Gardening For Wildlife

Its National Gardening Week this week and families have more time than usual to ‘get on top of’ the garden by tidying, weeding, planting and regularly manicuring the lawn – but hold on a minute!

Let’s have a go at doing things a bit differently this year and creating a wonderful wildlife garden that will not just look pretty but will work hard to add to the biodiversity of your little patch of the outdoors.

Weed or Wonderful?

Before we give ourselves back ache taking out everything that is considered a weed have a think about what a weed can do.  Nettles are a great source of nectar for bees. They can also be host plants for some types of moths and butterflies.  The Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar thrives on the leaves of the White Dead-Head Nettle, a good choice of nettle for you to nurture as it doesn’t sting.

White tailed Bumblebee on White on a Nettle

This year I wasn’t able to nip to the garden centre and buy lots of plants that would add a bit of temporary colour. My solution was not to be as vicious as usual with my dandelion removal and now there is a lot of yellow to my garden!

Dandelions are a great source of nectar for the bees, butterflies and hoverflies that I’m hoping will pollinate my flowers and vegetables. They don’t need looking after as they will always thrive, they are self-pollinating (meaning they are not reliant on pollinating insects to reproduce); they can grow in poor soil and they don’t need watering.  As they are so good at growing anywhere it is a good idea to actively manage dandelions. So why not dedicate a corner of the garden where it’s difficult to grow other stuff to dandelions or pop a few in pots when you are ‘weeding’?

A group of Dandelions

I think they are just a stunning as some cultivated colour- givers and I’m going to carefully watch to see which plant is more popular with the pollinators.

Have a guess how many individual seeds one dandelion flower makes on average? (Answer at the end of this blog!)

Dandelion 'Clock' with some seeds dispersed

The seeds are super-efficient, each one like a tiny parachute. Now anyone without a garden this is where you win! You can help seed dispersal by blowing the seeds off a dandelion clock so they get a good chance at growing in corners of more urban areas and helping out insects there.  If you are trying to manage your dandelion crop though just pinch off the ‘clock’ and pop it in your compost bin.

Waste not Want not

Aha- compost bin!  Composting is another great way to garden for wildlife and keep kitchen and garden waste out of landfill, especially when refuse recycling centres are closed at the moment due to Covid 19 measures.  The easiest way to make compost is to buy a purpose made compost bin, but some people with bigger gardens or allotments could keep a more open compost heap contained by a simple wooden structure. There are some good tips on where to site your compost bin and how much of what to put in it here: https://www.recyclenow.com/reduce-waste/composting/guide

In addition to providing you with peat free soil improver, your compost bin or pile will become a home to a myriad of insects that in turn will provide food for garden birds. You may also find the heap attracts bigger visitors such as frogs, toads or slow worms and these garden residents are excellent at eating slugs before the slugs eat your seedlings!

Hedgehog Haven

If you want to progress from insects, reptiles and amphibians and attract hedgehogs to your garden try tidying less.  This doesn’t mean your garden starts to look like an eyesore. Just like wonderful weeds we can manage which bit of the garden does what. Choose a shady corner where you can deliberately pile a few logs and bricks. You could add some rotting wood and leaves too as, just like the compost heap, this will create a place for insects to thrive and that makes a tasty restaurant for hedgehogs.

A bug hotel made from wood

We made this Bug Hotel to put in the woodland area at The Sill so that small mammals could shelter in it and find food there. We have held events where families can help rangers monitor what mammals live in the woodland.

Water for Wildlife

No-one can garden successfully without a water supply but let’s think further than a hose or filling a watering can from your tap.

The deluxe water feature is a small garden pond that may give a home to frogs and newts. It will also let you grow water loving plants such as marsh marigolds and flag irises and may even attract dragonflies or damselflies, especially if you live near a site with a larger pond or wetland. If you have enough room and are up for the challenge you could follow these steps to build a small pond https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-pond

If you don’t have the space or resources for this at the moment making sure water is available for birds and mammals such as hedgehogs is a good idea. Nothing fancy, just a shallow sided dish or terracotta plant pot saucer that you can keep topped up in hot weather is fine.

A great eco gardening tip is to use recycled water in your garden too. You could set up a rain water collection point using a simple water butt or one that connects to your drain pipe.  You can also use dish or bath water to water plants as gentle soap suds are not damaging to plants or lawns.

National Gardening Week

I hope you are inspired to garden a little differently this year. Remember, no garden is an island. Birds, insects and small mammals don’t care about fences, hedges and boundaries so more wildlife gardening means more wildlife for everyone, and more and more people are gardening in this way. For more inspiration have a look at https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/gardening-in-a-changing-world

Oh! And one dandelion flower produces about 200 seeds!

Mandy Roberts is one of the Sill Engagement Officers. Mandy has her own allotment in Ovingham, Northumberland and is a founder of Ovingham Community Orchard.