Wildlife Garden Ideas

There is unlimited joy to be gained from a wildlife garden. It is a great pleasure to know that jays and thrushes have a place to nest and breed, and there’s a haven where kestrels and field mice, voles and hedgehogs can roam without being poisoned by insecticide or fertilisers.

To watch a hedgehog move swiftly over the grass in the moonlight or know a fox has threaded his way through the garden at dawn are just some of the thrills of having a wildlife garden, where no chemical fertilisers, weed killers or pesticides are used to destroy the work of nature. Instead organic fertiliser, love of nature and careful planning encourage all within the garden’s boundaries to flourish.

In the last forty years we have destroyed as much woodland as our ancestors destroyed in the previous four hundred years. The twentieth century moved in and wildlife was squeezed out, mainly by farmers cutting down the hedgerows and spraying fertilisers and insecticides. Between 1947 and 1974, 140,000 miles (225,000 km) of hedgerow were lost. Nearly all was attributable to agricultural expansion. This so called ‘progress’ wiped out the natural habitat and with it much of the wildlife of the country. Instead we have, here and there, small pockets of wildlife dotted across the land. But the wildlife is trapped, unable to travel up and down the country due to the large stretches of barren ground between, where there is no food or shelter for the wildlife, other than along some of the old railway tracks where the wild flowers and plants have been left undisturbed and not been destroyed.

In Britain there are over a million acres (400,000 hectares) of garden and although a wildlife garden can never provide a home for the otter, the curlew or salmon, it can house many plants and mammals that may otherwise become extinct.

It’s sad to think that if the present rate of destruction continues many of the small creatures that we grew to love in our story books as children will soon be creatures of the past.

The Garden

Looking down the 100 ft (30 m) garden from the house, the garden turns from quiet civilisation into an area that develops progressively into a wild garden. It’s nice to think that with each foot of natural garden (no matter if it is as small as 30 ft by 30 ft) (9 m square), you are making a contribution to the preservation of wildlife and at the same time the hard work of digging and planting of the cultivated garden are left behind. Admittedly, you’ll need to mow the meadow grass twice a year with a rotary mower at three inches (8 cm) off the ground so the grass is not cut too short, or with a scythe in March and July, and mow a path through the long grass in late spring, but apart from replacing the odd bog plant, it’s one of the most satisfying and undemanding gardens when, and only when, it is well and truly established.

wildlife gardenAll the functional requirements and practical aspects are near the house. But once you leave those behind you move into another world, surrounded by a native mixed hedgerow of hawthorn, field maple, guelder rose, spindle, dogwood and dog rose, all perfect nesting places for small birds, and ideal for attracting bees and other insects.

On the right is the pond and bog area for small fish, frogs, frog spawn and newts and on the left two rowan trees with bird feeders and suitable bee and butterfly plants below.

As you move further down the garden to the meadow area the grass gets longer but the mown path makes walking easy and leaves the meadow area undisturbed to generate its own magic.

At the end of the garden there’s a group of apple and damson trees. Below them a dead log is sprawled across the ground, a perfect habitat for snails, wood lice, mice and other small mammals, and in the spring bluebells and wood anemones can grow under the trees in drifts.

On the left hand side a hazel coppice is planted beneath an oak, ash and cherry tree, each with bat boxes in their branches. Bats are endangered species and it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them.

Years ago we had bats nesting in the roof and I was naïve enough to think they were vermin and should be removed. Luckily I didn’t have the wherewithal to do it, and the bat family is still nesting there quite happily to this day.

But to get a wildlife garden established takes time and needs as much careful planning as any other garden. It’s easy to imagine that it will all just happen and look wonderful on its own.

Not so, if you do nothing but wait. The art is to nudge things into the right direction rather than use the strict control of digging and pruning.

It’s taken me over five years to get the correct mix of meadow grass and wild flowers established in my country garden. My soil was too good, and therefore the grass too vigorous, so ox-eyed daisies, cowslips, poppies and buttercups wouldn’t grow. What I should have done was strip off the top soil, so that the wild flowers could easily have seeded themselves in the poor soil beneath. It has been exasperating to watch the wide selection of beautiful wild flowers growing on the builders’ rubble – the ideal conditions for them – and not in my meadow.

