When my partner and I go walking, I notice more and more “pristine” gardens developing. Now while these are very pretty in their array of colour from bedding plants and decorative use of stones and paving, they seem to lack something. LIFE! Yes there are plants, but that’s it. Insects, birds, amphibians all seem to be missing.
In my last house, this was driven home when my neighbours at either side of me, cut down ALL the trees in their back garden. Suddenly the birds that were often seen and heard sitting in these trees had no real shelter.
Then the houses opposite did the same, all seeming to opt for this sterile image in their garden. It made my back garden look like some scruffy oasis and I kept it that way.
This was my old garden, you could barely get down the bottom but then again there was nothing down there but much bushes and trees
When we finally moved, we came to a house without a lawn and while the garden is a good size it was very sterile. So I made plans for how to change that. Thankfully some of the sterility was due to plants being cut back hard. A number of these grew back and I’ve tended them every since 🙂
So what about your garden? Here are some tips for making a garden “wildlife friendly”
Think Life! – Life is a mess, chaotic and disorganised… use this in your garden! I’m not saying make a big mess but leave some wood in a pile for beneficial insects and hedgehogs to hide in. Don’t make everything too pretty, too sterile! Remember this is wilderness, so let a little of the wild out!
Boundaries – Okay so you want a fence, maybe to keep the neighbour’s dog from getting into your garden. But how about adding ivy to grow up it, or better still plant some native hedges in front of it for birds to nest in. You could even add a few blackberry bushes in between that will feed the birds and give you something to nibble on when gardening.
Pond-life – If you have a pond don’t make it too clean, with the right plants the water can stay pretty clean and shouldn’t need too much attention. This will help to encourage frogs (great for reducing slugs the natural way!) and insects. Even just a small pond, made from a good sized plastic box or bucket. Check for holes, sink into the ground and put a load of stones on the bottom and some pond plants. Always remember to add a large rock or piece of wood in the pond that reaches the edge this will allow animals to climb out if they fall in! In winter, if your pond is likely to freeze, float a tennis ball on the surface. If it freezes you can remove the ball and this leaves a “air hole” for any life living in the pond.
Feeders – If you want to encourage birds, feeders are a good idea but make sure you think about where you’re situating them. Keep them away from fences that cats climb on. In the centre of a large lawn can be too open for most birds, so try against a hedge or under a tree (again, not one that cats are known for climbing). Have different feeders and hangers for different bird types. Find out what birds like what? Most bluetits, great tits etc like hanging feeders and suet. Blackbirds and robins are more ground feeders and like a mix. Goldfinches are fond of nyjer seed etc. Fit the feeder to the bird and its food source.
Remember peanuts should ONLY be supplied in mesh feeders to stop the risk of choking, especially with young birds. What we have started doing it putting them in the blender and chopping them into small pieces.
Live food such as mealworms is a great addition especially in the breeding/birthing season as chicks can only eat live food. Also, a quick note, if you throw bread out make sure its cut small and for added safety, moisten it so birds don’t choke!
Weeds or flowers – Remember a weed is an “unwanted” flower that can be invasive. However so-called weeds with shallow roots can be very beneficial especially during spring before the other flowers have opened. It gives insects a source of food. So think about leaving some of these so-called “weeds”, as long as they aren’t too invasive, aren’t choking or pushing out other plants leave them.
Creepy Crawlies – Don’t see every little creepy crawly as some horrid bug to be squished! They are little lives and if they are doing no harm let them be. Insects are important to an eco-system and many of them are extremely beneficial. It may even help to learn a little about so they can be identified. This can be great for letting you know if there is a problem, the wrong insect in a situation can help you catch a problem early.
Killers – You check the tub, it states that the product is safe for pets and children so you start to madly sprinkle the pellets everywhere – whether its slug pellets, ant powder or vine weevil killer you have to remember if you use a chemical they rarely distinguish between unwanted pests and beneficial garden visitors. This is why it’s always best to look towards non-chemical methods. Not to mention even if they kill the right pest, that could be eaten by a bird and so infect the food chain.
Think about using nematodes, companion planting for vegetables and trying to encourage beneficial insects and animals such as frogs and hedgehogs into your garden to help keep pest insects under control.
Hunters – If you have a cat, make sure it wears an elasticated collar with a bell (a good sized bell works well). The best you can do is give birds and other wild animals a little notice! If you find that birds like to nest in certain bushes, you might be well planting cat repellent plants near and around this area. Make sure areas where ground feeders are situated are open and clear. So the bird has a good chance of spotting the cat before it gets too close.
Grass and Leaves – These are not enemies, they are some of the most useful things to have in a garden. So, you’ve mowed the lawn and before you tip the cuttings into your compost bin (unless it really needs it!) think about using it as a natural mulch and covering your borders with it. Cut grass works wonders to suppress weeds.
When leaves begin to fall in the autumn, you can rake them up and add them to your compost however how about turning them into leaf mould or sprinkling them around the base of trees and under hedges, they protect the ground from frost and will naturally break down and return the nutrients to the soil. Not to mention becoming shelter for little critters.