You don’t need to re-wild to encourage healthy ecosystems.
Biodiversity is more important than ever. This is not just a problem for farmers; it affects everyone. In agriculture there are measurable benefits from crop rotations and wider field margins. The alternative – monoculture crop production, soil damage, increased use of pesticides, short term gain and long term damage to the planet – threatens us all.
It’s the same with gardens.
By making a few simple changes it is easy to increase biodiversity, with all the benefits of healthier plant and insect life, and more birds and small animals. And you don’t need to re-wild or the introduce beavers to make it a success.
Variety is the Spice of Life
While planning flower beds or choosing shrubs and trees, aim for a good variety of plants that suit your location and prevailing weather. Different insects and birds like different plants, so the greater the mix the more likely it is that you’ll increase the range and diversity of wildlife in your garden. Likewise, having something flowering year round will support more insects; and most berry producing shrubs and trees will encourage birds too. Look after large trees; they are ecosystems in their own right and provide a natural habitat for many garden visitors.
This approach applies regardless of the style of garden. It suits formal designs just as well as a cottage garden or low maintenance corporate grounds.
When it comes to flowers, include those that provide pollen and nectar which will encourage and support bees, butterflies and other fertilising insects. Whenever possible, limit the number of flowers bred just for their spectacular blooms, as these usually contain very little pollen and nectar.
Sow wild flowers
Even with plenty of space, you may not wish to let large areas go ‘wild’ in the truest sense. However, it is easy to leave a modest patch or strip of grass uncut and then sown with wildflowers. The variety of colour will look beautiful and attract more insects – and thus birds too. The longer grass will provide cover for small mammals like field mice, as well as being food for some butterfly caterpillars.
Why not, in fact, leave all the grass to grow a bit longer. Join in with No Mow May and by leaving your lawn alone discover myriad small flowering plants that will come to life – not to mention more bees. For variety, try a ‘Mohican’ lawn cut: the highest production of flowers and nectar were on lawns cut every four weeks, whilst longer, unmown grass had a wider range of flowers.
Leave a log pile in a shady corner
Even in the most manicured garden, there will be space for a little untidiness. Even a small log pile will create a surprisingly rich habitat, Decaying wood is the natural home for fungi and beetles, while the dark damp corners will support woodlice and similar small invertebrates.
Likewise, the odd abandoned flower pot, strategically placed on its side, with a handful of hay and a partially blocked entrance could be home for a bumble bee. In a similar way some perennials can be left uncut over winter. This is often for their architectural appeal, but the dry hollow stems also provide shelter for hibernating insects.
Food and water for birds and other guests
Bird feeders – ideally with a mixture of foods ranging from fat balls to mixed seeds – will encourage both resident and migrant birds and this food can be a life saver in cold weather. Some bird feeders come with water dishes and separate bird baths also add value and entertainment.
Spare a thought for ground dwellers too – leave out a plant pot saucer filled with water for hedgehogs and consider a pond, to encourage amphibians. Leave it free of fish and let plants colonise naturally. Include a ‘beach’ or sloping sides for easy access for small animals.
Whenever possible, aim for a sustainable garden. Seek out natural solutions to pest control and, outdoors, try to use compost instead of manufactured plant foods. Artificial products frequently have a high carbon footprint and many artificial pesticides harm more than their advertised target. Re-use and recycle what you can, and set up water butts to collect rain water for use on the garden when it’s dry.
Gardens are to enjoy – either the creation and care, or in the use and admiration. The great thing is, the more biodiverse it becomes, the more it is enjoyed by more creatures, and the more it thrives, with you thriving alongside it too.
E. Williams Landscapes is a Hampshire based specialist garden design company, expert in creating perfect outdoor spaces. They are 5-Star RHS Chelsea Flower Show Award winners, with many accreditations and a reputation for imaginative designs that complement any context. They have considerable experience in projects of all sizes, in both commercial and residential settings. They’re known for the care they take to achieve outstanding results with gardens both beautiful and practical.