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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Gardening for Wildlife

Updated: 3 days ago

It is by far, my favourite thing to do other than birdwatching - gardening! It may not be everybody’s idea of fun and can sometimes feel like a chore, however, gardening for wildlife can be very rewarding.

I had previously tried a ‘wildflower meadow’ with one of those boxes of native seeds. However, not much came up until the second year and then it looked rather messy. A bit of an anticlimax. I am very envious of those beautiful meadows you see driving through the country that farmers have designated to wildlife. I just can’t seem to get it right, so I decided to plant my flower beds with flowers I know that will work and if they don’t, I don’t try again.

A tall mixture of garden flowers
Tall mixture of flowers with nettles (Ailie Brown)

Flowers for bees and butterflies was the aim, so for spring, Bluebells, Forget-me-nots and Honesty provided that first bit of nectar. No-mow May saw Dandelions brightening up our front lawn. Then comes early summer and I chose Chives, Aquilegias, Oxeye Daisies and Cranesbill Geraniums which I find the bumble bees just love! Butterflies enjoy the variety of options and taller plants. Nettles and mint were placed in between, not next to each other for the only reason that I don’t want to get stung when picking my mint! I found the Honesty and nettles have caterpillars later in the summer munching away at the leaves. I continue the theme of no-prune June and do-nothing July and then appears clovers. I admit, I do mow parts of the grass but do my best to wait till the clovers have gone over and I like to leave sections to grow taller.

A Red admiral butterfly enjoying the chive flowers.
A Red admiral butterfly enjoying the chive flowers (Ailie Brown)

The long grass acts like a mini jungle. Beetles, spiders and other insects live in the canopy, keeping aphids at bay and in turn, are food for larger animals, and the more ‘long grass’ you have, the less you have to cut.

At the end of summer, the bee’s and butterflies have begun to wind down and the birds have become more frequent in the garden, searching for food when there’s less of a supply elsewhere. Seeds and berries for the birds is what I want to provide. I refuse to cut back anything in the garden till the seeds and berries have disappeared. Poppies seem to be a preferred choice of Goldfinch. I’ve spotted Blackcap on the honeysuckle and the cotoneaster berries feed the thrushes veracious appetite.

A bumblebee feeding on a cotoneaster flower.
Bumblebee's love Cotoneaster (Ailie Brown)

Fruit bushes and trees are more for my personal use, however, I wanted to make sure that while choosing these, they would also provide autumn food for birds. The apple crop was huge last year so I stored plenty for winter. When it snowed, I cut up the apples and put them out for the birds. Not only did the Blackbirds feast on them, but I was also visited by a small flock of Waxwings. Red Currant has the most beautiful flowers in the spring for the bee’s and then again, has autumnal berries for birds and small mammals. I have wild cherry trees, mainly because their flowers are just so fragrant. I didn’t get one cherry from the edible tree last year - the Blackbirds ate everything! But this is just what happens when you attract wildlife to the garden.

Ivy totally amazes me. When we moved and I found out that my new garden had a huge Ivy hedge, it didn’t really make me jump for joy. I felt it looked rather boring. However, after a year of watching the seasons change, and all the wildlife that it supports, my opinion changed. It provides a safe place for those nesting, favoured by the Blackbirds this year, and a safe place for fledglings to take cover. When everything else has stopped flowering in September, Ivy takes over. The nectar is an important food source for insects during the autumn, then the berries again, are fruiting from November through to January, when other shrubs have finished. There is a very small window to cut the Ivy hedge in February before the birds start nesting again.

Cotoneaster play’s a similar role for cover, flowers and fruit. I have tried to create a ‘bee tunnel’ by growing the cotoneaster over a path. The hum while walking through is just delightful!

A mixed garden hedge.
A mixed hedge creating cover and shelter for birds (Ailie Brown)

Later in the Autumn when the annual raking of leaves begins, it gives me another opportunity to be a lazy gardener. I put all the leaves into a corner of the garden and then add any sticks from pruning. I was really hoping to attract Hedgehogs to the garden and they enjoyed snuffling through this leave pile, searching for snails. In return, they clear up the slugs that seem to flock to my vegetable patch.

Finally, the veg patch. Hedge Garlic was a new one I tried this year, my lazy gardener attitude meant I didn’t actually use any and the butterflies ended up using it instead. I planted wild strawberries all over the garden in hope the one’s in my veg patch may be left alone!

An Orange tip butterfly enjoying the hedge garlic.
An Orange tip butterfly enjoying the hedge garlic (Ailie Brown)

With all these plant’s, I do need to cut things back. This is done two or three times a year, usually, once just in the autumn and again in March or April, just before things start growing. All the garden waste is then chucked into an open compost bin. On a rainy evening, you can see how many slugs and snails live in it.

Gardening for wildlife can be wonderfully rewarding. It is amazing what you can do with a small space. It can also be extremely important for our wildlife too.

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