Urban green spaces are key habitats for wild animals, birds and insects — here’s how to help them thrive
With many natural habitats such as woodland areas and wildflower meadows disappearing at an alarming rate, urban and suburban gardens have become important havens for a wide variety of birds, mammals, amphibians and insects.
Although an individual garden on its own may be small, together our gardens create a significant habitat where animals can find all that they need to live — to feed, drink, shelter and breed.
They often act as green corridors — links between other green spaces, nature reserves or the countryside — so animals can spread to discover new locations.
If you live in a city without a garden, plants in pots or hanging baskets will contribute. Garden space has the potential to be a huge reserve, giving wildlife a refuge from the impact of habitat loss and climate change.
By encouraging birds, mammals and insects into our gardens, we keep valuable green spaces thriving, as they help control pests — they are our natural predators.
Slugs and snails are one of the main foods for hedgehogs, frogs, toads, ground beetles and birds, as well as many other hunters, so will be kept under control without the need for slug pellets and other pesticides.
Slug pellets can harm helpful animals and poison food plants, if laid next to them. They are also harmful for children and household pets.
To attract wildlife into the garden, think about what plants you can use for their benefit that will still look wonderful in the garden.
Choose flowering plants that offer nectar for bees, butterflies and insects as well as some small mammals; good nectar plants include Valerian (above), Primrose, Yarrow, Field Scabious and Verbena.
Look for late flowering varieties, such as Honeysuckle, that produce vital nectar late in the season when other flowers have passed, as well as early flowering types such as Clematis armandii, to provide a good start to the seasons.
Some species of bumblebee have become endangered and some are already extinct; this has been put down to an overall reduction in flowers, hedges and marshland.
Maybe leave a damp area of the garden to do its own thing. It’ll provide a damp environment for frogs, areas for butterflies to lay their eggs on, and a home for grasshoppers and crickets.
These areas mimic old meadows and pasture land: fragile habitats where grasses and wildflowers grow, rare butterflies breed and small animals forage. While many animals now depend on these meadows, they are a man-made environment too.
Centuries of grazing and cropping hay have lead to extremely poor soil, which does not become woodland because of ongoing grazing. If you want an area for wildflowers or natural grasses, it is important not to feed the soil as they thrive on the poorest soil conditions.
Hedges, trees and shrubs may provide nesting sites for birds and trees and shrubs that produce berries in the autumn provide valuable food, so consider using trees and shrubs to define your boundaries instead of opting for fences or walls, if they would be appropriate for the situation.
Creating a pond area in the garden will provide a focal point for local frogs, newts and toads, as well as various insects and even dragonflies. Consider child safety before you make a start, as even shallow ponds can be dangerous.
The unmistakable sweet fragrance of Viburnum farreri always brings me back to my student days at the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, where a fine specimen of this plant exists outside the Alpine House. The flowers are small and white, tinged with pink, but pack a powerful punch. It’s a low-maintenance plant that can grow in sun or shade and provides great value during the winter months.
I tried to grow Brussels sprouts this year so we could have them for Christmas. The seeds grew well and when they were big enough I planted them out in the garden. They looked as if they were doing fine, but in the summer they all had white powder on the tops and were spoilt. What happened?
This sounds like a case of powdery mildew, which is a fungal disease that thrives in hot dry weather. Your plants may have been under stress during a drought period, so next year keep an eye on consistent watering. If possible, try to grow the sprouts in a different part of the garden next year as soil diseases can build up if you plant the same type of crop in the same place every year. Plant them with sufficient room to grow, as good air circulation will help with plant health. I’d also recommend some fine netting to stop butterflies laying their eggs, which will turn into hungry caterpillars and tuck into your crop. Choose an easy, disease-resistant variety for next year — I’d recommend Brigitte F1.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden