British wild flower seed mixes in your allocated wildlife friendly areas. Do this in September and March and don’t forget to make a note of the plants that are included in the seed mixes so you recognise the seedlings when they start to appear.

Fly on Myosotis sylvatica Forget me not (Photo: Meadow Project)

My top easy to grow and wildlife friendly perennials are:

  • Marjoram (Fertile soil, full sun, may not survive frost)
  • English Lavender (Good drainage and full sun)
  • Lupin (Sun, partial shade, moist well drained soil)
  • Delphinium (Full sun, well drained, light soil)
  • Geranium (sun, shade, any soil)
  • Sage (Sun or part shade, good drainage)
  • Thyme (Full sun)
  • Lemon Balm (Sun or partial shade, moist soil)
  • Oxeye Daisy (Sun, poor soil)
  • Centaurea Montana (sun or partial shade, any soil)

    Geranium in sunlight (Photo: Meadow Project)

  • Chives (Full sun, partial shade, moist, well drained soil)
  • Aquilegia (sun, shade, any soil)
  • Hollyhock (sun, light, sandy, poor soil)
  • Red Campion (partial shade, shade, any soil)
  • Scabious (full sun, light, chalky, alkaline soil)
  • Hyssop (Full sun, well drained soil)
  • Chamomile (Full sun, partial shade, poor soil)
  • Forget me not Myosotis sylvatica (sun, shade any soil)

11 responses

    • Hi Finn
      Sorry for the delay in replying to you, my internet connection has been intermittent. Anyway I would suggest thinking vertical for a small garden to maximise space. So for a ‘log pile’, stack small pallets on top of each other and fill the gaps with a variety of materials such as twigs, straw and leaves to create habitat for a variety of invertebrates, insects, frogs etc. Finish it off by planting up the top with a green roof of wildflowers and annuals. And a pond really can be miniature, take a look at this great link to a tweet I found earlier today –

      Also use a variety of ground surfaces; gravel is fantastic for attracting spiders, and very receptive for sowing wildflower seeds, bare soil may attract solitary bees – could be in a pot, and leave an area in a corner of upturned pots, twigs and different size rocks and stones to give shelter to small insects, frogs and toads. Bee nesting boxes are becoming ever popular, check this link out for some great ideas –

      Combine all this with nectar rich perennials and herbs in clusters of pots and hey presto you have a mini wildlife friendly garden. If you can incorporate climbing plants such as sweet pea, clematis, honeysuckle, montana and jasmine up walls, fences, trellises or posts in pots you’ll increase you vertical garden hugely.

      Hope this helps and thanks for the question.

  1. Worth getting a copy of the new book “plants for bees” as well (beautiful book), as this has some great ideas for encouraging more honeybees, bumbles and solitary bees.

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