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A general guide

working today
for nature tomorrow
Wildlife-friendly gardening
A general guide

Cottage garden. Paul Keene/Avico Ltd

Biodiversity is the amazing Britain is a nation of gardeners.
We also love wildlife. Until
richness and variety of wildlife
quite recently though, we tended
around us. English Nature to keep our two loves apart.
We went to the country to see
believes that everyone should
wild animals and wild flowers
be able to enjoy a greater and kept the garden for cultivated
plants and lawns. But close-mown
wealth of wildlife and pass on a
lawns and carefully weeded
rich and diverse natural borders of roses offer few
opportunities for wildlife. Sadly,
heritage to future generations.
the same is now true of much of
Everyone can do their bit for the farmed countryside, as
advances in food production have
biodiversity by gardening with
usually been made at the expense
wildlife in mind. of wildlife habitats.

Getting started • List what is currently in your
garden. Is there a water course
The kind of wildlife garden you can or a naturally damp hollow?
create will depend on the size and
aspect of your plot and on the soil, • Are there shrubs or a portion
whether peaty or lime-rich, of hedge, or a stone or brick
free-draining or clayey. And, of wall? All these will form anchor
course, on your own tastes and points when you consider where
interests. If it’s a new garden, don’t to plant or dig.
rush to blanket the surface with
topsoil - many wild flowers prefer • Note which parts catch the
the less fertile subsoil. If it’s already sun, and when. Are there
well-established, make a list or plan. places of permanent shade
Better still, draw a diagram of or any natural sun-traps?
existing features and consider how Mark them on your plan.
they might be enhanced to benefit
wildlife. Involve your children from • Squat down and examine the
the start. Their enthusiasm and surface. Is it entirely level or
imagination will be valuable allies, are there rises and depressions?
both now and later. Here are some Could these be raised into
things to do and to look out for: banks or deepened into dells?
Nature thrives on irregularity.
Ox-eye daisies. Charron Pugsley-Hill/English Nature

• Consider what uses your garden
will serve. You may want space
for growing your own fruit and
vegetables; children may need
room to play. Many people
grade their garden from a patio
and bird table close to the house,
through play space to a pond
and a ‘wilderness’ at the back.

• Don’t be in too much of a
hurry! Working with nature
takes a little time. Make a
timetable, and plan things over
a year or more. You can
always get more ambitious
later on, as your expertise
and enthusiasm grow.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 3
Small pond for wildlife. George Barker/English Nature

You don’t have to let your garden try not to use herbicides, slug pellets
‘go wild’ to make it attractive to or pesticide sprays. In a well-
wildlife. Beauty and wild gardening balanced garden, natural predators do
are not at all incompatible and the much of your job for you - and for
best nature gardens are the product free. Your example may be one that
of careful planning and... well, neighbours may follow and it will be
thoughtful gardening. hugely beneficial to the wildlife
living in and visiting your garden.
The secret of gardening with nature
is to relax: the solution to some Ponds and other wet bits
problems may be to do nothing at
all. Ask yourself whether you really If watching nature gives you
have to mow all the lawn quite so pleasure, dig a pond. Garden ponds
often. Why not let some plants go to have helped to conserve frogs,
seed, instead of cutting them after dragonflies and many other water
flowering, or allow the ivy to spread creatures, whose natural habitats
further along the wall? Look for have disappeared or become polluted.
beauty in small, modest flowers like It’s amazing how quickly some of
speedwells and campions. Above all, these will discover a new home.

Before long, there is an entire bank or rockery. As you dig, make a
self-contained ecosystem in gently sloping shelf. When you’ve
your own backyard! finished, make the hole as smooth as
you can, picking out any stones and
There is no ideal size for a wildlife debris and using sand to fill any
pond - just make it as large as you gaps. Use a piece of old carpet felt
can and at least half a metre deep in or jute sacking to cushion the hole
the middle. Even really small ponds and then spread out a heavy duty
can be useful for wildlife and a butyl rubber sheet, tucking it into
source of enjoyment for you. An the edges and bays. You can now
ideal location for a pond is a natural buy specially-made underlays if
hollow which catches the sun. An you need them and these can go
irregular or kidney-shaped pond may both under and over the rubber liner.
look better than a circle or rectangle, Liners are available from most good
and there should be a shallow shelf garden centres. There is no need to
on the sunny side at least. A pond add soil. Hose in the water. Finally,
can be at the centre of the wild tuck the sheet under at the edges,
garden, perhaps as part of a larger weighing it down with turfs or tones.
bog garden, or tucked away in a Your pond awaits your pleasure!
secluded corner - although
here it may
quickly fill
with leaves.
Make sure
that you
children -
water has a
for toddlers.
Fencing or a
hard grill may be
required. First, peg
out the chosen area
and a zone for
dumping earth
and stones.
This spoil can The “common” frog is now a rarity in
some places but flourishes in gardens.
be used for a Roy Harris/English Nature

