How to re-wild your garden, from ponds and trees to attracting butterflies and hedgehogs
We all know that, throughout the world, natural habitats are under threat. Indeed, in the UK alone, we’re estimated to have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows and a quarter of a million miles of hedgerow since the Second World War.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, our wildlife is in trouble. Many species, from wildflowers to great crested newts, grasshoppers to house sparrows, are in desperate need of our help (and that’s without even mentioning the climate crisis). However, despite all the doom and gloom, there is hope — and it starts on our own doorsteps.
Imagine what would happen if we transformed our outdoor spaces — rural gardens, urban balconies and everything in between — and turned them into spaces for Nature. Here are some tips for getting started:
Make a pond
A well-planned pool, with shallow margins for birds and mammals to bathe and drink from, rotting logs around the edge for frogs and newts to hunt between and southern hawker dragonflies to lay their eggs on, twinned with margins planted with wildflowers, such as cuckooflower, ragged robin and purple loose-strife, will draw insects in from far and wide.
These mini oases are one of the richest habitats per square yard and ones that no garden should be without. They will lead the way for our gardens to be happier places for wildlife of all kinds.
If everyone with the means to do so planted a tree, put up a bird box, dug a pond and let the grass grow long, we’d go some way to reclaiming the wilder, richer, more birdsong-filled gardens of our childhoods. By taking positive steps in our own gardens — no matter how small — together, we can really make a difference.
Don’t forget the human touch
It’s very easy to think of a wildlife garden as a mass of brambles and nettles with a few trees and shrubs. This stereotype can put off many gardeners, who would hate to see their beloved patch become an overgrown mess. A true wildlife garden, however, should be one that works for both wildlife and humans alike. It is also true that the best wildlife gardens are a mosaic of habitats, which include (but are not limited to) native trees and shrubs, a mini wildflower meadow, a pond and herbaceous borders brimming with nectar for butterflies, bees and other insects.
Make the most of your vertical spaces
Once established, climbers such as hop, ivy, clematis, winter-flowering jasmine and honeysuckle can provide vital cover for an entire colony of our declining house sparrows, as well as nesting habitat for robins, song thrushes and blackbirds.
Keep hedgehogs happy
If you own one or more of your boundary fences, cut a hole (5in by 5in) at the bottom to allow hedgehogs in and out of your garden. They can travel a mile or so each night, so they need access to plenty of gardens to feed.
Bringing in different types of butterflies
Brimstone (usually seen from March to May and again from July to August) It can be attracted by planting common or alder buckthorn for the females to lay their eggs on. This butterfly also enjoys the nectar of many flowers, such as red campion and dandelions.
Orange tip (April to June) A real harbinger of spring and one that is easily brought into gardens by planting garlic mustard or honesty in your borders for the females to lay their eggs on. Orange tips also lay their eggs on cuckooflower.
Common blue butterfly (May, July and August to September) One that can often be attracted to a garden by planting bird’s-foot trefoil in your lawn. This fantastic wildflower is a favourite of many bees, too.
Comma, small tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral These four are all well known and will lay their eggs on a simple patch of nettles. It sounds crazy, but why not plant a small pot of nettles in a sunny spot on your terrace? You’ll be surprised what turns up.