To establish a meadow in a new garden, it is best to sow a wild flower mix from a reputable seedsman such as John Chambers or Emorsgate Seed (addresses at the back), then follow the maintenance procedure exactly. In an established lawn the only solution is to buy the plants of suitable flowers for meadows and plant them in the grass. This is a very effective way to establish them.


The back of this house faces north so there is no sun on the small terrace in the afternoon. Nonetheless, it is an attractive morning-to-lunchtime area. Surrounded by its raised planter, barbecue and bird bath on the left and the terracotta pots and soft herbs on the right, it has a pleasing and practical feel.

Just outside the kitchen door on the right, the bin store is concealed in a slatted wooden cupboard with plant pots on top. Alternatively, this could be made into the barbecue, which at the moment is situated on the left of the terrace. Then the dust bin and kitchen waste container (destined for the compost heap at the bottom of the garden) could be constructed by the shed situated against the back wall of the house, handy for tools and the vegetable patch.

The main shed now at the bottom of the garden could also be incorporated with the shed at the back of the house; then it would not be necessary to walk through the long wet grass to collect the garden tools or calcified seaweed to feed the vegetables.

Vegetable Patch and Rotary Clothes Line

Although the vegetable space is near the house, for practical reasons, it is not too conspicuous as it is partly concealed by the attractive wooden container filled with flowers at the bottom of the steps. It can also be screened by another large container with a flowering shrub at the top of the steps.

The path round the vegetables in this design is brick, which makes easy, unmuddy access. Riven paving slabs are less expensive but not quite so suitable in a natural garden where concrete would be out of place.

The rotary clothes line is set up a path in the middle of the vegetable area in a circle of flag stones, again to make access easy. So from the moment you leave the kitchen door to pick a lettuce or hang up the washing, you need never leave the path.

The vegetable patch and clothes line are not the most beautiful items to gaze upon, but the neat semi-circular path encloses the vegetables attractively. Vegetables don’t have to be unsightly and can look very presentable in a well-organised layout surrounded by ornamental cabbages to add a touch of colour. It is important in this garden that all the areas that are in constant use should be near the house so as not to disturb the part of the garden which is to develop naturally. Also near the house there will be fewer slugs and snails to find their way to the vegetables

But should the idea of vegetables present too much trouble, then plants that attract butterflies such as Michaelmas daisies, Sedum spectabile (a favourite of the Painted Lady butterfly), spring flowering primulas (attract Orange Tip), grape hyacinths (attract the Comma butterfly) and of course Buddleia davidii (the butterfly bush) can be introduced in their place and they would certainly be pleasing to observe from the terrace.

Plant Association: The Natural Structure of Woodland

The trees and shrubs at the end of the garden should be encouraged to imitate the natural structure of woodland: trees, then beneath them smaller young trees, then shrubs, then sprawling shrubs, then flowers and bulbs. In this way a balance is created by the change in the mix of plants, so you always have plants that do not lose their leaves before the next plant is ready to come into leaf. If the change is gradual there will be less room for weeds.

Beneath the oak and ash trees, hazel trees should be planted. These hazels can be coppiced after five to ten years to keep them in hand and the oak, ash and cherry can be coppiced after twenty years if necessary.

Coppicing: Cut the hazel down to a height of 6 in to 12 in (15 to 30 cm) from the ground. Slope the cut up and outwards from the centre of the stump. Hazel is coppiced, then used for woven fencing. For generations, a large proportion of ash has been coppiced after eight years for tool handles and firewood. It is still excellent for both.

Oak trees can be pollarded but a good tree surgeon thinning the tree’s canopy is often sufficient.

Bog Garden and Pond

Water is always fascinating and a wildlife pond or bog garden is no exception. Although there is only just enough space available, its presence is a valuable contribution to conservation since so many ponds round the country have disappeared.

But it is very important that the pond is laid out correctly and is the right size and depth, otherwise it will require a lot of work to maintain it, especially if it is too shallow. The trouble-free quality of a pond comes from correct construction in the first place. If it is too shallow the weeds will take over. There must be three different levels (see diagram).

water bog garden

The deepest section should be 3 ft (90 cm) deep and at least 7 ft (over 2 m) long and 4 ft (1.2 m) wide. The same membrane or plastic liner must cover the bottom of all three sections of the pond as well as coming up over the edges to lie under the large stones and rocks securing it round the side.

