Gardening often involves a big choice. The choice to either fill our landscapes with plants based purely on their looks alone, or to deliberately select plants that bring in an added dimension – wildlife
If you take a walk around your neighbourhood you’ll soon spot the difference. Most gardens are gorgeous but some seem more alive. Take – for example – one with clipped evergreen hedges, avenues of matched trees and massed plantings in the garden beds. Stylish, green and well maintained, this lovely landscape wraps itself becomingly around the home. It offers welcoming places to spend time outdoors, sitting around a fire pit on a chilly evening or under the cooling shade of a pergola on a warm day. However, from a biodiversity view-point, this landscape is less welcoming to non-human visitors. From the perspective of a nesting bird, or some pollen or nectar seeking insects, there’s less on offer so they’ll go looking for it elsewhere.
“This garden landscape is full of life, because it supports it.”
Next, look for a garden that seems more alive. It may also have clipped hedges, avenues of trees and masses of plantings in the garden beds, but there will be subtle but significant differences. In this type of garden there will be a lot more going on – birds swooping, butterflies dancing about, bees droning about. It’s full of the right plants arranged in a wildlife-accommodating way. It’s also a garden that’s just as easy to create and maintain. Here’s how…
- The framework. A garden’s bones – the walls, paths and fences – play an important role in providing habitat for insects, reptiles and birds. Skinks will colonise a dry stone wall, skipping quickly out of the sun when you need somewhere to sit. Plant a honeysuckle up and over a fence and you’ll not only provide a source for nectar feeders but some safe nesting sites. This framework is also important to humans because it helps give our landscapes some visual structure. A well designed landscape is also easier to maintain: where paved paths border lawns to stop the grass creeping into the garden beds; and trees are positioned far enough from creeper-clad fences so the vines don’t climb into the canopies. And hopefully the design includes layered plantings – ground covers, knee high plantings and an over-storey of trees. This mimics Mother Nature and helps create places for a huge range of critters to live, eat and be eaten
- The plants. This is the critical factor and the key to success. There are any number of lists around which give you bird and butterfly attracting plants. All you need do is refer to one of these when you’re selecting plants for your new garden (or hunting down some interesting additions to your existing landscape). It’s not hard to do: it’s just one more thing to think about when you’re making your selections. For example, if you’re thinking about a massed planting alongside the drive to make maintenance a breeze, consider something like Flower Carpet roses because they cover off what you need and as a wildlife bonus, they’ll bring in the bees and give foraging cover to the birds. So, whenever you’re considering your plant options, pause and think about which of them would work harder to attract wildlife.
- The little extras. This is where it gets fun. Add water and you add Life, and it doesn’t matter whether the water is just a dish full (our parents would have called it a bird bath) or a pond planted with some iris or Tropicannas. The watery landscape plantings will bring in the insects and the birds will follow. And if you’ve room for a largish pond, fish are a brilliant addition. Or you could place nesting boxes in your trees or hang up a few bird feeder stations to encourage the avian visitors to hang around for longer.
These are incredibly simple steps that will make a profound difference to any garden. Sharing your outdoor space with other living things adds a dimension that will have you hooked before you realise.
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