Boy the winter has arrived in the last week! We’ve started feeding the birds but what else can we do to support the wildlife in our gardens, without compromising on the look? Firstly and the most obvious is providing a food supply, or the ecosystem to support one;
I have started to plan ahead for wildlife by adding more plants with seed heads that you can leave overwinter like grasses and teasels. On the estate where our house is situated, we’ve started to add more berry producing plants like pyracantha, hawthorn and hips, all of which are invaluable source of food for birds and squirrels. Our neighbour’s viburnum attracts flocks of Redwings at this time of year which is wonderful.
When I create planting plans, I make sure they provide a succession of pollen and nectar-rich flowers, for as long as period of the year as possible; starting with options like bulbs, mahonia, sarcococca and hellebores, on to pulmonaria and primrose and then my favourite digitalis, roses and hardy geraniums through to buddleja, sedums and nerines in the autumn. This gives pollinating insects a food supply for as long a period of the year as possible. Ideally choose plants that aren’t high-bred cultivars; e.g. flowers with double sets of petals, as they tend to have less nectar. Bees favour blue, purple and white flowers in sheltered spots although they seem happy enough on my orange geum.
Trees can provide a huge amount of pollen and nectar, we are fortunate to have a winter flowering prunus in our garden, however early flowering cherries and alder are also great choices. The more insects you have in your garden the more food is available for omnivorous birds, song-birds and tits so it really is important to think of the insect life first when trying to encourage more wildlife.
The RHS has actually produced a PDF list of plants to support pollinators here
A source of water is also very important for wildlife and can be overlooked by gardeners as we think the rain covers that off. I would love a pond, as the idea of frogs eating the slugs and snails, would be the perfect ecological solution. However my partner is very allergic to mosquito bites and I can’t guarantee that a pond won’t give them a breeding ground. If you can have a pond, then it creates a wonderful habitat, for so many other animals and insects but make sure it has at least one shallow side, so frogs and toads can get in and out easily.
I have partially submerged pots on their sides, which I fill with lots of stones as a perch for birds and insects, making sure they are partially filled with water in dry weather, which its important to note, can be in other months than summer! This is great for the birds and squirrels but I’ve even seen the cat having a lick in the summer. Make sure you break the ice when it freezes though! Added to which they look attractive and an intentional feature all year round. (It still creates a mozzy breeding ground but not on the same scale as a pond would.)
I have some clients who have asked me to add a bog area to their large garden, which will create new habitat and so much bio-diversity to their currently barren plot, I can’t wait to get started on it in early spring and see how the wildlife populate it.
Native shrubs and trees tend to create the most shelter for our indigenous wildlife unsurprisingly. There is nothing better than a native mixed hedge or large native tree to give food and shelter to our fauna. I try to add these into my planting schemes wherever possible. Also think out of the box; use short tubes of bamboo to create nesting sites for solitary bees. Leave a few piles of leaves and rotting logs, in a couple of shelters spots to give over-winter harbourage for hedgehogs, frogs, toads and insects. Although I won’t be doing this under my apple tree, as according to Monty the Don (OBE) – wooly aphids like nothing better, than to spend their winter holibobs, in a pile of leaves! Even longer, meadow style lawns, increase food and habitat for insects and small mammals significantly.
Do let me know if you have any good ideas for helping our wildlife that I might have missed?