Spring in the Garden

Spring in the Garden

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ideas for Encouraging Wildlife in Your Garden

The reason I garden organically is because I don't want to damage the natural environment or the creatures that inhabit it. Gardening organically isn't just about not using nasty chemicals, it's about improving the soil and the growing conditions as much as possible and using alternatives to pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. It's also about using approved fertilisers wisely and sparingly.

A dunnock exploring our garden

As we are hearing more and more, looking after the local wildlife requires more than just refraining from using chemicals that kill, or may weaken, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects as well as birds and other animals.

An article in the Guardian yesterday reminded us that the shrinking number of hedgerows in the countryside mean that the gardener has an important role to play in helping provide habitats for hedgehogs.  If you can't provide a mixed native hedge a pile of logs and leaves will provide hedgehogs with shelter.  A log pile is also good for all manner of insects, which may in turn encourage a wide range of birds into your garden. Leaving patches of longer grass is also good for insects.

Cowslips and primroses add a splash of colour to the garden early in the year

If you are still thinking about what flowers to plant why not try a patch of wild flowers, either grown from seed or by buying a few from your local garden centre. If you don't want wild flowers,  try to avoid too many showy double flowers which are not designed for bees and butterflies to reach the nectar and may not even have the pollen bees need to rear their young.  Instead experiment with some cottage garden favourites such as foxgloves, snapdragons and penstemons.

Honey bee on cherry blossom on a very warm day in March
Most herbs provide nectar rich flowers, including the lavenders, as do fruit trees, bushes and plants such as strawberries. Simple roses, especially those with a scent attract bees and butterflies.  Sarah Raven suggests a number of single dahlias amongst other flowers that are good for bees and butterflies.

An early bumblebee foraging in Winter heather in March
If possible try to plan your garden so there are flowers to provide nectar and pollen from early Spring into late Autumn.  Bees and butterflies don't fly when it's very cold and flowers need warmth and moisture in order to make nectar. Pulmonaria, often known as lungwort or 'soldiers and sailors' is a good plant for the early spring as are early Spring bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus and some members of the narcissus family.  Winter heathers are good early in the year while the late heathers provide nectar into September and beyond.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provide a list of seasonal plants while Butterfly Conservation offers further suggestions.  The RHS provides a pretty comprehensive list of plants for pollinators here

I've just come across The Pollinator Garden, a great website which has a wealth of information about gardening for wildlife.

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I look forward to reading your comments, it's always good to hear encouraging words or relevant hints and tips.