If the overflow is not correctly positioned (see diagram), the pond will never take care of itself and there will be too much bog surrounding it.

At the edge of the pond there should be large stones and rocks for newts, and marginal plants in the shallow water near the overflow.

The big plants can be sunk into the pond in clay pots; this way they won’t become too big and get out of hand and also they can easily be replaced. 9 in (22.5 cm) terracotta pots placed in the water prevent the plant from spreading.

Around the edges in the bog, plant Acorns calamus, Butomus umbellatus, Primula florindae and Primula candelabra (this romantic and pretty plant will enjoy the moist surroundings, seed itself and look lovely growing between the grass and stones).

The tree stumps designed to be placed upright round the outer edge of the pond will blend well with the surroundings and make an ideal site to sit and watch the wonders of the water world beneath.

Apart from the pond membrane, all the materials in a wildlife garden should be natural and not man-made like plastic; synthetic materials will be obtrusive and alien to wildlife.

Bird and Mammal Aids

Bird feeders in the rowan trees and bat boxes in the oak and ash trees will encourage wildlife. The tree stump for small mammals and brush wood pile habitat for hedgehogs at the end of the garden are to welcome the small creatures who are too often blinded by headlights and become victims of the overloaded roads.

In a wild garden where there are nettles, coarse grass and thistles, it is easier to attract butterflies than in a manicured garden without ‘pernicious weeds’. The caterpillars of many of the common butterflies feed exclusively on these weeds. The nettles for laying eggs have to be in the sun as the small tortoiseshell won’t lay its eggs on nettles in the shade.

Garden Butterflies

There are fifty-eight species of butterfly that occur in Britain, of which sixteen regularly visit gardens. These are listed below, together with the months when you are most likely to see them.

Brimstone, March-May, July-August

Comma, March-October, only in the South and Wales

Common Blue, May-June, August-September, only where bird’s foot trefoil and clover grow in short grass

Gatekeeper, July — August, only in the South

Green-veined White, May-July

Holly Blue, April-May, July-August

Large Skipper, June-August

Meadow Brown, June-September

Orange Tip, April-June

Painted Lady, May-October

Peacock, March-May, July-August

Red Admiral, May-October

Small Copper, May-October, only where sorrel grows

Small Tortoiseshell, March-October

Small Skipper, July-August

Small White, April-October

Wall Brown, May-June, August—September

Plants for the Wildlife Garden

Deciduous Trees

Suitable trees for this garden include:

Malus spp ‘Golden Hornet’ (Crab Apple Tree). Excellent for attracting bees. Pretty white blossoms in spring. Height 15-20ft (4.5- 6m). Spread 10-15ft (3-4.5m). Bright yellow fruits which persist long after the leaves have fallen.

Malus sylvestris (Crab Apple Tree). Height 12-15ft (3.5-4.5m). Spread 10-15ft (3-4.5m). There is quite a large choice of crab apples with varying blossoms. They all grow to about the same height except M. eleyi and M. ‘John Downie’ which grow to 25-30ft (1.5-9m). Spread 15-25ft (4.5- 7.5m). White blossoms in May followed by yellow/red fruits good for crab apple jelly.

Salix caprea (Pussy Willow). This pretty tree grows to 15ft (4.5m). Spread 15ft (4.5m).

Sorbus aucuparia Rowan (Mountain Ash). Height 15-20ft (4.5-6m). Spread 8-12ft (2.5-3.5m). Excellent tree for any garden. White flowers in May/June followed by orange berries. Not good in shallow alkaline soils.

Corylus avellena (Hazel nut). Grows to 20ft (6 m). Spread 15ft (4.5m). Mid green leaves. 2 in (5 cm) yellow male catkins in February.

Quercus robur (Common English Oak Tree). 300 insects are associated with the oak tree, so an oak is an excellent choice for a wildlife garden. Height 12-18ft (3.5-5.5m). Spread 6-10ft (1.8-3m). Hardy, slow-growing, but eventually forms a substantial tree. Mid green leaves.