Wildlife-friendly gardening 5
When choosing pond plants, go the suppliers if in doubt.
mainly for native species. Many Garden centres provide a wide
are very attractive and often range of pond plants, from those
deliciously scented. Some plants of the water margin, like water
should never be introduced to plantain, water mint and bog-bean,
garden ponds, let alone the wild, to true aquatics like water crowfoot,
as they are very invasive and starwort and water milfoil. Large
out-compete those which are water lilies are suitable only for
more desirable in wildlife ponds. large ponds, but floating plants
Species to be avoided include like amphibious bistort and
parrot’s feather, Canadian Potomogeton natans are ideal.
pondweed and Australian stonecrop. For vivid colour, try flowering rush,
Ask for advice from purple loosestrife or marsh marigold.
The common darter is often found around garden ponds. Paul Lacey/English Nature

To give the
ecosystem a
boost, add a
few bucketfuls
of mud from a
local pond.
If you want to
attract frogs and
newts, don’t
stock the pond
with fish. They
may gobble up
the tadpoles -
and lots more
besides. If
you must have
fish, think
rather than

Periodic pond
jobs will
scooping out
leaves and
much of the
plant growth in
the autumn,
Cowslips. Charron Pugsley-Hill/English Nature
and topping up
in hot weather.
Rainwater is best for this, either remedies, if allowed enough time.
collected in a water butt or, ideally, Once established, a wildlife pond
channelled directly from the gutters maintains itself reasonably well. If
of the house. As the pond settles you are very short of space, try
down, you may have an epidemic of sinking an old enamel or china bath
blanketweed (green thread-like or kitchen sink (with the plug in!)
algae). You can rake out the worst into a corner. Add a few stones at
of it (it makes good compost), but one end, so that frogs and toads can
don’t panic - nature has its own crawl out as well as jump in.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 7
Purple loosestrife makes a magnificent spectacle in late summer. Dr Chris Gibson/English Nature

Do-it-yourself marshland Remember those summer
A DIY marsh can be made in the
same way as a pond, using butyl Few of us live close to a real flower
sheets. In this case, dig a shallow meadow, worked for hay in the old
saucer-shaped hole, spread the familiar way. But a pocket-sized
sheeting and then fill it in again! version can be created, with a little
You can extend your pond into a real effort, and once established will hum
wetland in this way, or use it as a with bees and dance with butterflies
substitute for a pond if you have in summer. A gardening definition of
small children. Many plants of pond a meadow might be ‘an overgrown
margins will grow quite happily in lawn’. Unfortunately, most lawns -
your artificial marsh, as long as it if left uncut - turn into dull, rank
stays permanently wet. Maintaining fields with few wild flowers other
water levels is important, to avoid than docks and thistles. For a
nettles and docks taking over. beautiful meadow, whether a spring

one with bulbs and cowslips or a sowing, though, first make sure that
summer one sprinkled with ox-eye the ground is free of ‘hard-case’
daisies, knapweed, scabious and a weeds like ground elder and couch-
score of other flowers - some grass. The trick is to allow their
preparation is needed. Flower buried seeds or root systems time to
meadows thrive on poor soils where grow - and then to clobber them
the flowers can compete with before they have a chance to set
grasses. This is why fertiliser has seed. Choose your weapon: mower,
turned the pretty meadows of the past hoe, flame gun or even (for once)
into monotonous fields of ‘fertiliser non-persistent herbicide.
green’. Unless you’re prepared to
insert potted plants into the lawn - Making a wildflower meadow is not
an expensive and time-consuming easy but when the effort succeeds,
business - the topsoil has to go. If the rewards are huge, so keep trying!
there is only an extremely thin layer, Constant attention is needed after
much of the topsoil may come away sowing seeds to ensure that grasses
with the turf. What is needed ideally and unwanted plants do not take
is a well-drained and well-raked unfair advantage and spoil the effect
subsoil to act as a seed bed. Before you are aiming to achieve.

