Want to turn your garden into a wildlife sanctuary? Here are 10 simple ways
2 Green up the boundaries. Says Chris: "Even the smallest garden usually has room for climbing plants over walls and fences. If you have enough room, plant a hedge or a shrub border. Many wild creatures tend to creep around the edges of the landscape, green boundaries help to link the wider neighbourhood together and the vegetation will provide safe nesting sites for birds such as wrens, blackbirds and robins." Kitty Scully, head gardener at Airfield's food garden, grew up on an organic farm and is passionate about the benefits of biodiversity and using native species. At Airfield's food garden, she has planted a field hedge. "It is a haven for a host of bird and insect life and, all things going well, our chefs will also enjoy some fruits from this boundary." She suggests: "If planting a boundary hedge, plant native species such as sloes (Prunus spinosa), spindle (Euonymus europaeus) and dog rose (Rosa canina). Some other native edible tree and shrub species that could be included in a native hedge are crab apple, wild plums/damson, blackberry, elder and hazel."
3 Think seasonally. Says Chris: "Choose plants to provide a continuous supply of flowers and fruits from January to December. A garden can be a really important service station for wildlife if there is nectar for the insects the whole year round, and fruit and berries through the winter."
4 Amp up the choice of safe hiding places for wildlife. "Nesting boxes for the birds will really make a difference," says Chris, "but try to provide bat boxes and bee hotels too. The more the merrier."
5 Hedgehogs are every gardeners 'bestie' as they love to feast on slugs, snails and other insects. To encourage them into your plot you will yet again have to create a wild area. Leaving a pile of old bits of wood, sticks and leaf litter will create an attractive nest for hedgehogs to hibernate and hide in. This will also provide a home for the invertebrates (slugs, beetles) that hedgehogs like to eat. Hibernating hedgehogs do not like to be disturbed so select a spot that won't be upset from November to March.
6 For some gardeners, a messy garden is an unloved garden, spreading weeds and pests. But for wildlife, it's a sanctuary. "Relax!" is Chris Baines advice, "Don't be too neat and tidy. Piles of fallen leaves and rotting logs in quiet corners will provide hiding places and hibernation habitat for more timid creatures." Kitty Scully sympathises with gardeners who like things shipshape. "It is always a bit of a balancing act between keeping gardens sharp and clean for aesthetic and hygiene purposes and allowing a bit of wildness. In Airfield we like to keep our gardens sharp but opt for leaving wilder areas around the estate because of the wild life benefits."
7 Revise your opinion of what exactly makes a weed. "Plants such as stinging nettle get such bad press as a pernicious weed," says Kitty, "but, in reality, the common nettle (Urtica dioecia) is one of the most important wildlife plants to have in the garden. Not only do nettles provide a home for the larvae of many species of moth and butterfly such as Red Admiral, but they also host a plethora of overwintering aphids. These aphids which are host-specific and appear in early spring are a great early food source for ladybirds thus encouraging them into your plot. "All going good, they will stick around and keep those little sap-sucking nuisances in check for the duration of the growing season. Later in the summer, nettles go to seed providing plenty of seeds for small agile birds to snack on. If you have a small garden, you could go completely wild and plant nettles in pots to harness some of these wildlife benefits."
8 Mix and match as much as possible. The food garden at Airfield grows flowers and vegetables side by side. Not only is it a growing trend that looks good but it also makes the garden super friendly to a range of beneficial pollinators and creatures. "We grow a range of plants that flower successionally," says Kitty, "thus providing pollen and nectar and attracting beneficial insects throughout the whole growing season. Bees tend to see the purple and blue more clearly than any other colour, so you will see lots lavender borders, flowering chives, borage and some catmint (Nepeta) throughout the garden. We break the rules for some plants such as artichoke and let them flower as the bees just go wild for them. We grow other small, simple flowers for attracting hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds, eg, poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)."
9 Avoid harmful sprays (herbicides and pesticides), says Kitty, and go organic. "Our food garden is now in its second year of organic conversion and by avoiding harmful sprays and providing suitable habitats, your garden will automatically become wildlife friendly."
10 Finally, Chris Baines says: "Make sure you have a seat somewhere in the garden, so you can make the most of the wildlife on your doorstep."