The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

Planning and creating a wildlife-friendly garden


By rosina


A good wildlife garden is more than just a corner of a garden left to go wild. Whether you are creating a new wildlife garden, or have an established one, think of it as a nature reserve and you are the warden.

Soil type, drainage and climatic conditions play a big part in what can grow in your garden. The way it has been managed in the past also influences what lives there. If it has been intensively managed, or has less green space and more concrete, it is likely to support less wildlife.

If you are creating a new garden, look at what grows locally in the wild and in other gardens for ideas. You cannot force plants to grow where they don’t want to, so look to see what flourishes where in your garden. If you find something growing naturally and wish to keep it, leave it where it is instead of trying to move it.

The dilemma of finding what will grow where will largely have been solved if you have an established garden. Major changes are harmful, so work with what you have. If any major pruning or removal is necessary, undertake it over several winters to give wildlife time to adjust.

Key habitats:

Provide as many habitats as possible, but avoid cramming too much in and focus on what can be done well in the space you have. A lawn, trees and shrubs, flowers and water are key habitats. Look to create smaller microhabitats within these.

Here are a few examples:

Long grass provides habitat for egg laying and over wintering of caterpillars and leather jackets. Blackbirds and starlings search for leather jackets (cranefly grubs) in short grass.

Different species of tree and shrub and flowering plants provide nectar and other food sources through the year.

Rotational shrub cutting creates different structures and ages of growth, benefiting different wildlife at different times.

A water feature with different depths is great for wildlife. Shallow areas are used by bathing and drinking birds, emerging dragonflies and somewhere for amphibians to lay eggs. Deeper areas help aquatic insects survive cold spells and are good places to watch newts swimming.

Somewhere to breed and shelter:

Wildlife requires two fundamental things: somewhere safe to breed and shelter and somewhere to forage throughout the year.

Grow climbers against walls to provide shelter and roosting and breeding sites for birds.

A thick, well-developed, thorny shrub bed or hedge provides nest sites and shelter for wildlife.

A bat box provides roosting sites for bats, a pile of leaves may be used by a hibernating hedgehog and a bird box provides somewhere for house sparrows to raise their broods.

Leave tidying of borders and shrubs until late winter or early spring to provide shelter for insects through winter.

Honesty and hedge garlic provides somewhere for orange tip butterflies to breed.

Brimstone butterflies breed on buckthorn bushes.

Short lengths of drinking straws, hollow canes or plant stems, tied in bundles are excellent nesting sites for beneficial lacewings and ladybirds.

Dead wood is good for beetles and other specialist beneficial insects, fungi and mosses.

Somewhere to forage and feed:

Creating a range of habitat niches provides different areas and opportunities for wildlife to feed at different times of year.

Early and late flowering plants provide nectar for insects at critical times – just after emergence or prior to hibernation.

Tidy borders and cut shrubs in late winter and early spring to help retain seeds and fruit for birds and small mammals throughout winter.

Ivy is a late source of autumn nectar for insects and late winter fruit for birds.
Fruiting bushes are a good source of food for birds and mammals during the autumn and part of the winter.

Annual plants that produce many seeds in late summer are a good source of seed for birds through autumn into winter.

Many baby birds need insects – a good source of protein – if they are to grow strong and healthy and survive the winter. A variety of garden plants encourages these insects.

Sustainable gardening:

Many of our actions have an impact on wildlife beyond our gardens. Consider this when choosing or using your materials when creating your wildlife garden.
Save rainwater for watering your garden and only top up your pond when necessary.

Avoid using peat and use alternative forms of compost – peat extraction destroys vital wildlife habitats.

When planting native plants, ensure they are of genuine native stock and not of continental origin. Also, ensure ‘wild flowers’ have been cultivated from legally collected seed and not dug-up from the wild.

Buy FSC accredited garden furniture and charcoal for barbeques.

If you have a garden that is large enough for you to have a small patch of “waste ground”, allow native wild plants to grow. Nettles in your garden will support a number of butterfly and moth species, but should be in full sun to attract butterflies.

Nettles also support a range of herbivorous insects that are attacked by predators, such as ladybirds and hoverflies. Your nettle patch can be used to provide a reservoir for natural enemies of pests in the rest of your garden. You can cut it back to prevent it from taking over the patch and put the cuttings into your compost bin.

Allow a section of your lawn to grow into a small meadow. Even a very small section can be effective. Different grass species interspersed with wild flowers such as ox-eye daisies can look beautiful and will attract more insects into the garden. If you buy wild plants or seeds, do make sure that they originate from the UK.

Try to have some form of hedgerow made from native plants such as the hawthorn or hazel under-planted with native woodland plants such as the bluebell Endymion non-scriptus and wood anenome Anemone nemerosa.
Avoid planting hybrid cultivars, especially those with double flowers, which are often sterile, and therefore useless to nectar and pollen feeders.

If you don’t want to plant wild flowers, traditional cottage garden plants such as lavender, Buddleia, wallflowers and cornflower are ideal for nectar and pollen eating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Dig a pond! Ponds attract dragonflies and damselflies (the Odonata) as well as other aquatic insects. They will also bring in frogs. Try and plant around the pond to provide perching points and have floating vegetation at the sides for the Odonata to lay eggs. If you really want to encourage aquatic insects and other pond life, you may want to consider having a fish-free pond. Fish will eat the eggs of frogs and many of the larvae of aquatic insects.

More blog posts by rosina

Previous post: Great website found today

Next post: where can i get newts from?



Smashing, informative blog - I've saved it!

30 Apr, 2009


Me too!

1 May, 2009


How beautiful good job I love your pond

2 May, 2009

Add a comment

Featured on

Recent posts by rosina

Members who like this blog

  • Gardening with friends since
    10 Nov, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    5 Feb, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    29 Mar, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    1 Mar, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Feb, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    10 Aug, 2010

Garden centre