Tips to create a wildlife-friendly garden

Garden bird at feeder taken by Lee Hession
Garden bird at feeder taken by Lee Hession
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As the trend towards naturalistic gardens continues this year, tidy gardeners with pristine plots may need to chill out a bit if they want to really contribute to the balance of nature.

Yet having a wildlife-friendly garden doesn’t have to mean a chaotic onslaught of weeds, nettles and overgrown areas. With a little forethought and just a few changes, you could incorporate some measures which will make your garden far more welcoming.

Many of us don’t want to make our garden into a small-scale nature reserve, but there are ways we can make it more attractive to wildlife while staying in control. Just carefully placing a couple of bird feeders and baths in strategic positions can welcome nature while remaining unobtrusive. Work out what features you would like - it may be a butterfly border, mini-woodland or meadow, or simply a bird-feeding station, but plan to maximise the view you’ll get of the wildlife activity from your patio and your house.

Also, get to know your weeds. Some garden plants and wildflowers will self-sow just as enthusiastically as weeds and are frequently treated as such. Enthusiastic self-seeders include foxglove, cow parsley, ox-eye daisy, columbine (aquilegia) and hellebores. Don’t dig them out if you want to attract wildlife. If they really aren’t where you want them, move them to start a colony in a different place.

Grass can be a tricky issue if you don’t have an area where you can leave it to grow longer. However, leaving a few low-growing flowering weeds such as clover and daisies in it will attract insects. Just cut the grass less frequently and leave it slightly longer, but it doesn’t have to be up to your knees.

Alternatively, those with a bigger garden could opt for a flowering meadow with a mown path in the centre, which guides the visitor and gives the path a natural border of wildflowers and grasses. If you’re making a meadow from scratch, it’s more likely to succeed on poor soil. On moist, clay soils the effect is harder to achieve.

If you plan to create a wildflower meadow consult a specialist seed supplier who deals in native flora, to get the right mix of grasses and indigenous flora for your soil type. The main challenge is to stop the grass from overwhelming the flowers, hence the need for poor soil, where the lack of nutrients should limit the spread of tough, vigorous grasses.