Prunus avium (Wild Cherry Tree). There are 430 species in the Primus family which gives plenty of choice! Avium has a height of 30- 40ft (9-12 m). Spread 20-30ft (6-9 m). White flowers in pendulous clusters in April. Mid green leaves.

Prunus domesticus (Damson Tree). Grows to 20ft (6 m). Dull dark green leaves. Edible plum-like fruit in summer.

buddleia alternifoliaBuddleia alternifolia (Butterfly Bush). This large and wonderfully sweet-smelling deciduous shrub grows to 12-20ft (3.5-6mj. Spread 15-20ft (4.5-6 m). The lilac-blue flowers have an intoxicating perfume in June and the tree looks a dazzling sight when it is completely covered by these clusters of small flowers all over its pendulous branches. Not native.

Crataegus (Hawthorn). This tree is much admired for its dense small white, pink or red blossoms. It has colourful fruit and rich autumn colour. C. monogyna, the common hawthorn, is used for hedging. Can grow to 15ft (4.5in).

Acer campestre (Field Maple). Native British tree useful as a hedgerow shrub. Height 15-20ft (4.5-6m). Spread 10 ft (3 m). Mid green leaves, yellow in autumn. When not used as a hedge it makes a pleasant round-headed tree.

Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose). Bushy deciduous shrub. Grows to 15ft (4.5m) (for hedge). Maple-like dark green leaves. Strong-scented flat-headed white flowers in May and June followed by clusters of bright red berries.

Cornus sanguinea (Dogwood). (For hedge). Height 10-15ft (3-4.5m). Spread 15-20ft (4.5-6m). Deciduous large-branched shrub. Dark green leaves turn brilliant orange and red in the autumn. Small white flowers May, followed by clusters of black berries. Suckers, so keep it away from small plants.

Euonymus europaeus (Spindle). Height 6-10ft (2-3m). Spread 4-10ft (1.2-3m). Deciduous shrub. Mid green leaves. Small green flowers in May followed by wonderful orange/red waxy seeds, which are poisonous.

Plants to encourage wildlife (food and shelter)

Blackthorn, Buckhorn, Hebe, Pyracantha, Ribes odoratum, Syringa (Lilac), Viburnum opulus, Viburnum lantana. Erica, Cotoneaster.

Bog garden: Plants to go round the edge

Arocus calamus, Butomus umbellatus, Primula florindae; P. candelabra, Marsh Marigolds Calthia palustris, Malva sylvestris (Common Mallow – relieves toothache!)

Plants to encourage Bees

Alyssum, Crocus, Campanula carpatica, Chives, Borage (the best bee plant), Candytuft, Dianthus (pinks), Digitalis foxglove, Larkspur, Sage, Wallflower, French Marigold, Yellow Archangel, Thyme, Nasturtiums, Phlox, Campion, Rose.

To encourage Moths

Bladder Campion, Sweet Rocket, Evening Primrose, White Jasmine, Soapwort and Honeysuckle.

Plants to encourage Birds

Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Fat hen. Groundsel, Shepherd’s Purse, Teasel, Betony, Knapweed, Cow Parsley, Burdock, Dandelion, Field Forget-me-Knot, Lesser Burdock, Meadowsweet, Michaelmas Daisy, Thistles Plants to encourage Butterflies Buddleia (Butterfly bush), Solidago, Hebe, Sedum Spectabile, Lavender, Ligustrum (Privet), Lilac, Michaelmas Daisy, Aubretia, Yellow Alyssum, Wallflower, Sweet Rocket, Honesty, Red Valerian, Nepeta (catmint), Achillea, Aster, Centranthus, Erigeron, Helenium, Scabious

Meadow plants (in order of size)

Sweet Vernal Grass, the tallest

Yorkshire Fog

Ox-eye Daisy

Field Scabious

Sheep’s Sorrel


Yellow Rattle


Red Fescue


Cat’s ear

Sheeps Bit

Lady’s Bedstraw



Daisy, the shortest

Wild Flowers


White Clover



Field Scabious

Wild Marjoram


Greater Knapweed

Ox-eye Daisy


Other flowers for wildlife garden:

Spring flowering Primulas


Herbs (both soft and woody)

16. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Shrub and Tree Garden, Types of Gardens, Wildlife Gardening | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Wildlife Garden Ideas


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