The seeds of common poppies can remain viable for many years. Dr Chris Gibson/English Nature

Wildlife-friendly gardening 9
Don’t dig up wild plants for your Spring meadows should be cut at
garden - it rarely succeeds, it’s least twice a year, in June and again
illegal and it robs the countryside in early autumn, to allow room for
of wild colour. Packets of wild the smaller, more delicate plants to
flower seed mixed with grasses bloom. Bulbs like snowdrops,
are widely available. But read snowflakes and fritillaries are best
the labels carefully and look for planted on loamy ground which is
a packet with a conservation moist in early spring but dries out
mixture guaranteed to be of later. Summer meadows should be
locally native species harvested cut only once, like a ‘real’ meadow,
from British meadows. Follow preferably in August after most
the instructions given, but flowers have ripened seed. Leave
preferably also consult an expert some plants uncut at the edge of the
or one of the many books available. meadow: some bugs may overwinter

Red admiral on bramble. Dr Chris Gibson/English Nature

in the seedheads.
Always remove the
‘hay’ and clippings -
otherwise they will
form a mulch and
encourage grasses
at the expense of
flowers. The clippings
can be used on the
compost heap.

In a leafy shade

In many ways, a
garden shrubbery
resembles the edge of
a woodland ride or
glade. At least, the
Primroses. Dr Chris Gibson/English Nature
wildlife seems to think
so and this is why sheltered gardens at the back. To top it all, under-plant
are so favoured by blackbirds, robins, the glade with hedgerow flowers like
hedgehogs and bats. You can create primrose, violets, wild strawberry
a glade in a corner of the garden by and stitchwort. By careful planning,
the artful planting of shrubs or by you can compress what in a real
modifying what’s there already. wood might need an acre or two into
What is needed is sunny edge - as a room-sized mini-reserve by the
much edge as possible. garden fence.

From the point of view of a bird Which species should you plant?
or butterfly, a shrubby border, Aim at providing sources of food over
meandering in and out of the sun, is a as long a season as possible. The core
vertical extension of the ground, of the shrubbery should be native
filled with good things: catkin pollen, species like hawthorn, privet and
flower nectar, berries, nuts, grubs and guelder rose (wild, rather than exotic
perches. By having planting zones, forms are better for wildlife), but
you can increase the edge still there is no reason not to supplement
further: try herbaceous perennials at them with non-native shrubs, like
the front and then small flowering buddleia for butterflies, hebe for bees
shrubs. Behind these might come and hoverflies or Pyracantha for
larger shrubs and – if you have the birds. Don’t forget climbers, like
space - perhaps a group of small trees honeysuckle and dog-rose.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 11
Angle shades moth. Dr Rob Wolton/English Nature

Most gardens are too small for forest if you do plant blackberry, try to find
trees, but hazel, spindle, cherry-plum, a non-aggressive variety as some
silver birch, alder and rowan are strains can be very invasive.
more manageable, and are excellent Vigorous pruning will keep it in
for wildlife. check. Stinging nettles are the food
plant of some beautiful butterflies
Don’t trim the glade too often, and and moths, but there is no general
preferably not at all in spring and shortage of nettles and they will be of
summer (except for early-flowering little use to butterflies in the shade.
species). Wildlife thrives on lack of If you decide to include some, make
disturbance: cultivate a ‘shaggy’ look sure they are in full sunlight,
rather than a well-clipped hedge and preferably with flowers nearby.
go for a large bushy corner or – for
more edge – medium-sized islands of Below the garden wall
bushes separated by lawn.
A crumbly stone or flint wall can
Bramble patches can be marvellous be wonderful, but a brick one will
for wildlife, providing flowers, fruit do. Your local wildlife will know
and nesting opportunities. However, how to get the best out of an old

