The RSPB’s Homes for Wildlife is an exciting activity inspiring people to transform their homes and gardens into wildlife havens by following simple, free gardening advice.
|Garden Size||Recommended Plants||Top Tips|
|Small gardens||Medium gardens||Large gardens||Front gardens|
It doesn’t matter how big or small your patch is, To wildlife, the other side of the wall or fence is just another part of a much larger habitat and so you can make a positive difference in even the smallest of areas. The trick is to be adventurous, creative and imaginative.
Balconies and terraces
Even the smallest terrace and balcony can attract wildlife. Careful planning to make the best use of available space will provide not only shelter and food for insects and birds, but in some cases somewhere for birds to nest.
Tubs and hanging baskets can be used to grow a variety of climbers, small shrubs, perennials, annual plants and even vegetables. You may even be able to grow a small lawn, wild flower meadow or arable flowers in a container too!! Climbers are very easy to grow as they take up minimal space and can be grown against a wall or trained up and over a balcony railing.
You do not need a large garden to have a water feature. Many an attractive water feature has been designed around one or two tubs or containers, even an old bath or sink! Remember to include a sloping edge or somewhere safe for birds to drink or bathe. A modest-sized water feature can also potentially attract a damselfly or dragonfly to hunt over or even breed in.
Many urban, and even some modern suburban or rural gardens are small, often enclosed areas. Some, like roof terraces, may be just big enough to fit a few tubs. Larger ones may have room for a small tree. A range of shrubs will provide dense cover and shelter. Again, climbers take up little space and can be used against boundary walls or fences to give height and additional shelter.
Try to use curvy or natural edges rather than straight edges to borders, if space permits. This makes it easier to create more variety in your planting for wildlife. Choose plants with a range of flowering times and that provide good sources of nectar, fruit and cover to provide for wildlife throughout the year.
In gardens with enough room for a lawn, it may at first seem impractical for anything but short grass. However, it may be possible to allow the grass to grow after the end of August, through until the end of March or even mid-April before mowing it. Longer grass helps protect the ground from turning into a muddy path if walked frequently during winter and also provides a home for insects.
Look to create a lawn, where you can allow different lengths of grass to grow. While birds like to feed mainly in shorter grass, long grass is also helpful in providing seeds and additional insect foods. Many insects favoured by birds such as house sparrow, like to shelter, breed and over winter in long grass.
Medium sized gardens can support small trees and medium sized shrubs. When planting from new, you can use a mix of native and non-native species. Many established gardens will already have a mixture of trees and shrubs. Look to enhance this by increasing the non-native species.
Flowering herbaceous plants, biennials and annuals can be used to fill gaps and for those feeling more adventurous other options such as creating wild arable flower plots or growing wild bird seed mixes to provide a natural bird table may all be possible.
The majority of large gardens are often in rural areas in or on the edge of small towns and villages. They may be surrounded by farmland or have farmland nearby. Some may be located close to a wood or in upland or coastal locations.
Large gardens can provide wildflower meadows, wildbird cover, larger ponds and a whole range of other features. However, the most important are still lawns, shrub beds, flowerbeds and ponds. Lawns are likely to be large enough to have a variety of short and long grass areas which won’t interfere with the day-to-day use of your garden.
When planting trees and shrubs, look for a good mix of cultivated and native plants. Shrub beds will be large enough to contain a variety of species of several individuals.
You may also find more opportunity to leave standing dead wood, which is important for invertebrates as well as birds. If it isn’t a risk of injury or damage, this is best left in situ.
Front gardens are greatly under valued for their environmental benefits and as a green space. One feature being lost is the garden hedge. Often these are cultivated privet or hedging honeysuckle. If well maintained they may provide a nest site for a blackbird or thrush and shelter for other birds such as sparrows, as well as food.
If the front garden has been taken up by a hardstand for parking, can you improve this with plants and containers or by removing some of the surface to plant into and allow natural drainage?
Plants are an important feature in a wildlife garden and growing a wide variety will attract different nature, which in turn will offer birds food and shelter to help them survive the winter and feed hungry fledglings in the spring.
