Providing Natural Habitats for Wildlife

Deciding what to plant is crucial. Teasel is one of the best wildlife plants to add to any garden because its flowers and seeds attract so many different creatures - the likes of bees and beetles in summer and goldfinches in autumn. Other 'must have' flora includes sunflowers, lavender and wild carrot.

Ponds, orchards and hedges are great ways to enhance a garden 'wildness'. Even if your garden is tiny or you don't want the expense and maintenance responsibility of building a sizeable pond, a wooden half-barrel or similar waterproof container, sunk into the ground, can be planted with some of the less invasive wetland wildflowers such as lesser spearwort, fringed water lily and brooklime in pots. Add a handful of oxygenators and a sprinkle of duckweed to create some shade on the water surface. Some of the smaller damselfly species could well breed in your mini-pond. If your plant pots are close to the barrel edge, frogs and common newts will have access to the water and birds will sit on the edge to drink. Do be careful, however, to arrange for an escape route for hedgehogs that fall in.

Trees and shrubs in a garden, especially native species, are a magnet for wildlife of all kinds as they provide food, shelter, nesting sites and song posts. Hedges form corridors where wildlife can move from one habitat to another in safety, finding food along the way. The best way to create a natural looking native hedge is by planting bare rooted whips, small shrubs just two or three years old. These plants (choose a variety from the likes of beech, dogwood, hazel and blackthorn) are lifted straight from their nursery beds and planted as soon as possible in their permanent places.

Long grass somewhere in a wildlife garden is an absolute must, even if it's just a scruffy bit under a hedge. It provides excellent shelter as well as food for many creatures, from small frogs hiding from predators to voles searching for seeds. A much prettier option is to plant a meadow. If properly managed, it won't make your garden look unkempt and you'll have something just as colourful and more dramatic than a neatly mown green lawn.

However, even a small meadow is a commitment if you want to maintain its flowery nature, so a cornfield area might be more practical as it almost takes care of itself. It differs from a meadow in that the plants are all annuals (unlike the perennials of a true meadow) and there is no grass. It is simply a sea of blooms,  poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold, and heartsease, any of the annual cornfield 'weeds' that once graced our arable fields.

Wildlife gardening is all about making choices - choosing to provide a safe, chemical free habitat for your local wildlife, especially if you live in an urban area where such havens are becoming scarce and impoverished. In my view, sharing your plot with wildlife is the only way to garden.

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