wall, but you can help. The more tortoiseshell butterflies are about.
ivy, the better, as it is a very If you are looking for somewhere
important nectar source, when most to pile loose stones or broken
other flowers are over, as well as a bricks, here it is: a basking place
late provider of berries. Ferns will for insects, a hunting ground for
find crumbly niches for themselves, spiders, and, who knows, perhaps
but you can plant ivy-leaved even a refuge for lizards.
toadflax and other climbers if
they do not grow nearby. Feeding our feathered friends
Beneath the wall, where the
sun falls for part of the day, is Where would a wild garden be
the place for old-fashioned cottage without a bird table? But think
flowers, so much richer in nectar carefully where you should place it.
and scent than modern cultivars. Many people like to watch birds
Plant foxglove, mullein, sweet while they do the washing up, or
Williams, Verbena bonariensis and from the living-room window. But
Michaelmas daisies. And in the make sure the table is away from
hottest spot of all, see what a fences and cover, and out of reach of
buddleia bush will do in late cats. The greater the choice of food
summer when thirsty peacock and you offer, the more species you may
Many more species of bird than ever now come to feeders in
see. Tits like fat and chains of
gardens. Paul Glendell/English Nature peanuts hung from the table; finches
appreciate sunflower heads; and
greenfinches, siskins and even
nuthatches and woodpeckers have a
passion for peanuts inside orange
nylon bags (make sure the nuts have
not been chemically treated).

Blackbirds prefer to feed on the
ground and will appreciate a few
apple halves or cores. If you have an
apple tree, collect some windfalls and
put them out in the open where the
birds can feed more safely. Robins
are fond of crumbled bits of hard
cheese. All birds eat bread, but white
bread is not particularly nutritious
and stale bread is actually harmful. It
is kinder, especially in hard weather,
to offer nuts, fat and bird cake.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 13
Born in a box

Without boxes to nest in, there
would be fewer great tits and blue
tits to grace our gardens in summer,
for their natural nesting habitats -
cavities in mature trees - are scarce,
outside old woodland. Like the bird
table, a nest box should be positioned
with care - out of the direct sun and
the reach of furry predators, and
preferably in a quiet corner of the
garden. Various kinds are available.
Those with small entrance holes are
for tits, while open-sided boxes are
used by robins, thrushes and
A little effort brings great rewards.
starlings. You can try to attract an Paul Glendell/English Nature
owl with a ‘chimney’ box, or offer
house martins an off-the-peg narrow gap at the back and a rough
papier-mâché cup. You can also buy or a corrugated inner wall for the bats
or make boxes for bats. These have a to cling to. The most likely bat to
White tailed bumble bee (queen). Roger Key/English Nature

Stones around a pond are good hiding places for newts. George Barker/English Nature

accept your offer of accommodation logs is to burn them immediately or
is the pipistrelle, but you may also not at all. Give a thought to mud.
attract long-eared bats and other less Bare, sometimes ‘squishy’ patches
common species. These boxes are are an excellent and, believe it or
sometimes used by wrens, especially not, a declining wildlife habitat.
during cold weather. Other artificial Other bare ground in full sunlight is
boxes are also available these days, equally valuable, as many minibeasts
for ladybirds, lacewings and bees. need to warm their bodies before
they can become fully active.
Other wildlife ‘homes’ can be made
very simply. A tree stump can simply Don’t forget compost. Compost
be left alone, preferably with one heaps are habitats as well as the
side in the sun and the other in the products of a greener way of
shade. Or you can create a ‘habitat gardening; grass snakes love their
pile’ of cut logs, valuable for insects inner heat and sometimes use
and fungi. Remember, though, that if them to incubate their eggs.
you later decide to burn the wood, And if you like reptiles, try leaving
you will incinerate all its beetle a sheet of corrugated iron where it
lodgers as well as the many will warm, but not bake, in the sun.
interesting fungi which will have This is a tried and tested method of
colonised it. The general rule with attracting snakes.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 15
If space is short ... pebbles from our rivers and beaches.
The greater part of England’s peat
..there are still ways to attract bogs has been destroyed since 1945
wildlife. A window box or even to provide peat compost for gardens.
hanging baskets can be an Many beautiful limestone pavements
answer. Try wild herbs and (rocky areas that have lots of cracks
scented bedding plants, running through where many rare
germinated from seed in pots. wild plants can grow) have been
Using a little artistry, and not quarried away to produce ‘water-
sowing too densely, an attractive worn stone’ for garden rockeries.
arrangement of spreading, These increasingly rare habitats are
cushion and upright wild flowers of international importance.
can be achieved. Suitable
species include thyme, marjoram, With so few wild bogs left, those
basil thyme, salad burnet, lady’s who care about wildlife should use
bedstraw, speedwell, stitchwort alternative ways of potting plants
and ivy-leaved toadflax. Old and improving the flower-beds. Even
chimney pots make excellent plant big organisations like the National
containers, either as pot holders, or, Trust are now gardening without
if there are holes in the sides, as using any peat, so it can be done!
cylinders of sprouting greenery - Many gardeners say that old-
perfect for a patio or around the fashioned compost makes a much
barbecue. The area of a garden better mulch than peat – and it costs
can also be increased by building nothing. For germinating seeds and
upwards. Try making a rockery growing pot plants, various peat-free
(good for frogs, toads and newts to composts are available. Ask your
hide in) or a grassy bank or mound. garden supplier about them, and
Here, if you are lucky, grass snakes experiment to find the best one for
or lizards could lie in the sun. your purposes. You can often get
good results from using recycled,
Helping the environment biodegradable paper pots, which
then decay or are eaten by worms.
You can help to conserve wildlife
by refusing to buy products that You can also help the environment
are based on its harmful exploitation. by deciding not to use chemicals to
Many gardening products cause harm control unwanted insects and
to wildlife habitats. These include weeds. Nature has its own ways of
tropical hardwoods for furniture, controlling ‘pests’, and by gardening
south east Asian charcoal for with nature rather than against it you
barbecues, peat from bogs, rock from soon find allies. Try the old trick of
limestone pavements and even planting French or African marigolds