Creating a rich habitat of trees, shrubs and flowers is the key to planting for birds, to produce insects, fruits and seeds that birds will eat. Here is a list of plants the RSPB recommends for wildlife gardens:
There are three main types of climbing plant: those that ramble over a structure (eg roses), those that entwine themselves around a structure (eg honeysuckle) or self-clinging plants (eg ivy). The RSPB recommends:
Dog rose (Rosa Canina) – attracts insects and aphids – important in a birds diet. Climbing roses are particularly useful to nestling sparrows as they form a thick impenetrable refuge.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) – makes ideal nesting sites for thrushes and also attracts insects for birds to feed on. Its autumn fruits also supply food for warblers, thrushes and bullfinches.
Ivy (Hedera helix) – Its evergreen property provides food and shelter all year round. A mature ivy-covered wall may shelter wren and blackbird nests, as well as a host of hibernating creatures, including butterflies.
2. Flowering plants
Single petal varieties of flowering plants are more likely to be useful to insects looking for pollen and nectar. Additionally the seeds of ornamental grasses, such as millet, are often attractive to house sparrows. The RSPB recommends:
Alyssum (Alyssum spp) – this drought resistant plant attracts bees, moths, butterflies and hoverflies. It also attracts aphids which are eaten by house sparrows.
Candytuft (Iberis spp) – Attract bees, butterflies and moths. It is attractive to slugs, snails and caterpillars, all of which are eaten by song thrushes and a number of other birds.
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp) – Attractive to a number of important insects, in particular bees, butterflies and moths.
Sunflower (Helianthus spp) – Some annual varieties provide seeds for birds to feed on. Also attracts a host of bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Knapweeds (Centaurea spp) – Particularly attractive to bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies.
Millet (Panicum) – Millets are reasonably drought tolerant and are attractive to house sparrows as a source of food.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – Its thorny nature provides excellent protection for birds as shelter and nest sites. The berries provide food in autumn for thrushes. Hawthorn also provides food for caterpillars and aphids, which house sparrows and starlings feed on.
Goat willow (Salix caprea) – The catkins provide a rich source of nectar for bees and caterpillars, aphids and sawflies, which are important food items for birds.
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp) – Bees are attracted to its nectaring flowers, and starlings and thrushes find its berries a good source of autumn and winter food. It also attracts a variety of insects.
Silver Birch (Betula spp) – Several invertebrate feed on it, and dead or decaying birches are important for fungi and nesting birds. The insects and prolific amount of seed is attractive to a number of birds, including house sparrows.
Holly (Llex aquifolium) – provides shelter and protection. Its berries provide food for birds during the winter and butterflies in the spring.
Rowan (mountain ash) (Sorbus aucuparia) – Berries provide an important food source for blackbirds and starlings. Also attracts insects, including aphids and sawflies, which are important food for house sparrows.
Whether you want to create a new garden, have an existing one, or simply a patio or balcony, try to imagine your garden is a nature reserve and you are the warden. Here’s five top tips to help you develop your wildlife-friendly garden.
1. Plant native shrubs or climbers such as honeysuckle, rose or ivy. These will not only look great in your garden but take up little space and will provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife
2. Leave patches of long grass. This will provide a home for insects eaten by house sparrows and other birds
3. Leave cutting back the old stems of your herbaceous plants and annuals until the spring. Not only will you be providing shelter for insects, the birds will also eat seeds that fall from the old flowerheads
4. Ensure a supply of fresh water every day in a shallow dish, small water feature or if you have room build a pond! This will attract a variety of wetland wildlife and aquatic plant seeds that birds can feed on, as well as giving them somewhere to drink and bathe
5. Supplement natural food sources all year round with feeders and bird tables filled with nuts, seeds and household scraps. This will provide birds with alternative food if insects and plant seeds are hard to find.
The size of you garden will limit what you can do, but it is possible to provide something on even the smallest balcony terrace. For more information, fact sheets, and to register for the RSPB’s Homes for Wildlife project, log onto www.rspb.org.uk/hfw
Illustration – ‘Wildlife Garden’ – by Chris Sheilds
Photographs ‘Sunflower’, ‘Small Garden Pond’- by Daniel Bridge
Photograph ‘Great Tits Feeding’ – by Nigel Blake
Photograph ‘Peacock Butterfly in Summer Meadow’ – by Calin Tatu | Dreamstime.com