among green vegetables – the
flowers seem to have their own
chemical defences. Similarly,
lavender near roses seems to
help deter aphids. Rotate or
change the crops after a season
or two, as farmers used to do. It
helps to avoid a build-up of
pests, and gives the soil time to
revitalise itself. You can also
simply choose plants and crops
which are less susceptible to
damage by invertebrates.

When it comes to the wealth of
wildlife in the garden, minibeasts
- spiders, centipedes, snails and
above all, insects - are what it’s
all about. There may be easily a
couple of thousand species living
in a not overly-tidy garden and
all but a tiny handful of greenfly
and slugs are either harmless or
beneficial. All of them are
fascinating. To encourage these
minibeasts, have plenty of
open-structured nectar flowers,
be careful with chemicals, keep
a compost heap, don’t be too
fastidious in tidying up dead
leaves and leave some areas a bit
overgrown to provide cover for
roosting or hibernating creatures.

A wildlife-friendly garden will
contain a much better balance
of predator and prey than one
which is manicured. In the
long run, there should be less
Like this ‘two-spot’, most species
of ladybird in England eat aphids.
(or no) need for poison bottles
Dr Roger Key/English Nature and sprays.

Wildlife-friendly gardening 17
Some gardening hints cases they will not survive.
These days, a wide range of
• Visit public gardens to see how wild flowers is available from
some experts do it. In recent seed and pots. Such wild
years, many large gardens have flowers are more important in
set aside a nature area. Details the wild where they can be
can be found in The Good enjoyed by others as well as
Gardening Guide. serving their crucial role in our
ecosystems. Ask friends and
• Get to know your local wildlife, neighbours with garden ponds
whether in a nearby park, open for aquatic plants.
space or nature reserve, or in your
immediate surroundings if you • Read about gardening with nature.
live in the country. By knowing Many books and magazines give
what’s likely to colonise your hints and tips on which species
garden, you can plan accordingly. will suit your garden and how to
raise plants from seed.
• Keep a nature diary of
observations and first sightings. • Pat yourself on the back! A
Your garden could become an garden rich in wildlife can be
outdoor laboratory and a great source of pride. Take
photographic studio, or even a pleasure in watching the butterflies
source of literary inspiration! and listening to birdsong, in the
knowledge that you have
• Don’t dig up flowers from the contributed another corner to a
wild. It’s illegal and in most greener and healthier country.

Our thanks go to the London Wildlife Trust for their assistance with this publication.

Other English Nature leaflets (available from the English Nature Enquiry Service:
Tel. 01733 455101) include: Plants for wildlife friendly gardens; Amphibians in
Foxglove. Dr Chris Gibson/English Nature

your garden; Reptiles in your garden; Minibeasts in your garden; Focus on Bats;
Composting; Wildflower meadows - how to create them in your garden. In
preparation: Garden ponds and wet areas; Small mammals in your garden;
Dragonflies and damselflies in your garden.

English Nature also produces a CD, Gardening with wildlife in mind. This costs
£9-99 plus postage and packing and is available from The Plant Press. Call John
Stockdale on 01273 476151, e-mail for a copy or ask for more information.

English Nature is the
Government agency
that champions the
conservation of wildlife and
geology throughout England.

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